If you don't know your Subaru Impreza WRX STi SpecC Type RA from a Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution IX FQ340, the good thing about SEGA Rally is that it doesn't matter. Bringing together realistic rally driving and arcade racing, SEGA Rally is a hybrid in a class of its own.
Realism permeates the look of the game, with the 4WD, 2WD and classic rally cars looking as though they've just rolled out of the manufacturer's garages, with optional mud and dirt.
The attention to detail in the visuals, which zoom by in a blur when using an in-car viewpoint (really the only way to race), also extends to the feel of the game. SEGA Racing Studio has spent a lot of time and love perfecting the handling of the cars and, perhaps more importantly, the surfaces upon which they race. Whether you're racing on dirt or mud, ice or snow, you will know it and feel the difference and, because the tracks are deformable, each race will be subtly different. As the cars you're chasing rip up and dirty the track, you will find yourself bouncing in and out of their ruts or trailing them in their furrows.
To get to grips with these surfaces you need to get to know how the cars you're racing handle, and get used to shifting gears. You can play the early stages of SEGA Rally by just putting the pedal to the metal but this soon fails to meet the grade. You'll need to Upshift, Downshift and even apply the Handbrake to make some of the tighter corners and sections of the tracks.
A key difference between this and other rally driving games is the track design itself. SEGA Rally boasts looping tracks, complete circuits, which makes it more like traditional racing games than its contemporaries. This nod to the arcade racer keeps the tension ratcheted up to the max as you power and glide through the pack, bumper-to-bumper.
Progress through the game is measured via a points system, which is based on your positioning in the different stages. As you accumulate points, more stages, cars and liveries become unlocked. The pacing of these stages keeps SEGA Rally challenging, while letting you develop with it at an accessible and rewarding rate.
Pacenotes, the symbols that appear on-screen denoting hazards and upcoming turns, play an unsung role in making rally games accessible. Without these, and your co-pilot calling them out, racing would nearly be impossible and learning how to handle the cars and the tracks themselves would be a frustrating exercise.
No racer, especially one with such a strong arcade pedigree, would be complete without multiplayer options. SEGA Rally lets you take on a friend, the action represented via the tried-and-tested tradition of split-screen action. Online, up to six players can take the wheel, the race host creating a lobby, administrating the race and setting up the tracks.
SEGA Rally is one of the best racing experiences to be found on PlayStation®3, and manages to remain widely accessible for a rally game. This fine tuning act is a difficult one, but SEGA Racing Studio's has managed to create a game which is comfortable in both of these sub-genres of racing, and most importantly fun to take the wheel of.