Sega Rally Championship
When I was in high school around 1985 and '86, I had a gold '78 Volkswagen Scirocco. Even if it were all stock, it would have been one of the coolest cars in the student lot, but I did what I could to "trick it out" by putting a bunch of cheap, superficial junk all over it. But my job at McDonalds never really provided me with the kind of money to do what I really wanted to do with it: I got the HotVW magazines and drooled over Bilstein struts and Neuspeed sway bars I'd add before I shipped it overseas and drove the Paris-Dakkar Rally. Though I never followed through on that dream, that vehicle had the lineage to be a contender.
So I was pretty excited when Chad asked me if I'd check out Sega Rally Championship for the 'Zilla. I played it the night I got it and emailed Chad the next day, saying: "You won't believe this, but I think this time I can actually write a positive review. It's a pretty cool game." So there you are. Keep reading if you want the details, but if you want it in a nutshell: "It's a pretty cool game."
Why "pretty cool" instead of "really really really really really cool"? Well, it's because there are only three tracks and two cars, and because we're only on this earth for a short time longer before some comet puts a hole in Kansas City and blots out the sun with its dust cloud, there are only so many hours you can spend trying to shave that extra tenth of a second off your best time.
My pre-release copy of Rally Championship included a pretty narrow selection of cars -- both automatic and manual-transmission versions of a Toyota Celica GT and something called a Delta that looks to me like a Volkswagen Golf. The final release copy of the game will include more. You can customize them a bit (making the suspension tighter or the tires stickier), but it's hard to feel any real difference.
The three tracks, in order of difficulty, are Desert, Forest, and Mountain. What separates these courses and makes one more difficult than the other are the sharpness of the turns and the amount of variation in the road material. For example, coming off a grassy embankment into soft sand is your surest way to do a 360.
The menus and all the controls are simple and intuitive. With the keyboard, you only need three fingers to play this game: left turn, right turn, and gas (the only time you'll ever use the brake is on the hairpins). I preferred my Game Pad, though.
Absolutely the silliest part of this game is its replay feature. There's no fast-forward, no rewind; all you do is sit in a helicopter and watch yourself drive your car. The thing is, really cool things don't happen in this game. There are no gnarly crashes to see, no explosions, nothing that really makes a difference that you could possibly want to see again.
The graphics engine is pretty good. I wouldn't say Sega has taken us to the next level of game design, but they did an adequate job of making fast look fast by putting in lots of road textures and landmarks for you to speed past. One of those landmarks is a zebra. No, you can't run it over.
Without a doubt, my favorite part of this game was what sounded like a barbershop quartet singing "Fiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiinissssshhhh." I swear, the first ten times I heard it I thought they were singing "Deeeeeeeeelishious." You also get to hear some pretty cool soundtracks while you're driving, and the effects -- from the whine of the engine to the sounds of tires on the different road surfaces -- are quite good.
Supports two-player network, serial, and modem play.
Windows: Pentium 75MHz or faster (100MHz or faster recommended), 16 MB RAM, Windows 95
This game, though it excited me for a couple days and brought back my long-lost dreams of Paris-Dakkar, didn't turn out to be interesting or robust enough to totally ease my pain at not yet having accomplished that goal. After week one I changed the difficulty setting to the highest level, which makes other cars faster and gives you less time to finish the course. That kept me interested for a little bit longer, but unless you're the type of person who can shovel quarters into an arcade game for weeks on end, I'd bet that the limited variety of this game will cause you to archive the CD before you're good enough to get first place.