Full Review: Too long in the oven but still far from done.
Sega GT 2002 was the Xbox racer that tried to beat Sony's Gran Turismo 3, and put up a good fight, but failed for the most part. It looked good, had plenty of tunable cars, solid AI, and had some innovative ways to play. But, it was crippled with terrible tracks and controls that left most gamers limp. Future plans for an "Append Disc" to bring the game online kept GT fans hopeful, but things were delayed again and again. Nearly a year and a half later that disc, now a stand-alone game called Sega GT Online, has finally seen the light of day. Now that we can finally see what it looks like, we're frankly a little surprised at just how ugly it is.
The formula for Sega GT Online is quite simple: take Sega GT 2002, mix in 40-odd new cars and a couple new tracks, make those new cars accessible via a rather dull new gameplay mode, and finally toss in a poor attempt at online play. Mix together via some clunky and unfriendly menus, and then package it all up with the game's best feature, its $20 price tag.
The 2002 mode here is exactly the same as what was found in the original game. The only addition here are the above mentioned 40-odd cars and a few new tracks unlocked by completing challenges in Gathering Mode. The challenges themselves aren't that bad, but the rewards, or lack thereof, are. Other than a penance of money you don't actually win anything in this mode; beating a challenge only unlocks the ability for you to buy one of the new cars in 2002 mode. What kind of lame prize is that?
The new tracks are an improvement over the generally poor ones found in the original game, but there are too few of them to make any real improvement overall. The old tracks are still mostly too long, too ugly, and full of ridiculous kinks and corners that don't flow into each other.
Then there's the most disappointing aspect of the updated 2002 mode: the inability to import your old saved game. Sega had long said you'd be able to import the cars and parts you earned in Sega GT 2002, and the game box itself says "Transfer Sega GT 2002 save data to access customized cars from your garage." Amazingly, that's exactly what you can't do. You can load your 2002 saved data, but can only import up to $100,000 in cash (even if you have millions in your safe) along with anything you bought to decorate your garage. No cars, and no parts. Thankfully when you get online all the game's cars are available to you in both stock and "lightly tuned" setups. So, having an empty garage won't hurt you much. But, driving these cars just doesn't quite have the same appeal as driving something you've modded and tuned yourself.
There are a few different ways to play online with the game, including straight races for up to 12 cars, team battles for up to 6 cars, and a navigator mode for up to three teams of two. Some good variety, but actually finding anyone to play against is nearly impossible. Searching for rooms to join takes a good 15 seconds to complete, and by the time you can finally join a room chances are they've already started racing. The problem is the list won't show that, and you can't join a room that's currently racing. So when you try to join you get booted out to the main menu, where you must begin the search again, waiting another 15 seconds for a list. Having to search five to ten times before being able to join a room, ANY room, is not uncommon.
Then, if you manage to get into a room, finding someone who actually wants to try one of the different game modes can be a challenge, particularly navigator mode. Here, each team has a driver and a navigator. The driver's view is full of fog, so he can't see very far, but the navigator has the map and can send signals and talk to the driver. It's a lot of fun and is very challenging, but it takes commitment and cooperation from a number of people to get a game going, and those aren't things easily found online.
When setting up a room there's no way for the host to restrict the car selection, and trying to get everyone to pick similar cars is like herding cats. You can see what cars everyone chooses before the race, but since people can choose from their garage you never know if their 150hp Civic is the same as your stock one, or if it's loaded up with sticky tires and suspension bits. There's also no way to kick someone once you've reached the car selection screen, so if someone won't cooperate you're stuck with them.
IF you manage to get into a game and IF you actually find some people who won't quit and IF everyone actually picks similar cars the game can actually be quite fun to play. 12-player races can be a blast, but even when you have only three or four drivers with great connections lag can be a real problem. And, one final complaint: as soon as the leader crosses the line, the game ends for all. Even if he's a half-lap ahead of you and you're still duking it out for second with another car, it's race over and back to the lobby.