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Sega GT (DC) Review

Background Info

If there is one thing that Gran Turismo did for the world of racing games, it was to raise the bar of any driving game that followed. That single game separated the men from the boys, arcade racers from sim wannabes. Now that the "driving simulator" has already been done by the Sony camp, Sega enters the fray with Sega GT. If imitation is the highest form of flattery, Sony and developer Polyphony should consider themselves flattered.

Sega GT is as close as you'll get to a direct rip-off of Gran Turismo. The car selections, style of events, and license tests are copied to near perfection from GT. What sets the game apart from its rival is the obvious better graphics. But there are other aspects of the game which make the game unique.

Presentation/Graphics : 85
The wonderful texture capabilities of the Dreamcast are out in full force in Sega GT. Graphically the tracks look spectacular. Signs which border the course are clear and have a realistic appearance. Likewise, further off track you'll catch a glimpse of well-rendered rock formations, mountains, and hills. The occasional rotating windmill adds to the whole immersion into a reality based sim.

However, most of the cars lack the same textural appearances. Stock cars have a flat paint jobs. Fortunately, some of the cars you receive for winning various events have decal jobs which rival the advertising on NASCAR racers. Both styles of cars have darkened windows, which gives them a cheesy appearance.

If you select the first person camera, the black windows of your racer won't be bothersome. Plus, the camera provides a great vantage point from which to set up your turns and moves. You'll find the camera bounces quite a bit due to the suspension settings, but it is by far the best camera view. If you are accustomed to driving in a third person view, Sega GT has both a near and far view.

Watching from the first person camera, you'll find the smooth as silk 30 frames per second a joy. The motion is fluid and there is absolutely no slowdown anywhere in the game. Furthermore, draw-in ahead of the car is as common as a four leaf clover. There is some there, but you have to hunt for it. The game has a near infinite horizon. However, the rear view mirror does have problems with pop-up. I've seen grandstands rise up from nowhere.

While the game is visually stunning, there is one big negative. Many of the courses are too dark. One particular course, Night Ground, is a simple pea shaped course with a little kink on the backstretch. Because it's so dark, the kink is like a blind corner. I had to turn my brightness up to effectively drive the course. The night atmosphere was lost as the track was a washed out white. Likewise, the Great Rock Road course has a couple of tight turns, one of which is hidden by shadows cast from rock formations. In reality, our eyes would be able to adjust to the changes in lighting. It's too bad Sega didn't implement a brightness change similar to Ubisoft's excellent Monaco Grand Prix 2. In that game, as you enter into the tunnel at Monaco, you get instant darkness followed by a quick adjustment, similar to what the human eye would experience.

Presentation/Audio : 80
Vroom, vroom. Talk about some loud cars. Once you turn off the terrible driving music, the car sounds will envelope you. Why realistic driving games insist on having music in them is beyond me, and putting bad music in is even more beyond me. Nonetheless, the driving sounds are pretty good. When cars enter tunnels, the echoes crescendo and the noise is almost unbearable. Likewise, you'll get an audible clue when an opponent is coming from the rear as the interacting engine noises increase substantially.

While alone on the course, you'll notice cars have unique sounds. Furthermore, as you purchase engine and transmission upgrades, the sound of any given car will most certainly evolve. The pitch changes of the engine are essential when driving with a manual transmission. To aid you with tire grip, realistic squeals are heard when you take turns too quickly.

The sounds of crunching metal are underwhelming. Collisions sound identical whether you get hit from the side, front, or back. Likewise, the sound of the impact is not a function of the impact velocity. A light tap produces the same loud chunk sound as barreling right into someone. A sound you'll come to hate is that of making contact with the wall. It also is redundant.

Interface/Options : 90
Once the game starts, you'll find racing is available as a single race, time trial, two player, or the extensive championship mode. The single race mode is the arcade mode of the game. Unfortunately, it offers none of the challenge found in Gran Turismo's arcade mode. Winning is so easy that this mode is basically worthless. The heart of the game does lie with the championship mode.

