I have a storied history with racing games. Back in the days of the NES and Commodore 64 I loved nothing more than playing Outrun and Rad Racer – you know the types of racing games I mean, the arcade-style racers where you could put pedal to the metal and drift round tracks at speed. Then there were the top-down and isometric racing games like Ivan “Ironman” Stewart’s Super Off-Road Racing. Hell I even remember enjoying Hard Drivin‘… Which is not something you’ll hear many people say!
However as technology progressed and realism took over the racing genre, we got racing simulators rather than out and out fun arcade racers and my interested waned. It took some years for me to find my way back into the racing game genre. First with the Burnout franchise, then the awesome Spilt/Second and finally Microsoft’s Forza Horizon games. Those titles brought the fun back to the genre for me and I found myself enjoying racing games again
But those are predominantly street racing games. So what about rally titles? Well that’s a genre I’ve been dipping my toe into most recently thanks to Microsoft making DiRT 3 and DiRT Showdown available as part of the Games For Gold program. In fact I’ve been burning the midnight oil with DiRT 3, trying to 100% each and every track and stunt course (which are a pain in the arse to be frank). But, and here’s the big but (and I’m not lying) – I’ve been playing the game in the arcade-iest way possible, with braking assists etc. Which means I’m having fun but not really “driving” in even the video game sense.
Why am I telling you all this? Well Sebastien Loeb Rally Evo is a rally game like the DiRT franchise, however it’s a return to the reality of a simulation-based experience rather than a arcade experience. Yet still, somehow, I’ve found myself enjoying the game for that very reason. Being a sim means that there’s much more of a challenge and it’s much more satisfying to even score the most meagre of points… And believe me, I’ve been scoring meagre points (how about coming dead last – sixteenth out of sixteen cars – in my first few races?)
The best way to explain it, is to pinch a line or two from the PR bumph that came with our review copy: “Sebastien Loeb Rally Evo is set to be the ultimate rally simulation, completely dedicated to realism and accurate recreation of tracks and car handling, with input from Sebastien Loeb himself. So basically, if you try to play it like Burnout, you’re going to have a rough time.”
And that’s entirely accurate. Sebastien Loeb Rally Evo is one game where you have to mind your speed and use your brakes [very] liberally! In basic terms, Sebastien Loeb Rally Evo is to DiRT what Forza Motorsport is to Forza Horizon.
What Sebastien Loeb Rally Evo does bring to the rally-racer genre is a tremendous sense of realism. Not only are all the cars in this game – a total of 50 cars from 5 decades of rallying – entirely accurate in terms of design and handling, but the tracks are too. The developers have painstakingly scanned and recreated actual rally tracks from across the globe – these are not approximations of the courses these ARE the courses! It’s probably the closest many people will get to a real rally course in their lifetime! And they look beautiful… Graphically it’s hard to fault anything about the cars or the courses – trees are accurately recreated down to individual leaves, even the dirt looks like deal dirt, stones and all.
Speaking of which, if there’s one area I could graphically fault Sebastien Loeb Rally Evo it’s in the recreation of the dirt “plume” at the back of your car – especially when you spin out when revving up or when, like me, you’re recovering from yet another crash or close call. That the dust/dirt cloud is the only thing i can fault with this game graphically is saying something. Bear in mind I played the PS4 version of the game… And we all know – for some reason – cross-platform games often look better on Sony’s machine; and that’s coming from someone who was vehemently an Xbox supporter last gen (and still plays his 360 almost daily).
Whilst it’s probably not – atl east in the long term – for an arcade race game lover like me, there’s no doubting just how successful Sebastien Loeb Rally Evo is. From the graphics to the various game modes, the controls (which took me a second to figure out – I’m someone who likes to use the D-pad to control my cars NOT the thumbsticks) to the astonishingly good voiceover work; this is a superb example of what racing games can be on the current generation of consoles, easily surpassing even the gorgeous sunsets of Forza Horizon 2 on the Xbox One (trust me I thought that would be impossible to top).
Sebastien Loeb Rally Evo is out now on PS4, Xbox One and PC.