Reviewed: October 18, 2007
Released: October 9, 2007
I love racing gamesÖstreet racers, simulations, arcade, and even Indy and NASCAR to some degree, but I have always had a thing for off-road racing, especially the rally games. Most recently I spent a solid month playing DiRT and I still donít know where the time went.
SEGA has always held their special niche in the rally racing genre, at least in the arcades and a few console titles prior to their next-gen release of SEGA Rally Revo. After playing the demo and watching all the tech interviews and behind-the-scenes movies I was totally looking forward to this new off-road racing gameÖthat is until I played it.
On paper and even in movies and still images, Revo kicks serious tailpipe. It features some amazing tracks set in exotic locations, it has fantastic car models, mind-warping special effects, and for the first time ever, deformable tracks so that lap after lap you and your competition will slowly carve your own tracks into the mud, snow, and dirt. This feature alone propels Revo into true next-gen race design territory, but the total lack of interaction and my ability to remotely dictate the way I race keeps this game from ever getting out of the garage.
Technically, Rally Revo is a feat unparalleled by any other rally racing game out there. I would have loved for the people who had made DiRT to take track deformation into consideration, but sadly, we get this wonderful feature stuck in the simplest of arcade games, a game with virtually no AI other than what has been preprogrammed, and a game where you canít really wreck, only bounce off walls and bleed off valuable speed Ė something your perfect computer foes will never do.
Rally Revo disappoints from the very beginning with your total lack of involvement in car customization. I might have been quicker to forgive this glaring omission if the same exact title on the PSP didnít offer far more information so that I might make some intelligent choices. On the PSP you are shown a bar chart indicating the ratio of dirt, gravel, and pavement for each track and then those tracks are averaged together for an overall surface ranking for the entire three race series. Since you cannot change cars or tires between races you have to make some major decisions before the first race.
But at least the PSP lets you make decisions. The 360 version doesnít even offer you tire selections, at least not the ability to choose from three types of tires. On the 360 your tires must be permanently attached to each car since your only decision is to choose an off-road or paved road version of each available car. And even when choosing between the growing stable of cars you have no information about which car has better top speed, handling, or acceleration. Everything is purely visual. The only way I was able to make intelligent decisions was to race, lose, check the leaderboards to see what model car had won, then go back and redo the race with that car.
My other huge complaint is with the presentation of the race series. I donít mind being locked into a 3-race series with the same car and the same tires, no matter how inappropriate they might be, but the inability to restart any race within that series gives this ďarcadeĒ title an over-the-top seriousness reserved for games like Gran Turismo and PGR4. A race might last anywhere from 4-10 minutes, and when you multiply that by three races you can have a serious time investment that can be totally blown by a single mishap and last-minute victory by the perfect AI computer racers.
Admittedly, you can still win the series without coming in first place, but if you want to unlock all the goodies and get the achievement points youíll have to finish first in every single championship race. Thatís a lot of pressure and a lot of time for what is being billed as an ďarcadeĒ game, especially when you arenít even armed with any info to make intelligent choices to even try and win the races. By design the game is meant to be played, lost, and replay, so why not allow me to restart any race within the series. Again, I wouldnít belabor the point if the PSP version of this very same title didnít allow me to do just that.
Even the track deformation didnít come off nearly as well in the final product as it did listening to the designer talk about it in the tech demo. Most of the time the embedded tire tracks do little more than cause excessive rumble of your controller (sorry PS3 racers) as you skip right over them. Itís not like youíre carving a bobsled run. You can slip in and out of these tracks easily, so donít expect to follow the leader and let him pave the way. Most of the time I was sliding around these tracks so much the game felt more like a next-gen version of WipeOut.
While the track designs are impressive there simply arenít enough of them. You have 15 tracks spread across five environments, so each zone like Arctic, Safari, Tropics, gets three variations of tracks that repeat over and over in numerous clusters of 3-race events. And while the curves and track design might change for each variation, the general scenery remains the same.
In keeping with the arcade nature of the design, you wonít have to bother qualifying for any race, but this means you will always start at the back of the flawless AI-controlled pack. You can almost watch the scripting lap after lap as all the cars shoot out for a large early lead, and then you are allowed to pass two, maybe three cars each lap ultimately leading to a bumper-to-bumper finale with the lead car. If for some random act of fortune you manage to gain any significant lead youíll be amazed at the super-human AI that will bring at least the second place car right on your tailpipe on the final stretch. Even winning previous races in the series wonít advance your starting position.
