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Sega Rally

Preview: Classic arcade off-roader gets a techy overhaul

Ah, the coin-swallowing days of Sega Rally. Even when Colin McRae Rally was setting new standards of off-road realism on PlayStation, there was always room for Sega's outrageous rally racer.

You've seen the screens, right? It looks amazing, doesn't it? But as real as the graphics may be, we didn't turn up at Sega's London office expecting a rally simulation, that's not what Sega Rally is about at all.

This series has always ignored all that simulation guff that many have become increasingly obsessed with. Sega Rally 2 let you side-surf your cars ridiculously around bends at silly speeds, with a complete disregard for trivial things like the need to brake or the laws of momentum and gravity.

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But, as Sega loaded up the demo track and wheel-span off the starting line, we found that this is not the same Sega Rally we've known for all these years. Instead of the huge, 200-feet-long powerslides and nonsensical physics, we found ourselves looking at a game that handled far more like real life than the series ever has.

Sega Rally has undergone a massive overhaul, keeping an arcade-like feel to it but at the same time using the extra processing power to produce tighter physics and some gameplay effects that come scarily close to what you'd expect from a realistic sim.

'Surface deformation' is the big new feature - an advanced effect that sees the wheels of your car realistically deform the ground, just as driving a real car through mud would.

We saw how tyres cut into softer ground surfaces, like wet mud and gravel, leaving deep indentations. The softer the ground, the deeper your tyres cut into it.

Seen that before you say? Yes you have - Motorstorm has a similar effect. But Sega was keen to highlight that, while surface deformation in "other" off-road games are simply visual effects that have no bearing on the physical properties of the road, the those muddy groves in Sega Rally change the road physically, too.

That means that the wheels of your car are physically affected by the changing surface. Sega demonstrated this by driving through a muddy patch to leave grooves in it, then turning the camera sideways to show the wheels realistically reacting to the newly-made ridges in the ground. Nice.

But what does that mean for gameplay? Sega was keen to let us know that we'll notice a change in the car's handling as the race goes on and the floor becomes more and more deformed.

In some areas, this makes the muddy surface unpredictable, but surface deformation doesn't just work against you. Sega says that it can work to improve your grip, as loose gravel on the course is cleared in earlier laps, leaving a cleaner surface and improving your grip later in the race.

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This effect was the focus of our first look at the game, powered by a Subaru Impreza on a muddy course set in an exotic setting. From our observations, the powersliding element looks to have been toned down massively, with the car handling seemed much tighter than previous games.

We didn't see a single nutty powerslide. Make of that what you will.

The course shown looked nice though. Again, going back to the obvious focus of demo - the technology - the exotic environment featured plenty of detail, with plants and palm trees lining the courses, along with wooden shacks and other small structures. The reflections off the car's body were cool, as was the rippling water.

The mud splatter was imressive too - drive through mud and your car got dirty, drive through large puddles of water and it would clean a little. Unfortunately, none of the car damage Sega has planned for the final game was in the demo.

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