"Hold on a minute!", I hear you cry. "Sega Rally isn't an unsung classic!". And, it's fair to say, the original game is a classic that's loved by many, many people. The modern reboot, on the other hand, although critically praised seems to have come and gone in the blink of an eye, with few people giving it the time of day.
What a shame that is. The new Sega Rally is an absolutely brilliant arcade racer, full of all the classic Sega touches that you'd expect. Wildlife wandering around on the safari courses. Flying vehicles on different courses... planes, helicopters, microlites and hot air balloons make appearances here. But there's far more to this game than little cutesy cameos.
The way it used to be...
Sega Rally is brutal. As racing games go, this is one of the hardest I've played. But it's also very fair and very true. In many of today's racers, you can just plough your way to the front and stay there, battering meek opponents out of your way and then cruising along as they drop back out of harm's way. That ain't happening in this game.
No, this game will challenge and fight you, every step of the way. You have to earn everything in this game... and I don't just mean race wins. You'll find yourself locked in a struggle to keep fifth place, and in a race of six drivers, that's saying something. Sega has set this game up so that every point counts for something, and it can actually feel really satisfying to finish in the top three.
Ooh, fourth place is within reach! Grab it!
The AI is nasty. Opponents aren't afraid to give you a good whack if it means retaking their place from you. And when you bear in mind how difficult it can be just to drive each course in a reasonable time, you'll find yourself cursing them any time you do that.
The environment also plays a part in your driving. Muddy courses will become rutted as they're driven on, and hitting these ruts on your next lap will slow you down or throw you off course. Pools of water will really slow you down. Sliding from gravel onto tarmac, you'll really feel the tyres bite. Sandy courses feel... "smushy". You'll feel bogged down in deep snow. Everything affects your car as you'd expect it to.
Any little mistake you make can, and usually will be punished. You have to really learn how to drive your car. It's very much about finesse. You have to know when to brake and how hard. You have to know when it's better to just ease off or let go of the accelerator, and when you can gun it. Different corners require different tactics, from a gentle nudge to a hard-braking powerslide, and if you get it wrong you're likely to be watching opposing racers zoom off into the distance. It can be heartbreaking to have battled your way into a good position, just to lose it when you screw up a hairpin or difficult double-bend. But you'll come back for more punishment...
Looks like the switch to Road tyres was a mistake...
Sega Rally is possibly the most difficult racer of the modern generation. But it's also the most gripping, to my mind. It's a game that you have to play in a room by yourself, because you get so into it. You'll find yourself regularly in that ridiculous position of trying to coax extra performance out of your car with your own body... leaning forward at times, or with your hands thrown way out to the side as you try and clip just a little off that tricky corner. It's absolutely intense, and there's not a lot of that around in today's games.
I bought this a couple of years ago, for about a tenner, and I'm still coming back to it. It's no more expensive than that now, and if you find yourself yearning for the good old days where games would give you a good kicking but lure you back for more, you really owe it to yourself to buy Sega Rally.