Reviewed: February 27, 2004
Reviewed by: Travis Young
When it comes to arcade racing games nobody does it better than Sega, especially when you want to play those games against other real-life drivers. While smaller arcades were only able to support two or four player setups the larger establishments like Game Works or Dave and Busters were able to host massive networked racing with up to 16 or more drivers. Segaís racing games have always been good but the multiplayer aspect is what made them great.
Enter Sega GT Online, the long-awaited follow-up to Sega GT 2002 that offers online Xbox Live support to an already impressive game. WOW Entertainment has taken the core 2002 game and added more than 45 new cars bringing the list up to an impressive 165+ vehicles of all types and age. Then they have added new tracks, weather effects, and scripted events plus the ability to import your data from the 2002 game.
Sega GT Online gets dangerously close to the PS2ís Gran Turismo as far as complexity and but falls drastically short of the recently released Project Gotham 2 for pure online racing enjoyment. Even so, this is one comprehensive racing package and when you factor in the ridiculously low $20 price tag this becomes a must-have game for every Xbox racing fan.
Before we dive into the online component Iíll briefly gloss over the original content that is back for another spin. From the main menu you have several game modes to keep you busy for countless racing hours. Sega GT 2002 is the career mode of this title. You basically start with a $14 thousand dollars. This basically gives you access to two or three crappy cars and you must slowly make your way through the ranks of official and event racing earning money, new cars, and qualifying for new license upgrades.
Chronicle Mode is a series of races that you can enter with a variety of historic automobiles. You start off in the 70ís with authentic cars of the era then as you win you slowly advance through the years gaining access to new cars appropriate for each era of racing.
Quick Battle and Time Attack are basically single event races and races for best lap time against your own ghost car. These are nice diversions when you donít feel like playing for the long haul. Gathering Mode is a collection of mini-games like Time Survival and Technical Test where you can earn money to use for parts and new cars in the Sega GT 2002 mode.
Of course multiplayer is what this game is all about and Sega GT Online delivers a phenomenal multiplayer racing experience with a system link, but things go downhill quickly when you go online. Xbox Live is fully supported for Optimatch, Quick Match, and Battle for 12 race modes. With a few button clicks you can join an existing race or setup your own event and wait for people to enter your race. You can trade cars and car parts with other players online in Free Battle, and there are even Sega-sponsored competitions where the top racers win new downloadable cars or custom parts for their private library.
Race modes include individual competition as well as team games where racers on the same team switch off on each lap, watching their teammates race while they wait for their turn. There is also a totally ingenious mode called Navigate Battle where two people are in the same car. One person drives and the other person navigates. The trick here is that the person who is driving the car has a fogged up windshield and must rely totally on voice cues and icons sent to him by his navigator. This is the very definition of ďteamworkĒ.
Control is amazing whether you are using a gamepad or a racing wheel. I hooked up my Mad Catz MC2 Racing Wheel and got some impressive results but they werenít that much better than the gamepad. Most of it was just a better ďfeelingĒ of driving using a wheel. If you already have a wheel then go for it but itís probably not worth buying one just for this game. The gamepad works great.
Physics are very realistic with all the cars handling differently based on their principle attributes plus any modifications you have made. Performing a weight reduction has immediate and visible results, as does increasing the horsepower or tweaking brakes or any of dozens of other possible modifications. While raw horsepower is essential for remaining competitive you are going to have to equip your car with suitable brakes, exhaust, tires, suspension, and countless other components to put that horsepower to the ultimate use.
Car buffs and video game mechanics will find plenty to tinker with in the garage. The list of parts is extensive and you can even shop for discounted secondhand parts when cash is scarce. Parts even wear down over time and must be repaired or replaced. The entire career mode is a careful balancing act of finances as you try to save for bigger and better cars while being forced to spend your hard-earned money just to remain competitive. Itís quite easy to get yourself into a position where you have a car that is no longer competitive and you donít have enough money for upgrades. Youíll either have to replay some previous races or head over to the Gathering Mode to pick up some extra cash.
While there is no visible car damage your car can and will take damage from hitting walls or other cars. At the end of each race your total damage is tallied and deducted from your winnings. Since prize money is already pretty low you need to keep your races clean to earn the most money. Itís sort of a reverse of the ďkudosĒ system in Project Gotham, but rather than reward you for good driving you are penalized for poor driving.
The car library is vast featuring real-world cars with real-world prices. This means you really have to work to save up for ultra-fast sports cars like the Viper. Some cars are only available by winning events in the Sega GT 2002 mode. I was a bit disappointed I couldnít sell some of these for extra cash, as I always seemed to be strapped for cash.
Not much has changed in the past two years as far as graphics go, which means that Sega GT Online looks like a 2002 game forced to compete with newer racing games that are pushing the visual envelope. PGR2 and the upcoming Rallisport Challenge 2 have already set a new level by which all racers will be compared and Sega GT Online just doesnít measure up.
The car models still look fantastic and the tracks are realistically modeled and detailed but there is an unmistakable shimmering and inherent jaggies that have plagued the series even back on the Dreamcast. There is no bump mapping and the lighting is primitive. After playing games like APEX where you can literally count the bumps in the pavement, everything seems just a bit flat in Sega GT Online.
Framerate is flawless as long as you are playing alone. This game is so smooth it almost made me sick, even with a full pack of cars racing bumper to bumper. When you go online things get worse. While my car still performed perfectly and there was no framerate issues all of the other racers would be warping all over the track. It was like I was getting 60fps but they were only appearing every 5th frame.
I have to give huge props to the creative implementation of the replay system. Sure, most racing games have replays but Sega GT Online actually makes a game out of the replays by allowing you to snap six pictures of your favorite moments from the race then picking one of those six images to display in your garage. It might sound trivial but itís more fun than you might think.
The soundtrack for Sega GT Online is nearly worth the $20 price tag even if a game wasnít on the same disc. With more than 45 licensed songs from more than 30 bands you probably wonít even have to bother with the included support for custom soundtracks. There is even a special section in the menu to access bios for the contributing bands and watch some of their music video clips.
Sound effects are dead on with each car having a unique and appropriate engine sound that changes subtly as you modify your car. I havenít heard a tenth of these cars in real life so I cannot comment on their authenticity but the fact that they are all different is worth mentioning. Tires squeal and fenders crunch, all with realistic effects and all in an excellent Dolby Digital surround mix.
Sega GT Online is a massive game even without the online component. The Sega GT 2002 and Chronicles modes are good for about 80-100 hours of gameplay, especially when you factor in the mini-games of the Gathering mode you will likely play to win that extra cash.
If you have the 2002 game you will be able to transfer your cash and garage items but not your cars. Of course there is nothing stopping you from selling all your cars and transferring all that loot to this game.
Unfortunately, the online mode, the reason youíre likely considering this game, is seriously flawed. There is tremendous lag that doesnít really affect your racing but it does present some visual and audible defects that take away from the experience. Even the inventive new game modes wonít be enough to keep you logging on to Live that often. The best part of Live is the ability to exchange cars and parts with other racers.
Even with its online flaws Sega GT Online is a steal at $20, especially if the 2002 game isnít already part of your game library. Youíll get the complete 2002 game along with new cars, tracks, and the online support such as it is. This is easily the deepest racer available on the Xbox. Itís a shame that itís not the best, but we can always look to the future.