The second rally game to land on the latest consoles after a drought of a couple of years, Sebastien Loeb Rally Evo is also the first that features the most accomplished rally driver of recent times. Having dominated the World Rally Championship for a decade, he’s lent his moniker to a game that celebrates his skills and achievements and gives gamers the chance to relive some of his finest moments. Is this as triumphant an outing as his first WRC appearance, or does it crash out at the first turn?
Coming from racing game specialists Milestone, responsible for the recent MotoGP 2015 and Ride games, starting your career in Sebastien Loeb Rally Evo is quite personal. There’s the usual name setting and country selection, with an added bonus of picking racing overalls and setting up your own team as well. It’s cosmetic without much impact beyond the menu screen, but it adds that level of immersion that the game’s trying to sell as you move into the main game modes, assuming you make it past the menu section because that’s actually an open area filled with tarmac and gravel for you to hoon around in.
Split into three segments – there’s career where you build your reputation, rise through the ranks, buy new cars and ultimately pit yourself against Sebastien Loeb’s challenge of being the best of the best; there’s the Sebastien Loeb experience which has you driving specific parts of his career, from the early days up to his 2013 record breaking Pike’s Peak run; and then there’s multiplayer to pit your hard fought skills against the rest of the community. Behind the presentation there’s a fairly deep set of options so that you can truly customise and tailor the game to your own tastes, something that was sorely lacking in the last rally game we reviewed, WRC 5. The same can be said about the vehicles on offer, there are a large number available ranging from classic 2WD’s to the specialist rally cars of today. And yes, you will get to drive the insane Group B cars of the 1980’s.
Up to this point Sebastien Loeb Rally Evo ticks all the boxes for a comprehensive off road game, but a title like this lives and dies on its track layouts, surface variation and handling model, and unfortunately that’s where things start to go wrong. The tracks are very narrow and the cars feel loaded with understeer – it’s like trying to steer a shopping trolley down a bowling alley sometimes. Whenever the wheel is turned at speed it’s hit and miss on if the car will react or make you slide right off the track (not that there’s really much room in the first place), and usually off a steep cliff. Sure, the best way to counteract this is to go slower, and that’s the tactic you have to use, but it compromises the thrill of rallying which is precisely threading your way through fast sweeping bends and tight hairpin corners, always on the edge of losing control. Having to brake heavily for a high speed corner because you don’t want to slide into the scenery and flip the car is sensible in real life, not want you might want to do here though. At least the cars do roll and get damaged with a degree of realism.
I can hear some of you now shouting at me to play with the car setups and introduce a bit of oversteer to balance things out, and that’s a fair suggestion. However, you can’t in some modes so it means the default setup is one you have to fight instead of make work with you. It’s clear the game wants to err on the side of sim, rather than open itself up to a more casual audience. The presentation is slick, easy to understand and each game mode is explained clearly and concisely, hinting that everyone from novices to pros can pick up and play. Understanding how to drive at speed is left up to the gamer and with a little unpredictability in the handling response thrown on top of gravel, ice, snow and sand surfaces, it doesn’t make it quick and easy to feel like the rally legend the game is styled after. For the first time ever in a rally game I’ve driven with a racing line simply because I needed to know the braking points and severity. Your co-driver does a good job in terms of timing and detail, but in the early stages I needed more because what you’re told and what the game expects you to do don’t always align. Maybe this is down to the input Sebastien had with the game, reportedly providing feedback on the handling model and tracks, and giving us a different type of rally experience than we’re used to.
Back to variety… there isn’t just point-to-point races to take part in, Milestone have built in RallyCross and their own types of events that help hone your skills. RallyCross sees you take on three AI competitors to win a race on a small closed loop course, usually not taking long to complete. Sector battle is also up against the AI, this time seeing who can set the fastest sectors, and again very short. There’s also a time trial mode that has you driving through randomly activated gates against the clock to put in the best lap, which ends up being a nice test of reactions. The only let down with these events is that the PS4 version takes just as long to load the AI racing in than it does to finish them. Be prepared to spend time watching the loading screens, though most are informative and worth reading. Except the bizarre choice to spread classic car info over 3 sections, but never give you enough time to get to the last section.
It’s pretty clear that despite my issues with the handling, the focus has been on gameplay over everything else. The cars are nicely modelled and look good when taking an in-game photo; the tracks are reasonably well detailed; the damage when you clobber a rock or barrier manifests decently, and I think I even spotted a couple of different windscreen shatter effects; and it all lends itself to providing a smooth, judder-free drive. Replays can’t boast the same, but then it’s less important there. I’d like to pass comment on the multiplayer but sadly I couldn’t get a game when I’ve tried, and only saw a handful of people racing in full lobbies. It looks as if that side of the game might not be the main draw.
What you have in Sebastien Loeb Rally Evo is a fully featured rally game that aims to simulate the career of one of the greatest drivers of all time, and has even been built with his help. There are lots of cars, lengthy challenging courses and a decent suite of options to let you set things up your way. Unfortunately the tendency of every car to understeer slows the pace of the game dramatically as you compensate, and for all the rally expert input it pushes the game towards the hardcore rather than the casual, and that will hurt its wider appeal. I also can’t overlook the lack of multiplayer engagement, and the blatant cash grab day one DLC that clocks in at nearly £20 for 3 cars on one track – and especially galling as the content came for free with various pre-orders. This is definitely a better game than WRC 5, but I’ve still got a feeling that DiRT Rally with be the genre game to watch this year.
A review copy of Sebastien Loeb Rally Evo for PS4 was provided by the Milestone PR team, and the game is available now on PS4, Xbox One and PC.