Milestone, developers of the long running, WRC titles have moved away from the officially licensed rally championship and forgone the arcade-friendly mechanics of their previous releases in favour of a Sébastien Loeb flavoured simulation that leans heavily on the Frenchman’s exemplary career in rally motorsport. Milestone has delivered a deep, unforgiving, accurate, but ultimately, slightly rough rally simulation, one that, while likely to be loved to fans of the sport, is as equally unlikely to capture the imagination of the wider gaming audience.
While the move to full on simulation is not a 100% successful one, it does prove that the developer has the chops to deliver a competitive and largely enjoyable simulation of the sport, one that is only let down by a handful of questionable design choices, and above all else, its relatively limited budget. Don’t get me wrong, the game is far from ugly and accuracy was obviously a major role in the recreation of the famous racing events and vehicles that grace the game, it’s just that, despite their best efforts, everything still looks a little, well, budget. The tracks, while a big improvement over the wider, flatter courses of the WRC series, are visually bland, and although the 30fps gameplay is fine for the most part, there are times when the game starts to chug, which, for a game of this ilk, can be hugely problematic. There is a rewind feature available if you make a mistake (framerate related or otherwise), but this system has its own share of problems.
The biggest of these is that getting stuck on the side of the track is a very real possibility. Yes, you can rewind time to correct your mistake, but there were numerous times in which I’ve tried to drive my way out of trouble, only to realise that I’m well and truly stuck in the scenery. Of course, by then, the rewind feature won’t go back far enough thus leaving me with the opportunity to see my car stuck in the same place, only, y’know, 15 seconds earlier. It doesn’t happen all that often, but there were a few occasions when I had to re-start a race because of one mistake. While the hardcore might suggest that is fair game, it doesn’t feel that way when the game delivers a rewind feature that doesn’t always work.
The car list, while understandably Citroen focussed, is relatively sizeable, and although not all cars are created equal, the majority are well detailed and fun to drive for the most part. The different styles will take some getting used to, but again, for those looking for a deep simulation of the sport, this kind of variety will prove a God send for a racing sub-genre which, historically at least, has a tendency to feel a tad samey. The unforgiving nature of the driving model ensures that changing cars is an event unto itself with each car coming with its own unique set of challenges. This isn’t the livery swap of Sega rally; changing cars here can almost feel like you’re playing a different game and with the course alone proving hugely challenging, those looking to make any headway on the leaderboards will have to put in plenty of practice. Shit, I had to put in plenty of practice just to make it around a lot of the narrower, more unforgiving tracks (of which there are plenty). The greater variety of track type is undoubtedly a blessing, but beware, some of these are brutally difficult, and during the night events, are likely to drive some to madness.
Like the tracks, Sébastien Loeb Rally EVO also delivers plenty of variety in its race types; rally, rallycross and hillclimbs are the three core events, but with knock out and drift variations also available, there is certainly plenty of diversity to the challenges that you will be a facing. Yes, racing is racing, but believe me, a standard rally feels like a notably different beast to the hillclimb – it’s nothing you haven’t seen before, but like all aspects of the experience, it’s the little details that make all the difference with that commitment to simulation helping to make each event feel undoubtedly unique.
Sébastien Loeb Rally EVO is home to a sizeable and largely enjoyable career mode with plenty of cars, tracks and events, but the big draw, and the mode that ultimately makes this more than just another name driven rally experience ala Colin McRae, is the hugely enjoyable but brutally unforgiving, Loeb Experience. Beyond providing some genuinely interesting insight into the life, career and character of the sports’ most successful participant, it also allows you to experience the defining moments of his career as you relive his most important and career defining victories. This mode gives Sébastien Loeb Rally EVO the kind of structure that if often lacking from racers while imbuing the whole experience with a sense of real character. Of course, Loeb fans will get the most from it, but as somebody with only a passing knowledge of the great man, I found both the races and the accompanying interviews incredibly entertaining and subsequently found myself much more invested in each event given their pace in his history.
It has its fair share of rough edges and the multiplayer options are basic at best, but despite signs of Milestone’s ambitions outweighing the games’ relatively limited budget, they have nonetheless created a solid, entertaining, and above all else, incredibly deep rally driving experience. It doesn’t have the kind of content to match the likes of Forza or Gran Turismo, but for fans of the sport, the unique nature of each car and the challenge that each and every corner brings should keep them busy for months to come. The Loeb Experience adds some much-needed character, and while the commitment to realism can leave the visuals feeling a little bland, Milestone’s move from the relatively arcadey WRC series to the much more unforgiving and simulation based, Sébastien Loeb Rally EVO, has to go down as a largely successful one.
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