SEGA Rally Revo supports online racing for up to six players and local split-screen racing for two, and this is where the game actually gets a bit more fun, not because the game is any better, but because everybody is now limited to the same restrictions you have been during single player. Now nobody knows what car does what and there is no supreme-AI that gives the competition a quarter-lap head start while youíre still spinning gravel at the starting line. And there is always the chance (a good chance) that human drivers will crash Ė something the computer will never do in a hundred races.
And if you prefer the thrill of online competition without all those pesky cars getting in your way, you can check out the Time Attack mode where you can race for the best time, compare your scores online and even download and race against ghost cars from other people. This can actually be a good training tool to find the best racing lines, provided you get the ghost of somebody who isnít a maniac.
The local split-screen mode is pretty lame given the arcade nature of this title. First, the game only splits vertically which kills your overall track awareness, even on a widescreen TV, plus when one person wins the race itís game over, so player two isnít even allowed to finish, not that there is really any reason to finish since you arenít allowed to fill in the pack with AI bots, although you can use filler bots in the online modes...go figure. Itís a limited two-player affair that is better left alone.
I was speechless when I played the demo for Rally Revo. I had watched the tech movies and understood the entire concept of blown-out vivid colors that might defy the laws of realism, but I was fine with that. Once I got my hands on the final game with even better textures, glistening cars, wet sheens on mountain roads, muddy tracks, sandy beaches, broken pavement, and slushy snow and volcanic ash, I was totally blown away. Even if the game isnít all that much fun to play it can certainly hold its own as a tech demo for what the 360 can do visually.
There are numerous key elements that stood out starting with the vacuum effect of the cars on the trackside foliage. As cars zoom by you can actually see the weeds and flowers get sucked into the vacuum then bounce back. The track surfaces are amazing, pitted and textured and thatís before three laps of torture from the six cars racing around it. There is a 12Ē mesh overlaid on each track that works in conjunction with the ďsquishinessĒ of the track so that tires will actually leave impressions and grooves in mud, sand, and deep dirt. Lap after lap you can see these tracks slowly change the environment.
Sadly, there arenít any weather effects to speak of. Skies are mostly a gorgeous blue dotted with white fluffy clouds, but youíll get the occasionally overcast gray, especially in the Arctic zones, which usually corresponds with snowy or slushy tracks. Nice details like giraffes and elephants, snowmobiles and sailplanes, and an animated crowd spread around all the tracks give these locations a nice sense of realism.
Rally Revo is really limited when it comes to the music. I actually enjoyed the silence as the camera takes you on a pre-race lap of each track, showcasing the important sections of the tracks. This silence allows you to hear the wind, the rushing waterfalls, the sounds of wildlife, and the whistles and cheers of the crowd.
Once in the race you are left with only engine noises and the sound of your co-pilot reading off the upcoming turns and their severity. This is also shown with various arrows at the top of the screen, so you can learn to tune the voices out if you want.
There is a lengthy series of races waiting for you in the Championship mode, but again, the tracks and environments are limited and few enough that they will repeat often before you are done. The Quick Race and Time Attack modes offer some easy access to the racing without the commitment, but youíll have to unlock a lot of the content (cars and tracks) in the Championship mode. The online modes are infinitely more fun than the solo game.
Iíve long since given up the dream of earning all 1000 Achievement points if for no other reason than the impossible task of the Perfect Score achievement where you get a 1st place finish on every race. That is simply not in the cards for this gamer as I have a LIFE and canít dedicate the next ten years of it to this unforgiving game design. Most of the other achievements can be earned by merely plodding through the game while others like winning with a manual transmission or winning with road tires will take some effort.
SEGA Rally Revo is a game that will demand more patience than most of us possess. I hate to lose, so itís bad enough when the game design almost forces defeat upon you, but itís even worse when you are penalized by having to repeat an entire series of races for a single instance of failure on the final curve of the final lap of the final race.
I had high hopes for Rally Revo. By all technical standards the game is a success, but it just wasnít fun to play after getting beat up and down by the flawless AI and sadistic championship design. I understand this is an arcade game and that it might not be subject to all the nuances of car and tire selection and even terrain data for the tracks, but when all of that information and gameplay ability is offered on the same title on the far less demanding PSP, I have to wonder whyÖ