Sometimes, a 6:30am wake-up call and a peak hour London tube journey will ruin your day. Today, they absolutely didn’t. The destination was Sega Amusements Europe, where a private Sega Rally 3 launch event was to be held. Arriving somewhat early in spite of transport mess-ups, and finding myself at the wrong door thanks to some slightly dodgy directions, I was greeted by staff and taken in to see the new machine.
For those of you that haven’t been following the Sega Rally 3 saga over the past few months, the game was originally location tested under the name “Super Challenge” (in fact, the name still makes a cameo on the final cabinet, as you’ll see later on). Users of the test machine quickly identified some striking similarities to Sega Rally Revo (or just Sega Rally in Europe), a series update for the Xbox 360, Playstation 3 and PC by the UK-based Sega Racing Studio. As I found out today, Sega Rally Revo and Sega Rally 3 were developed side by side, and as a result they share many of the same assets – the music is largely the same and art is shared between the two. The game is an important project for Sega Amusements Europe, as the software has been wholly developed in Europe and is the first attempt by the branch at creating a motion cabinet. However, I’m pleased to say that Sega Rally 3 stands out as an individual game, thanks to a variety of new features and some more subtle changes.
Detailed impressions and some photos after the post break!
The most immediately obvious changes are in the technology and consequently the graphical performance. Sega Rally 3 runs on the brand new and extremely powerful Europa-R board, which sports a dual core Intel processor, 4 gigabytes of RAM and an 8800 series NVidia graphics chipset. This allows the game to run at 60 frames per second at a 720p resolution, as opposed to the 30 frames per second of the console game. I’m used to the X360 version of the game, and played the PS3 version for a quick comparison. The difference is actually quite staggering, and the higher framerate allows for the design of the game to really shine through – from blue skies and sandy beaches to little flourishes like a rocket launch in the Canyon stage. I really would go so far as to say that it is the best looking arcade game that I have yet seen, and that includes Sega’s own efforts on the Lindbergh board.
The game contains three modes of play. The single-player Championship mode returns to the classic model of Sega Rally racing, with players attempting to beat the clock, the track and 21 other racers to win the rally. The rally takes place across three stages, Tropical, Canyon and Alpine, and you need to complete two laps of each by reaching each checkpoint within the time limit. The courses themselves are noticeably varied both visually and in terms of their layout – Tropical contains smooth turns and lots of mud, Canyon contains a mixture of tarmac and gravel roads, and if you make it to Alpine, you’ll be faced with tight chicanes in a village run and snowy environments. All of these courses are unique to Sega Rally 3, though some elements of Sega Rally Revo are noticeably present – it seems that in many cases, the most memorable turns have been cherry-picked for inclusion (in particular, Canyon’s long easy right on the hydroelectric dam, and Alpine’s multiple hairpins). In a nod to the original Sega Rally, expert players who finish the Championship mode in first place will face the extra challenge of a one-on-one duel on the Lakeside track, with an extremely tough AI opponent.
The Quick Race mode allows you to pick from the three main courses and compete in a single six car race, and supports one to six players. The AI tends to be a little meaner in Quick Race than in Championship, but single players will find it useful mainly for practicing courses as they won’t have lost time from mistakes in previous stages. However, the multiplayer contests can quickly become very competitive, with lots of bumping around and blocking fun to be had. Races tend to be closely fought (some of the Sega Racing Studio staff matches were a lot of fun just to watch), although some spectacular wipeouts and a general lack of skill often saw me trailing the testing staff for the game. The game is fully licensed by the WRC, and as a result six licensed cars are available for use in the Championship and Quick Race modes: the Citroen C4 WRC, the Ford Focus RS WRC 07, the Suzuki SX4 WRC, the Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution X, the Peugeot 207 Super 2000 and lastly the Subaru Impreza WRC2008 – which had its public unveiling this week! In addition, there are two hidden bonus cars – the Bowler Nemesis and the McRae Enduro.
The third main mode of play is something completely different. Classic mode returns to the history of the series, featuring a remake of the 1995 Desert course from the original Sega Rally Championship as well as a remix of the original music. The mode wouldn’t be complete without the cars from the original game – the Toyota Celica ST205 and the Lancia Super Delta HF integrale. In single player mode it’s you against one aggressive AI racer (it has a tendency to smash you into walls), which is in the car you didn’t pick. Multiplayer opens the field for up to six racers to battle for dominance, and it’s a real party track that was popular throughout the day. The remade course is very accurate, with the only real alterations being the improved graphics and a slight widening to accomodate the number of cars in multiplayer races. Importantly, this is a totally exclusive feature designed purely for the arcade game, and it has apparently proved rather popular in site testing.
Car handling still retains the defining characteristics of past Sega Rally titles – it is relatively light and allows for lots of sliding, and grip properties change with the surface that the player is driving on. Half of the challenge is knowing how take take a corner on a particular surface. Importantly, the handling has been tweaked to reduce the harsh learning curve of the console game, with an emphasis being placed on accessibility. That’s not to say that the game has been dumbed down, however – there’s enough depth there for a person to become very skilled, as the testers demonstrated. One particular change made to assist people in understanding the handling is that when using the external view, the camera remains locked behind your car to a much greater extent than in the console game. Unfortunately, as I was used to the external view of the console game, this served to mess me up a bit. I decided after a couple of goes with the chase cam that I’d stick to the in-car view and adjust to the tweaked handling, which is actually still rather similar to the system in Sega Rally Revo.
The cabinet itself is great. The set-up at the event was six linked super deluxe cabinets, with 62″ DLP screens running at 720p. The cabinets feature a dual actuator motion system, which was designed specifically for Sega Rally 3 in conjunction with Sega Japan. It moves the seat around from behind and is nice and safe, though a big red button to stop the motion is still there. Crucially for operators, it is an accessible system for maintenance operations, as the actuators can be accessed simply by moving the seat forward, while the remainder of the workings are guarded by a panel which still provides easy access. And of course, as a sucker for flashing lights and things I feel compelled to mention the side lights on your dashboard, which are illuminated green and turn red when a gear change is required (good news for manual players!). Also, the lights on top of the machine flash when a player overtakes another car, so you’ll easily be able to tell when somebody else is doing well.
After leaving Sega’s building, I took a break in my journey home to check out Namco Station and see if they had any new games. After a quick go on Primeval Hunt (which I was playing for the first time), I spotted Sega Rally 2 and had a go on that to check that I wasn’t simply overrating Sega Rally 3 because it is new. Sega Rally 2 remains a lot of fun and contains some unique graphical details which give it some extra character (such as spectators fleeing from the track), but I genuinely prefer the courses of Sega Rally 3. And that is perhaps the highest praise that I can give Sega Rally 3: it feels like it belongs as part of the series. The game does enough to distinguish itself from its console sibling, and displays a healthy recognition of what has made the series great. I’ve been playing the original Sega Rally for a while in anticipation of the new game, and Sega Rally 3 successfully captures that spirit. The game is a highly polished piece of arcade software, and I would recommend that you seek this out if you’re a fan of the series, or of driving games in general.
Unfortunately, Sega Racing Studio – the development house responsible for Sega Rally 3 – has since been sold off to Codemasters, meaning that it is unlikely that the team will work on another arcade game, and I genuinely feel that it’s a great shame for the coin-op scene to lose such a talented bunch. However, they’ve left us a brilliant game as a swansong, and it is currently rolling out in Sega Amusements Europe territories, with the team hoping for international releases to follow. In the meantime, here’s a bunch of photos taken at the event, with videos to follow in a seperate post.