Sega Rally Online Arcade preview: Something old, something kinda new

"It's not a brand new game. It's kind of a combination of Sega Rally 3, the arcade game, and Sega Rally Revo," Sega brand manager Ben Harbone explained to me during a GDC 2011 event. "It's got all of the gameplay characteristics from the arcade game -- it's running on the Arcade engine -- but with some of the Sega Rally Revo cars."

There are a total of 13 cars in Sega Rally Online Arcade, an Xbox Live Arcade and PlayStation Network bound title, spanning the more popular rally offerings like the Subaru WRX, Ford Focus and Mitsubishi Evo, along with five different tracks to zip around in.
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Due to the launch of Sony's World Rally Championship last year, most of the cars in 2007's Sega Rally Revo are already licensed and couldn't be included in this game. As such, the offering is a bit more limited -- what you see here is what cars Sega could bring over. While the number of cars in the game is likely to upset some, it was the lack of unique feel for each car that disappointed me most.

"It's not a driving simulator,"Harborne said. "It's got arcade physics." Harborne's comment is the understatement of the century: Sega Rally Online Arcade handles like a stick of butter sitting on top of a block of ice which is itself inside of a teflon pan ... on a planet made of banana peels. In short: it feels very slippery. Imagine my surprise when I found the WRX didn't have nearly as much grip as it should've; it handles the same as the Puegot, as the Skoda and every other car in the game. Acceleration and top speed are more varied, however.

Sega Rally Online Arcade's biggest draw is easily the multiplayer. It supports up to six racers online and local split-screen multiplayer and when the consoles were networked at Sega's event, I began to see real promise. Playing against friends and battling for first was good times, albeit a bit dampened by the number of tracks on offer.

And it wouldn't be an arcade game without ridiculouos rubber-band AI, right? Much to my surprise, I found a difficulty setting that curbed this -- when turning on "casual" difficulty, the AI is a bit more relaxed. When it's set to "arcade," the race to first gets a bit more desperate.

Sega hasn't pinned a price point on Sega Rally Online Arcade yet, though all signs are pointing to $10. You'll be able to kick the tires on this quasi-port when it launchs on Xbox Live Arcade and PSN during Q2, this spring.

This article was originally published on Joystiq.