While most of us know Sega’s motorsport gaming division due to Sega Rally Championship, not many people know that two years after the release of Sega Rally Championship for arcade machines and one year on from when it was ported to Saturn, Sega had an attempt at another racing genre: the spectacular world of Touring Car Racing.
I mean, who dislikes watching the cars that they drive everyday racing side by side in a racetrack? It is the only kind of motor racing in which you see one of the cars competing and say “Yeah that’s my boy”.
The game, released in 1996 in the arcades, seems to have the intention of diversifying the options Sega offered the players, transitioning from the mud and gravel of rallying to the asphalt of tracks, and, unlike many of the Sega games of time, they decided not to publicise it in the highly controversial style that Sega used back in the 1990’s (who does not remember the famous “Sega does what Nintendon’t”?) but in a quite elegant style with a photo of the arcade machine itself.
Starting with the negatives, the controls are, in my opinion, the worst aspect of the game, because here is where the mix of realism and lack of it comes into action. You have to be very precise on the brakes to brake properly, and while this is something commendable, it is not what you expect in an arcade game.
STCC is not the kind of game in which you can just go berserk all over the circuit and expect the race to end well, you have to brake. You have break smoothly, slowly, and never for a long time. You have to apply rather small nudges to the brake. Like in a real car. And I like that, what I expect in a racing game is that it makes me believe I am right in the track and driving the car for real, feeling its vibrations, taking the turns carefully, using the kerbs, and managing speed and strategy properly.
However, and here comes the paradox of this game, it has some unrealistic counterparts to the general realism of the game which make it too difficult, for example, it has no sense that a Mercedes C-Class can reach 350 km/h when not even Formula One cars could reach that speed in the mid 90’s, and that is one of the reasons for the cars braking in an either ridiculously fast or ridiculously slow manner, so, while the way in which a real driver should brake is properly simulated and so is acceleration, the effect of that them is, in most of the cases, a disaster.
If you brake slowly, you will end up against the wall because the braking physics are not properly done and the car will not decelerate sufficiently. If you brake too fast, or if you apply more pressure than usual, the car will decelerate in an unrealistic way instead of locking brakes (which is what a real car will do). Finally, if you do not brake, the car will drift and you will be thrown from one side of the track to the other till the car calms itself, although if you are capable to avoid the car hitting the side wall, it could be said that not braking and avoiding the car on in each side of the circuit is the best approach to tackle a turn.
I know arcade games are supposed to have a less realistic approach, but that is supposed to make them easier, not harder, and while I like the realism of the game, I do recognize that arcade games tend to be unrealistic, but I expect that lack of realism to make the game easier, not harder.
In short, controls are not as responsive as they should be, and if they are like that when playing in an emulator, I don’t even want to know how they are in the original machine. Visually, although not impressive by today’s standards, the game looks much better than the ’97 Sega Saturn version, with a much more clear picture and few pixels, and that is, in my opinion, another of the good aspects of the game.
The cars are recreated with a detail that, except in Nintendo 64 (which would not be released in Europe till one year after this game came out) were impossible to see in consoles back in the day, and, in my opinion, one of the reasons people preferred to play Sega arcades instead of buying their home platforms.
The sound is decent, being clearer than the port to Saturn, however, the developers seem to have put more attention on the musical selection the game has than on the motor sounds. In a motorsport game, I feel this is bad, because when I play a racing game the priority should be the engine sounds, the roaring, the screech of tires, and not the Original Sound Track. The OST,h, by the way, is quite catchy. But with only three tracks, it gets repetitive when you play the game over and over again.
Now, the original machine had a multiplayer mode, and again, this is something you can notice when using the test mode menu, with one of the ways in which you can play the game is the “Twin” one, however, I am not sure if it is playable in an emulator.
Sega Touring Car Championship is, for me, quite an addictive game, precisely due to its combination of realism when it comes to what you have to do for accelerating and breaking (although not for the results of it). The selection of cars, all of them from the DTM-Deutsche Tourenwagen Meisterschaft-German Touring Car Championship ( Mercedes C-Klass, Opel Calibra, and Alfa Romeo 155) except the Toyota Supra from the Japanese Grand Touring Car Championship. Given that Sega is partly Japanese, I guess that they wanted to promote their national automobile industry, which is a good thing.
The scarce amount of cars does not take away the time you will need for completing the game, given its difficulty, and I say that from experience, because I am still trying to do what I was doing four or five years ago with this game: Trying to win the three circuit championship.
Although the three circuits you get is even scarcer than the cars, the tracks you get are it is varied enough:
- A permanent one (Country Circuit, which would be an oval if it had not a normal turn innthe middle of the track)
- A semi-permanent (Grunwald, settled in the middle of the mountains but not with a lot of difference to country circuit, except being tighter and more difficult to complete in time).
- An urban circuit (in which the best bet for completing it is to let the car rebound on both sides of the track when you crash, and personally, I find that quite enjoyable).
The Saturn version also had a variant of the urban circuit in which you raced at night, but the original arcade version does not.
My overall impression of the game is that, while a good idea, seems to have been done in a hurry. If it had a bit more attention from the big S, it would have been not only a successful arcade game, but could have led to an entire series of racing games.