Sebastien Loeb Rally Evo Review
Back in 1998, Colin McCrae Rally was released to much aplomb. Now, I am not a guy who lives for motorsports, but Colin McCrae Rally was the first driving game that really gripped me. In fact, it forced me to purchase a steering wheel and pedals. I was hooked. The challenge of shaving one second from my previous best time was constant, the mud, ice, snow and water kept me guessing at each turn. It was a driving gem, a game that took me away from the mundane track driving games and gave something extra.
Since then we’ve had several rally game offerings and Italian developer Milestone S.R.L have served up the WRC licensed games in this genre. None of them ever rose to the giddy heights of Colin McCrae Rally, but will Sebastien Loeb Rally Evo come racing round the corner in first place? Or will the impending release of Codemasters latest gravel spinner “Dirt Rally” be too powerful for this French maestro sponsored machine?
In terms of starting content, there are a wealth of rally related options, ranging from famous Rally stages (my favourite being the tarmac of Wales), to the time trials of the “Pikes Peak” challenge, via some Rally Cross in LA and whole host of cars to do them in. A good start made by Sebastien Loeb Rally Evo.
For you novices, there is a useful practise track at your team HQ and this serves as a way to familiarise yourself with the controls, understand the demands of driving both on tarmac and gravel, as well as a chance to time yourself without the pressure of a leader board looming at the finish line.
On the track, Sebastien Loeb Rally Evo straddles the racing line between arcade racer and simulator.
You can start a generic career mode as an unknown driver and work your way up to the very top. You earn virtual currency to invest in new cars and in turn, this unlocks more events to compete in. It’s a good way to see all that the game has to offer, and there is plenty of variety in the tracks, with over 300km to race, slide and crash on. Each environment provides distinct conditions, from the snow and ice of Sweden to the hot and dusty terrain of Mexico (via a very wet Wales).
Should you decide to cut a few corners and step in to the shoes of the greatest rally driver currently plying his trade, then there is the option to follow exploits and replicate his successes (or in my case failures) throughout his career. This mode was far more exciting, offering a number of different events Sebastien Loeb has competed in, some great cars (the Peugeot 206 T16 beast being my favourite) and a few videos from the great man himself to inspire me in my pursuit of glory…well, if you classify “glory” as completing a stage with four wheels still on your car. I must keep practising.
On the track, Sebastien Loeb Rally Evo straddles the racing line between arcade racer and simulator. It allows complete novices to select a number of driving aids, reduce damage and has the forgiving “rewind” feature, where a mistake can be rectified though a little time manipulation. Given my early attempts resembled that of a slightly inebriated orangutan, this certainly came in handy. If you prefer a much more realistic, unforgiving approach, then you can setup your car in line with your needs. Beginners be warned, this game demands patience with the driving aids turned off, and therein lies the challenge that might well hook the more committed driving enthusiasts, but prove too much for the casual racing fan.
It becomes apparent that time and budget have held this game back from delivering a game befitting of the graphical prowess held by the PS4/Xbox One/PC. There is noticeable pop in, and some of the textures on the scenery look like they might have been hand drawn by that drink loving orangutan. It’s not outright offensive on the eye, but it does not offer you that graphical immersion we’ve started to see in recent years. Whilst each car handles slightly differently based on the terrain and setup, I felt oddly detached from the experience, not really feeling like every decision I made was replicated in front of me in perfect harmony with the environment. I can understand the skating feeling on ice, but this seemed to happen on other surfaces too.
I will give credit to Milestone S.R.L for attempting to implement a decent physics model, and this led to some spectacular crashes. However, there were far too many occasions where it just did not come together and although the results were comical, it felt disjointed and punished minor mistakes with overly dramatic outcomes. At one point, I managed to fly off the track and get stuck in a tree, with no option to go back on my mistake (I had turned off the rewind function at this point). Suffice to say I did not finish first, in fact I just turned off the console and started again. Full marks if this was “Sitting in a Tree Wheel Spinning Simulator 2016”, but it’s not and that kind of disconnect in a game where you spend a fair amount of time flying towards sheer drops and trees did not fill me with confidence. Maybe this can be resolved through future patches, but right now it’s a broken delivery and might result in unnecessary frustration.
Now, I really want to know how the audio for this game was produced. OK, I do not possess the ears of seasoned rally mechanic, but I do know that tyre screech should not sound like someone sawing a piece of wood in half. You might think this is overly critical, but it’s these little details that can make or break immersion. As for your co-driver, after half an hour of listening to his very drawl delivery, it’s safe to say you’d not be going for a quick post-race drink with the guy anytime soon. Sorry whoever you are, but never have I craved for the more relaxing tones of my sat-nav.
I can see the potential in Sebastien Loeb Rally Evo, and I think Milestone S.R.L really wanted to deliver the ultimate rally game experience. There is no lack of effort in terms of content and options, and the tutorial certainly helps to ease you in to the challenges ahead, but here in lies the problem, this game asks a lot and fails to deliver it back in terms of all round quality.
Whether Milestone S.R.L get the time and budget to do that in the future, who knows? Yet right now, I cannot recommend Sebastien Loeb Rally Evo to the masses. Yes, it will appeal to the minority of dedicated rally fans based on its sheer volume of all things dirty and vehicular, but for those looking for an all-round enjoyable rally game, which creates the thrills and spills in an accessible package, this game is not it.
On a final note, if you really must have a new rally buzz, the impending “DIRT Rally” (currently available on the PC) will soon hit the PS4 & Xbox One. I would advise holding off on a purchase of Sebastien Loeb Rally Evo until you’ve played Codemasters latest offering.