Review: *insert obligatory NASCAR dig here*
Love it or hate it, Sony's Gran Turismo series was one of the more revolutionary advancements in racing games ever. Prior to GT most racers skewed towards the arcade side of things, mixing semi-realistic physics and powerslides along with the most exotic sports cars in the world (or in Ridge Racer's case, fake ones). This constant barrage of unrealistic racing gameplay led to the invention of Gran Turismo ? taking real cars ? not just the exotic ones, but regular everyday vehicles, and putting them on a track with realistic physics, gameplay, and of course, the now-famous car tuning engines that let you make your little Yugo run like an AMC Gremlin.
With Gran Turismo and Gran Turismo 2 pushing PlayStation consoles, Sega and Wow Entertainment set out to create a Turismo-like racing game for the competitive Dreamcast console. Sega GT was born, and in the fall of 2000 we all got to see the fruits of their labors?and it was none too impressive. While the game surely was pretty, the wonky physics that made the cars race as if they were always on ice, horrible game progression due to a very off-balance challenge level, and coma-inducing race tracks led to a game that was wholly average ? a label Sega hates being associated with.
Thus, Sega and Wow went back to the drawing board with Sega GT 2002 ? exclusively for the Xbox console. The company knew what was wrong with the original Sega GT, thus had something to work with and improve upon. The mission was not only create a game that improved the mediocrity of the original, but create a game that became one of the Xbox's best racing games. Amazingly, they pulled it off. Sega GT 2002 is many times better than the battered original in every facet of the game. Of course the graphics are improved ? but the car handling, difficulty balance, and track designs are umpteen times better than Sega GT for Dreamcast. There's still many small problems with Sega GT 2002 that perhaps may temporarily cause a bit of frustration, but when the smoke is cleared, GT 2002 is a game that will please any Xbox owners looking for some realism in their racing games, as well as give the developers over at Polyphony Digital something to think about for Gran Turismo 4.
As you might expect, Sega GT 2002 features plenty of game modes to keep you busy, with Sega GT 2002 mode and Chronicle mode the 2 areas of play that you'll visit the most. First off, we'll discuss Chronicle mode ? something not seen before in a racing game. Basically, Chronicle mode lets you take cars of the old time eras and put them against each other in a battle for muscle car supremacy. Some of the cars to take at the outset include a 70's era Nissan Skyline or the infamous Corvette Stingray. Once you choose your car, you'll be thrust into different races against different periods of time. For instance, you always start off in the early 1970's, against muscle cars from the era like Chargers and such. Eventually you move on into the late 70's and check out cars made after the oil crisis period that killed gas guzzling muscle cars ? same great speed, less money out of your pocketbook. There are 6 stages in Chronicle ? winning a race, or at least placing 3rd or better will advance to the next race. You definitely should aim for 1st though, because you earn more points after a win, which is used to do a generic upgrade of your current car, from engine enhancement to better brakes. Different things cost different points, thus be sure to win and then spend the points awarded wisely. Once you beat one of the 6 stages, you unlock another area of Chronicle to delve into. While not limitless, it's definitely a very cool extra that adds a lot of replay value.
Despite that, Sega GT's main mode, the Sega GT 2002 season mode, is where you'll probably spend most of your time. In GT mode, you'll do the things you'd expect ? with little money in your pocket, you need to buy a low-level clunker and make something out of it, and then go after a license. License tests are much different than in any game before it ? instead of set tests, you have a Official Race mode that puts you against different levels of cars, in a race to move up. Win the set races for the level (B, A, S, etc), and you unlock a license test. Typically, beating the driving tests isn't too hard once you learn how it controls ? the game has a unique way of failing you ? if you hit walls or drive off the track a little meter will slowly go down; once it's empty, the game is over and you fail. Winning the license will unlock a new set of races against more challenging cars.
In addition to this, there's the Event Races. The Event Races are similar to the ones in the previous Sega GT, like the McDonald's race and all that. Each has something different going for it for the most part ? some races are for supercars like the Ford GT 40, others are for those infamous B rally cars of the rally death derby era. There's some more gimmicky modes as well - a drag racing mode puts you up against 8 different cars with a prize at the end for beating them all (not a hard task if you have a fully jacked old-school Mustang or a '80 Skyline), and a circuit race where you take on 4 cars one at a time, beating them all to earn your keep. The thing about those 2 races is this ? if you don't win every race, you don't get any money unless you quit when it asks. So be sure before clicking to continue on.
GT Features about 100 different cars from all the major manufacturers ? even if, once again (insert broken record), the amount of American cars is sorely lacking. Yeah, it has a good share of American cars, but not as many as Japanese. I mean, c'mon, there's like 8 different versions of the Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution in the game! When in GT mode, not all cars are available ? either you win them or you unlock the right to buy them later on (a pager will beep and an on-screen video will let you know).
