Dreamcast fans are an increasingly rare breed these days. If you're lucky enough to corner one and mention the words "Sega Rally," you'll likely see their eyes glaze over and a smile come to their face. Simply put, in the heady early days of Sega's final hardware cycle, Sega Rally Championship 2 was one of the real system-sellers. Sporting a unique driving style and gorgeous visuals, it was a must-have title that earned virtually universal rave reviews. Sadly, though, the series never made a return to consoles - except for the horrid Sega Rally 2006 that was luckily never released outside of Japan. Here's a true return to form.
What a return it is. Sega Rally Revo is exactly what franchise fans have been clamoring for all these many years, though that may not necessarily resonate with next-generation racers at large. Current racing games are increasingly in-depth, complicated affairs, with many requiring a mechanic's certification in order to truly appreciate the physics involved in making four wheels under a metal box move very quickly. Revo doesn't even try to pass itself off as anything more than a pure arcade racing extravaganza, even as its surprisingly rough difficulty level kicks your ass over and over again. There's a fine line these days between over-the-top fantasy car titles and so-real-you-can-almost-smell-the-exhaust simulators, and in a few ways Revo doesn't quite find the right spot in the middle of that tug-of-war.
Sega Rally Revo remains a rollicking good time, sticking firmly to its arcade-style roots.
Of course, that doesn't mean Revo isn't a winner. It's spectacularly successful in a few key areas, all of which contribute towards an enjoyable romp across the globe. First, it's about as pretty as Pam Anderson was back when its predecessor was released; tight in all the right spots with a few extra touches that catapult it near the top of the PlayStation 3 echelon (although Motorstorm still wins the overall racer beauty contest on the platform). Its beauty stretches across many different palettes, as you'll be steering your mud-caked rally cars around tracks in sandy deserts, rainy forests, tropical beaches, and snowy mountaintops (to name a few). Secondly, to call it challenging would be more than an understatement. Between the highly sensitive controls and brutally tough AI of your competition, you'll spend hours mastering a single course in order to break through from a consistent middle-of-the-pack finish to a clear-cut victory. Trust me. Getting to the winner's circle is going to take a lot of work and more than a few last-second losses as a computer rival whizzes by you at the finish line. Timing, memorization, and a dash of luck are all needed to make the leap from the middle rung to the champion's podium.
Without a doubt, the niftiest aspect of Revo is the terrain your vehicle careens across during a race. Each car leaves its mark on the tracks, directly affecting your experience on each lap. Deep, wheel-sucking ruts get carved into the earth and need to be avoided if you've got any hope of finishing first, while snowy roads become slushy messes by the time you and your competitors make your third pass around them. While many would be quick to dismiss this feature as a back-of-the-box gimmick, it's easily the most distinguishable aspect of Revo - and it's definitely more than a simple visual trick.
With all this said, Revo does have some issues. As I alluded to earlier, the steering controls are hyper-sensitive, as even the slightest touch to the left or right has a dramatic effect and can cause chaos in an instant. Mastering them will be a time-consuming and occasionally frustrating affair. Another annoying quirk is the car setup option. While you can switch around some of your vehicle's settings, it can only be done per rally championship, and not for each race of the group. Once you choose an off-road tire setup for a three-race run, that's what you're stuck with from start to finish. This wouldn't be so noticeable if the tracks weren't so glaringly different in each group, but there's seemingly never a right choice to be made when it comes to the setup. You'll always be at a disadvantage on at least one course, if not more.
However, my biggest concern is the lack of players online. Sure, the single-player campaign is meaty enough for more than a dozen hours or more, but you'll crave the human experience after awhile. Even though the game's been out for several weeks now, the online racing community is sadly bare. I realize that the biggest market for Revo is in Europe, which dictates some varying timeframes for finding the most activity, but I would've hoped to find at least a few hardy souls online in North American time zones. Alas, I've had very little luck to this point in getting many online races going. The good news, at least, is that the handful of matches I was able to crank up were lag-free affairs that were as smooth as any I had in the single player mode.
Even with its lack of car tweaking, painting, and/or upgrading features that are by now de rigeur in modern racing games, Sega Rally Revo remains a rollicking good time, sticking firmly to its arcade-style roots. Frankly, that's the best design choice that could've been made. After all, there are plenty of options already out there for hardcore gearheads to satiate their virtual garage joneses. Sometimes, you just want to race in beautiful mud, snow, rain, and sand. If you're an old-school Sega Rally fan or just a PS3 owner looking for a racer you can sink your teeth into, Revo has your name written all over it.