Written by: Rik

Date posted: December 31, 2007

Driving wind and rain effects are implemented – the weather never seems all that grim though.

We may have mentioned this before, but it’s worth repeating: there are LOADS of rally games available for the PC. What’s less obvious is why: although racing games are reasonably big sellers, and rallying seems like one of the more exciting motorsport options for gamers to try their hand at, it still doesn’t seem to justify the production of hundreds of titles which are all essentially attempting to simulate the same thing: driving through muddy forests. Fans of road racing or Formula 1, meanwhile, are largely left kicking their heels until EA brings out their annual update of F1 or Need for Speed. Still, a decent rally game can be jolly good fun, and given the relative paucity of other racers out there, we may as well cast our eye over at least a few of the many similarly-named rally titles jostling for some attention (and, no doubt, lurking in bargain bins around the country).

Sega Rally 2 is, as you might have guessed, the sequel to Sega Rally Championship, released to significant acclaim in arcades and to a decent reception on the Sega Saturn during the mid 90s. There was a PC conversion, too, but when it arrived, shoddily ported and over two years late, it was largely brushed aside with the kind of dismissive shrug regularly favoured by PC gamers when presented with over-hyped console muck. Fortunately, significantly more effort was expended in translating the sequel, which followed fairly hot on the heels of the much-trumpeted-about Dreamcast version, and people paid slightly more attention to it as a result, although it was soon consigned to the same forgotten-about abyss as Sega’s ill-fated console.

Occasionally, people run in front of your car for no reason at all. You can’t hit them though – I’ve tried.

Without wanting to make comments that could be construed as PC snootiness, it should nevertheless be pointed out that the emphasis in Sega Rally 2 is very much on arcade action rather than the grim realities of slogging through the wind and rain with a broken gearbox. This is essentially a sugar-coated version of rallying, where crashing damages only your chances of posting a decent time, getting round virtually every corner involves a reckless power-slide, and your co-driver is an insanely enthusiastic arcade-game voice-over man who bellows “FIIIINISSSHH!” in your ear at the end of each stage. Oh, and there’s some awful house music pumping away in the background, too, but you can turn that off if you like.

Anyway, you can opt to play the ‘pure’ arcade version, which, as you might expect, is a pretty challenging undertaking given that it was designed to entice you to fork out a quid each time you wanted another go. Of slightly more interest is the “10 Year Championship” mode, allowing you the opportunity to race through a number of multi-stage rallies. While as a career mode it’s hardly comprehensive, it does give you the chance to study a course and tinker with your car settings prior to each race, and with a nicely-balanced learning curve, it provides a more forgiving and longer-lasting experience, which is probably why it’s been included.

If you don’t win the championship, you get a scene showing your car sulking in the corner while the victors celebrate.

However, even in this mode, fiddling with your car can largely be ignored in favour of driving less like a moron, with crashing into fewer things ultimately the most reliable method of improving lap times. And though the need to look at a timer at the top of your screen is on the whole less pressing than in arcade mode, the fact that it remains there threatening to prematurely end your race should you fail to beat it is an indication that the championship mode is essentially quite a superficial way of making the experience slightly more palatable to those who haven’t previously had the chance to hone their skills down at the local bowling alley.

Still, once you’ve adjusted your expectations accordingly, Sega Rally 2 is actually a pretty good laugh. With all threat of damage removed, you’re free to drive quite aggressively, and indeed this is often the best way of achieving success. Some courses contain some truly exhilarating moments, and at times like these even cynical PC snobs may find themselves enjoying the game for what it is and slapping the keyboard for another go.

The muddy tracks are the best. It’s how rallying should be.

Though the graphics may not dazzle, they’re still perfectly all right: it’s worth bearing in mind that though the Dreamcast may have been dead for a long time, it was once a contemporary of the PS2, which is still going strong at the time of writing, so things aren’t going to look too shabby. For once the PC version has been handled well, and even reasonably cruddy machines by today’s standards should be able to have the scenery whipping past at a decent rate. The sound is less impressive, with sound effects relatively spartan, and the note of the car engine closely reminiscent of an air conditioning unit.

Ultimately, if you can accept Sega Rally 2 for what it is, then there’s about a week’s worth of fun to be had here. Though there is something liberating about driving recklessly without worrying about caving the front of your car in every time you collide with something, it can also make for an occasionally unsatisfying, throwaway experience. Despite its obvious charms, I can’t help feeling that even those not necessarily looking for a hardcore sim may still find more enjoyment by spending a little time with something with slightly more depth, like one of the Colin McRae games or even (dare I say it) Rally Championship Xtreme.