In the championship mode, you'll be able to buy, sell, and upgrade cars. The upgrades are numerous and purchasing one with the menus is simple. Likewise, selecting races is no problem with a simple menu scheme. Where you might run into trouble is that some races are exclusive to certain types of cars. You may need a special license or engine class to race. This means you have to look at the specifications of your cars individually. Unfortunately, the sparse manual does not list the specs for each of the over 100 cars in the game.

One interesting aspect of Sega GT is the Carrozzeria. A play on the word pizzeria, the Carrozzeria lets you special order a car to your specifications. Starting with the engine type, you also have input on body style, engine placement, and drivetrain. You can create some pretty spectacular cars here.

Sega GT utilizes the internet in the time trial mode. You can connect to the Sega GT website from within the game. Once there, you can upload your best times or download ghost cars from other players on the net.

The analog controller works very well with the game. The left and right triggers take their traditional roles of brake and gas, respectively. The additional button options include gear shifting up and down (A and X), a hand brake (B button), and the view change (Y button). Playing with a steering wheel is also supported. Playing with both an Agetec Rally Wheel and the Mad Catz MC2, I found the steering control to be good. With a full sized wheel, you can hold your turning angle better and take the turns smoother.

Gameplay : 80
So the big question is whether Sega GT is a Gran Turismo killer. First, when it comes to games promising realism, the gamer is in a quandary. How many of us have ever been behind the wheel of a high performance automobile? And how many of us have experience with aftermarket tuning packages and their impacts on stock production cars? Not many. So much of the praise and criticism we have towards racing titles is based on inference. We infer from watching real racing how cars should perform. In Sega GT, we have to use this visual experience to evaluate the game.

Fortunately, there are some cars in the game that are similar to what you and I drive every day. The sub 100 horsepower slowpokes in the game will get you familiar with the driving model. What you'll find is that the cars can be bouncy. Cars bobble back and forth with tremendous ease. It's not until you upgrade the suspension that you can mitigate some of the looseness in the springs. Some of the motion is caused by the course itself. I can accept this. Several real racing courses have pitiful surfaces. Heck, the Houston Texaco Grand Prix held here recently is a case in point. The CART racers bounce all over the place with the terrible downtown Houston streets. Even so, the constant bouncing will be a big turn-off for many gamers.

When you purchase an upgrade, the option becomes customizable. For example, purchasing transmission modifications lets you adjust the gear ratios. Depending on the package, you may be able to customize every gear in the transmission. For suspension packages, you can adjust the spring and damper rates.

As you get a hold on the more powerful cars in the game, another problem rears its ugly head. Impact modeling is suspect in several facets of the game. First, imagine racing through a chicane comprised of quick right angle turns. If you hit the edge at over 100 miles per hour, it is not uncommon for your car to bounce back slightly and instantly start its forward progress again with 60-70% of its original speed.

Side swipe impacts are hit or miss. In many instances, you can impact a wall to your advantage. Why slow down for a ninety degree turn when you can hit the wall sideways and speed off? Conversely, if you enter a gradual turn with too much velocity, you may find yourself scraping the wall. This time, however, the wall tends to suck you in. You can turn the wheel opposite to the wall direction to no avail.

Of course, the way to avoid the impact problems is to just not crash. Once you get the hang of the driving, you'll find that you can race many of the courses without getting into trouble. You'll also notice that you can take some of the right angle turns at unrealistically high speeds. It is impossible for any car to make a sharp right angle turn at over 70 miles per hour, but in Sega GT you'll have no problem.

There are several types of cars in Sega GT. Front, rear, and four wheel drive cars each have unique handling characteristics. Likewise, the physics are a function of the engine placement, be it front, mid, or rear engine. Common mass market automobiles are front engine, front wheel drive, which are notorious for understeer. The understeer is modeled well in Sega GT. Mid engine, rear wheel drive cars turn effectively about their center of gravity much like a CART or F1 racer. For a little fishtail action, front engine, rear wheel drive cars will test your nerves. One complaint I have about all the cars is that it's next to impossible to spin a car. Even taking a 600 horsepower rear wheel drive and putting the pedal all the way down while turning with full wheel lock doesn't put the car in a true spin. Rather, it just lets you drive in a tight radius. Even getting clipped from behind doesn't send you spinning.

