Voice Module








In Memory
Sean Pettibone




Sega's first Xbox racing game, Sega GT 2002 was a solid experience but the latest installment has been improved dramatically. Sega GT Online features dozens of new cars, additional tracks, and slightly enhanced graphics. However, the biggest addition this time is the extensive online support using Xbox Live, where up to four players can compete simultaneously. Going online also offers the ability to download new vehicles and trade cars with other players. These online modes make for a very deep and satisfying experience. While it lacks the visual polish of Project Gotham Racing 2, the online modes, added vehicles and improved graphics should please die-hard racing fanatics.

While Sega GT 2002 was a solid racer when it came out a while back on the Xbox, it was overshadowed by higher profile releases such as Project Gotham Racing and Sony's ever-present Gran Turismo series. However, that hasn't stopped Sega's internal developers, WOW Entertainment from returning with a new installment that features some fairly significant improvements. To start, gear-heads will be happy to learn that Sega GT Online features more than 40 additional vehicles ranging from classic roadsters and muscle cars of the 70's and 80's, to super-sleek concept vehicles and more. From a visual standpoint, Sega GT's graphics engine has undergone some slight tweaks, with new tracks and enhanced weather environments, but the overall look of the game is still blocky. The game's environments and tracks are still rather bland, imitating the dry, clinical look of Gran Turismo, without offering the depth of realism of Polyphony's seminal racing title. There are approximately 40 additional vehicles this time. The expanded roster adds more variety to the game. Players can control vehicles from a variety of manufacturers including Toyota, Honda, Ford, Chrysler, GM, Dodge and others. There's a pretty decent selection of vehicles available initially, and many more can be unlocked by completing races and challenges in Sega GT Online's various modes.

The main meat of the game is the GT mode, which unfolds in a standard manner. Your first task is to purchase a vehicle and place it in the garage. In the garage, players can then purchase parts to upgrade performance, change the car's transmission, or can sell their car for a better model. After you've selected and tweaked your ride, its time to make a run for it in the GT mode. This mode is divided into a series of 5 standard races followed by a license exam. Once you've successfully completed a racing level by finishing third or higher, you unlock the license exam. Once you have achieved your license, the next bracket is unlocked. As you complete races and licenses, you'll earn money that you can use to buy parts and new cars, which helps you immensely when you move on to the next bracket. The GT mode is challenging and difficult, you'll have to develop a highly-tuned racing ability to progress, especially later on. The upside to this stuggle is that Sega GT Online allows you to create a customized vehicle and unlock a number of sleek driving machines, so the effort is worthwhile.

In addition to the GT mode, there are several standard single player modes including Time Attack, Quick Battle and Event Races. Most of these are fairly self-explanatory, though the Event Races allow you to win prizes when you complete them, each of these has a unique set of requirements. Players can also race classic vehicles in the game's unique Chronicle mode, which allows you to unlock additional cars and vehicles as you complete races, using a cool bingo style board that allows you to add vehicles to the garage quickly. Once of the game's more interesting areas comes in the Gathering mode. Here, you have to complete a variety of technical and racing challenges, which is harder than it seems, especially the timed checkpoint survival events, which leave very little room for error. Some of the other technical challenges require you to completing an entire race without going off the track, navigating a course without hitting another vehicle, or pass a certain number of rival cars within a time limit. Giving players different race conditions and requirements is a good idea because it reduces the monotony of driving around the same courses repeatedly. These mini-games are fun, and the fact that completing these unlocks additional cars gives you a strong motivation to keep playing, and adds to Sega GT Online's replay value significantly.

Once you get the basic of the game down in the solo modes, you are then ready to go online and compete against up to ten other players using the Xbox Live service. There are several game types available, and players can choose to play against others using the Optimatch service, which sets you up with players who want to play in a similar mode of play. Once you're logged in, you can view your rankings, compete in official contests and more. Sega GT Online also lets you compete in official contests against other players in order to win downloadable content such as new vehicles and other items. There are some good ideas here, but they're undermined by the navigation menu, which is clunky and awkward to use. Unfortunatley, the biggest problem with the online game lies in several technical areas. Sega GT Online suffers from excessive lag that makes playing a chore, and races ended prematurely several times for no apparent reason. This definitely isn't up to the standards set by other Xbox Live titles, and gave us flashbacks to the many frustrating problems encountered in dial-up connections. The overall quality was subpar for a broadband-only game, and hugely frustrating considering online connectivity is one of the key enhancements of the game.

The vehicles' controls and handling is contigent on many factors, such as the parts installed, type of vehicle and model you're racing. However, the game offers players a consistently realistic feel throughout that makes driving incredibly realistic. The performance of each vehicle is realistic and believable. For example, controlling the more advanced sports cars requires more skill, because they have a tendency to fishtail around corners at high speed, so you have to adjust your expectations. However, Sega GT Online's approach is more arcade-oriented and thus the cars are slightly easier to handle than in other simulation titles. Adding new parts and making adjustments actually makes a noticeable change the vehicles' performance, which adds to the game's overall depth and realism. Sega has done a decent job with the controls and the game strikes a good balance between realistic performance and arcade thrills, though this median probably won't impress hard-core simulation fans.

When it comes to visuals and graphics, the game is a mixed bag. Sega GT 2002 was a solid title when it came out two years ago, other titles such as Project Gotham 2 set much higher standards. While there have been some improvements made with the newest installment, such as improved lighting and more dramatic weather effects, the environments still feel grainy and washed out, lacking the crisp definition that Xbox owners have come to expect. The courses themselves feel a bit bland and uninspired, with predictable designs. The car models don't have a lot of detail and lack polish, displaying the occasional jaggies making for a sub-par visual experience. The game's soundtrack features a variety of punk-pop and rap music, some of which is better than others, though there are a few tracks that overpower the action on the road. Overall, the game's production values are adequate, but Sega GT Online doesn't have the polish that players have come to expect.

The verdict on Sega GT Online is that this release is a disappointing mixed bag. The low retail price means that expectations shouldn't be too high. In the plus column, the game implements some interesting ideas such as the Survival Time Attack and Gathering modes, which are a bit more interesting than the norm. However, the graphics are dull and washed out, lacking the definition and clarity gamers have come to expect. The structure is a bit predictable, but not the difficulty curve isn't too steep, and most players should be able to unlock many additional vehicles quickly. However, the single player game feels derivative and uninspired, especially compared to other Xbox titles on the market. Going online is the most frustrating aspect of the game, with hackneyed presentation and sub-par technical aspects, the game falls short of the mark. Excessive lag, unpredictable enemy AI and frustrating time-outs actually makes the online experience inferior to the solo game. While there are some interesting ideas, Sega GT Online's inferior implementation is a major drawback. This isn't a terrible game by any means, but it is a disappointment that feels rushed and underdeveloped. Sega GT Online is a technically competent racers, but its lack of polish and technical glitches means it doesn't to live up to its potential.

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