Of course, you can buy parts and upgrade your cars in GT mode ? but not a lot. Unlike Gran Turismo, which lets you tinker with almost everything, Sega GT 2002 lets you buy the parts, but it automatically tunes them to work perfectly on your car. I suppose for the non-gearheads this is a nice thing, so it may be a good thing. Besides buying parts, it's your job to make sure to upkeep those parts and fix them when they go a little bad. That's right, the parts don't stay invincible forever ? instead you need to do some basic maintenance (read: spend some of your precious winnings on overhauls) to keep your car running. And believe me, you will need to do it. If you let your car go without fixing it up (buying new tires, engine, suspension or brake overhauls), even the fastest car will be nothing but a piece of crap, because it will barely go down the road. Keep that in mind, and keep a check on it when in your garage.
In addition to that, GT mode has cars that take damage. Sorta. See, there's a little meter in the corner that's your damage meter ? hit walls, other cars, and that sort, and your meter goes down. I don't know what happens when you take it all the way down, but I'm sure it's bad. The cars don't show any visible damage or effects though ? just a nice trick Wow used to make the cars take damage, yet not show it to make the car manufacturers happy. After each race, your damage is compared to your winnings, and money is taken from that purse and put towards repairs. Not taking damage at all will add half of the actual purse to it, so if you win 10,000 bucks, it changes to $15,000. Unfortunately, unless you're on the oval speedway track, avoiding damage is almost impossible unless you're God at the game, given the fairly narrow raceways.
That brings me to the AI of this game ? and it's great. Sega GT 2002's computer intelligence is very smart, and very realistic. For instance, if you're in the lead, the computer AI can get close, but if you're a smart driver, they'll never get by. If you make your car wider, as in move all around the track to cut off passes, the computer car will back off and set up another run. If they get even closer, a paint swap between yourself and the computer will shove him back a bit just the same. It may make the game a bit easy once you get into first, since you can keep computer cars at bay the whole time, but it's realistic that way.
GT has plenty of strategy because of this. There's 2 ways to drive, really ? finesse, or just rugged bumping and jarring. Personally, I'm not shy about just smacking the crap outta the other cars to get by, be it by running them into a wall or off the road, whatever works. The computer isn't shy about doing it to you, so turnabout is fair play. Sure, you lose some money racing like Dennis Rodman played basketball, but it's usually only a grand or so docked from your winnings. Racing with finesse will put you in a position where coming back is tough unless you force the computer to make an error somehow.
This all works, though, thanks to some solid control. The original Sega GT was awful controlling ? the cars were way too floaty and handled like turds. Not so here. While some cars are true beasts that take some time to adjust to, they all handle and control perfectly. Yeah, there's a lot of braking and turning involved here that will turn off the arcade racing crowd, but it's done so well and accurately that you won't really care. Every car handles like a dream after a while, so Wow and Sega definitely got the controls down pat here.
My only real complaint about the gameplay is the lack of tracks. The ones included are very much improved from the snoozers of the first Sega GT, but there's just not enough. There's about 4 main tracks, and then 2 or 3 variances of the track, similar to Ridge Racer. Most of the time the differences are so marginal that the tracks can get repetitive fast ? still, it's not enough to keep me from racing them, because they're all really well done with smart planning with trickery and straightaways. They're all challenging as well, which only means more fun for us.
The graphics in Sega GT 2002 are, for a lack of a better word, beautiful. While it has that blur effect that can get annoying after a while, the entire experience is one to behold. Car models are perfect, with shiny detail and excellent realism to them. Project Gotham Racing probably has better models than GT, but they're still really good. What's cool is Chronicle mode's graphics ? in the 70's races, the screen starts out black and white, and eventually becomes full color. Nice touch.
When on the tracks, prepare for even more goodness. The designs and detail are wonderful here, with sideline fans all over the place, flashing their cameras and cheering. Almost all the Xbox's special features are put to use, with plenty of bump-mapping and the like. The lighting effects when the cars' headlights are on is also great ? shame sometimes you need sunglasses, since the glare of the sun is so bad that you can't see what's ahead of you for a bit. Reminds me of Phoenix at rush hour.
When it comes to sound, it's pretty good ? with a few nags. In-game, you really have no excuses ? since Sega GT is the first Sega game to support a custom soundtrack. This is great, and can be played with to let the tracks run in a row or randomly. Unfortunately, menu screen music is horrid. Ever play Monopoly for PC or PlayStation? That's about what it sounds like here. The lounge music may be good for a low-key, casual game of Monopoly, but in a racing game, it's not necessary. Plus it's annoying as hell to listen to.
Effects-wise, the car engines are well done ? but with the soundtrack pumping over the engines, you may not even notice or care. Other effects like a cheering crowd and the sound of spinning your wheels is nice as well. But again, with a soundtrack that begs to be played loud (well, MY custom soundtrack that is), you won't really notice.
Thus far, Sega's Xbox efforts have all been really good, and Sega GT 2002 is no exception. While people who can't stand Gran Turismo probably won't like the game given the similarities, anyone interested in racing sims and owns an Xbox should definitely check this game out. It might be lacking a bit in terms of track variety, but the rest of the game is deep and varied with enough to do and last quite a while. If Sega GT on Dreamcast disappointed, be sure to check GT 2002 out ? because this is the game that Sega GT needed to be.