Racing takes place over several events. You can earn licenses in the Extra Class (slow, slow, slow cars), B Class, A, Class, and the tough SA Class. The license tests are much easier than in Gran Turismo. To earn a license, you must simply beat a certain time on one course in each class. The time is for an entire lap of the track. Unless you have no driving skills, you'll be able to beat the times in the first try. If you keep at it and beat the top time, you'll be able to drive a special car in a race with 5 other cars. Win the race and you keep the car.

Once you increase your stable of cars, you'll find yourself racing in plenty of events, ranging from drag races (both 400 meter and 1000 meter) to series of races with 5 other competitors. When in a series event, the scoring is identical to GT. Winning the series is rewarded with a free car. Besides picking up some free vehicles, you'll receive plenty of cash. In fact, you earn too much money for winning races. You can upgrade your cars quickly and blow away the competition, especially at the lower classes. If you find that you continually come up short, a trip to the tuning shop will correct that. Just throw some coin down and upgrade your car to an unbeatable level.

Despite AI cars which qualify with good times, the AI cars lack the speed in the actual races. You'll wonder how a car which qualified two seconds faster than you can't keep up with you during the actual race. When cars do compete, they sometimes engage in cheap tactics like hitting you from behind, sending you out of control. If it looks like winning is hopeless, just hit the retry button. Sega GT lets you retry a race mid-series without penalty. Just hit the start button before you cross the finish line and select the retry option.

The tracks range from ridiculously easy to fairly challenging. Even though some of the courses are easy, they are fun. The Snowy Mountain course is not technically challenging, yet it is one of my favorite tracks. Racing almost flat out is a blast. The Night Section A course has a couple of nasty turns including a nasty hairpin. While the game touts 22 tracks, be warned that the number is exaggerated by counting reversed tracks.

As mentioned earlier, the Carrozzeria lets you construct a custom made car. Initially, only sub-1000cc engines are available. Once you build your custom car, you can take the factory license tests. There are five tests which mimic some of the driving tests in Gran Turismo. You must complete particular stretches of a track by a certain time. The tests can be much tougher than the traditional license tests in the game. However, if you keep missing the required time, you can upgrade your custom car further in the tuning section of the game. Eventually, you'll open up the four classes of cars in the Carrozzeria, giving you a mind blowing variety of possibilities.

Despite some flaws with the game, I find it difficult to put Sega GT down. It really is one of my favorite racers. Of course, from a realism and physics viewpoint, the game clearly has some shortcomings. The console racing community is so entrenched in the idea that Gran Turismo is the de facto standard in this area. When compared to Gran Turismo, Sega GT compares well. The real problem is another Sega game, F355 Challenge. Gran Turismo was a revolutionary leap from previous "realistic" racers on consoles. F355 is equally revolutionary, and it makes games like Sega GT and Gran Turismo look like arcade racers. But if you take Sega GT for what it is, a racer with sim elements, you'll be satisfied.

Replay Value : 85
If your goal is to finish Sega GT, the game will take countless hours. If you are a racer fan, I can recommend the title. Despite some problems with the game, it is a blast to play. The car library contains over 100 cars, and it puts you behind the wheel of cars you never thought of driving. The courses, while not as technically challenging as other racers, are fun to drive. If you are a sim freak, the flaws will no doubt drive you nuts. Likewise, beginners will probably be frustrated by the bouncy physics of the cars.

Overall : 83
While not the Gran Turismo killer we expected from Sega, Sega GT is a complete package. The graphics, racing sounds, variety of cars, and tweaking potential make this game an enjoyable title. There are some problems with the AI and physics, but even with those problems Sega GT is a challenging racer that lies somewhere between an arcade and simulation racer.

By: James Smith 10/4/00

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