I love being cheered on by paper dolls!
The Dreamcast, although still a young system, has been flooded with racing games of all sorts. Considering the success of games like Gran Turismo, it's no wonder that developers want to cash in on the racing craze. But as we've seen with games like Tokyo Xtreme Racer, not all of these are gems. Heck, they're not even pieces of coal that could turn into gems. Though it might not the best of the pack, Sega Rally 2 is certainly far from the worst.
One problem with arcade conversions is that they sometimes end up with too few options, then quickly get boring. We've already seen two cases of this on the Dreamcast in Zombie Revenge and Crazy Taxi (though that one is still fun). Arcade ports just aren't made to last very long.
Thankfully, there isn't too much danger of that here. There's a nice selection of different ways to play. You can choose from the original arcade version, with its total of four tracks and simplistic options, to a ten year championship, with all the tracks and options you could want.
For those of you who enjoy tinkering with various bits under the hood, you won't be disappointed. There are plenty of things to tweak, including (but not limited to) suspension, brakes, gear ratios, turning speed, and transmission. With 8 different cars to race, that makes for a ton of possibilities.
Thanks to the Dreamcast's graphical horsepower, Sega Rally 2 looks awesome. The car models are almost perfect, with nice aerodynamic curves and some really neat reflection effects. The tracks are just as pretty. Beautiful textures coat everything, while some cool fog effects shroud the pop-up. And thanks to some competent programmers, the framerate doesn't drop for a second - not even in two-player mode. With the muscle of the Dreamcast, it's no wonder such things are possible.
Of course, it's not all perfect. A few problems appear during the two-player mode, like some pop-up in the distance and some occasional clipping errors. But for the most part, the graphics are clean and crisp.
One disappointing scene occured after I had beaten one of the 10 year championships. All you see are row after row of these weird paper-doll midgets cheering you on with your car in the background. Excuse me, but If I wanted to be yelled at by small paper dolls, I'll just go back to my room (mysterious things happen there...).
The gameplay itself is quite cool. While the physics model isn't quite as advanced as Gran Turismo, it's still well done. You have all of your basic skidding moves, jumps, bumps, crashes, oversteer, understeer, drift, etc. But if you've never played a game like this, it can take some getting used to. It's much more complex than "Speed up. Go forward. Cross Finish Line."
That's not to say that it's impossible to play. It may take some time, but once you get the hang of it, Sega Rally 2 is really neat.
Once again, however, a good racing game is marred by lack of damage modeling. No matter how much you crash, slam, jump or land, your car is always in perfect working order, save for a few mud spatters here and there (what I could do with an indestructible car...mwahaha!). Crashes look and feel like real crashes. You can bump into guard rails, smash into other cars and so on. It would just be better if a few dents showed up once in a while.
Another shame is that there is absolutely no option to play the game over the Sega Network. Initially, this was supposed to be one of the first big online Dreamcast games. Sega Rally 2 is tailor made for multiplayer, and you would think they'd take advantage of all of the resources of the system. Unfortunately, they don't, and you're stuck playing against friends and family (although I don't think my Aunt Janice would really be interested.) Perhaps Sega will re-release this game once the Dreamcast network is in full swing...
Overall, Sega Rally 2 turns out to be a very self-respecting racer, with a load of options and plenty of hours of fun for you and your friends. If you've ever liked racing games, this is definitely one you should look into. If not, there's a first time for everything!