Sébastian Loeb Rally Evo races onto PC and consoles at the end of the month. We've sampled a near final build of the game.
Sébastien Loeb may have fallen behind the leaders in the ongoing Dakar Rally (that for some reason is held in South America these days), but the nine time rally world champion still has a racing game coming out at the end of this month. Thus we've booted up our PS4 to give the nearly finished version a run.
Rally is a truly demanding motorsport. It requires skills and guts as you speed down narrow roads, be it tarmac or gravel, flying across crests at speeds no sane person would consider in cars that, in spite of their tremendous power, are fairly lightweight. It makes for a racing experience unlike any other, and this has been captured well in Sébastien Loeb Rally Evo from Italian studio Milestone. The studio have previously worked on the licensed WRC titles (up until this year's edition that was handled by Kylotonn). The quality has not been the best in the past, and this latest offering is going up against Codemasters' triumphant return to the sub-genre in Dirt Rally, albeit the console version of that game is still someway off, giving SLRE a head start of sorta over its rally.
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Sébastien Loeb Rally Evo will see release on January 29. It offers a reasonably well rounded package including quick races, a career mode, complete rallies, and individual challenges within the Loeb Experience. The latter offers 27 events to play through the career of the greatest rally champion of all time. There is a whole series of video interviews with the likeable Frenchman. In addition to these challenges we find rallies from Monte Carlo, San Remo, Sweden, Finland, Mexico, Australia and Wales. The driving surface changes often and with it the driving experience. Dripping wet gravel in Wales is very different from the dry, dusty Aussie deserts or icy slushes of Swedish forest paths. The simulation can be felt even when using only the standard PS4 controller.
The driving experience is implemented properly, and the changing road surfaces bring substantially different handling characteristics with them. There is no question that the game is extremely difficult to master. The vital pace notes of the co-driver are announced very quickly. Anyone driving in the cockpit view will also get a visual signal on the steering wheel rim, otherwise you have to listen and pay close attention. In reality it's only listening that works really well. And you have to know the tracks by heart, because even the smallest of obstacles and tiniest of bumps will have devastating results if you happen to crash into them. In Wales a small gate post will make for a complete wipeout, as well as the curbs in the mountains of Italy. In general, the driving experience is quite tough, like any true rally game should be. There is no margin for error and while it may look slow it really isn't; it puts high demands on your ability to make quick adjustments.
Unfortunately, the graphics during gameplay are not quite where they should be to keep up with the likes of Dirt Rally. Sometimes the cars look as if they're floating on top of the road. The cockpit view reveals sad, barren cars and lacks the level of detail that we've come to expect. There are a few other views to choose from, but none of them really stand out. The audio side of things is decent, but hardly offers any real variation. It feels in some places as if only a single set of sounds for each car is being used and looped eternally.
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If you want a real rally driving experience, the driving aids can be completely switched off and then (in particular when you're not familiar with a stage) more often than not you'll need to use the rewind feature to go back in time and correct your mistakes. This feature is also available in races, however, only for a limited number of times. This feature is of course an affront to diehard fans, so let's forget about it altogether. If you want to teach yourself how to drive the game offers a well crafted training ground. In addition, you can apply for Quickraces and borrow a ride from a small selection of interesting cars without having to first earn them playing the career mode. A lot of cars can also be driven in the context of the Loeb Challenges.
Sébastien Loeb Rally Evo is a well made rally simulation with enough content, although it's hard to see the end result being on par with Dirt Rally. However, there is still some time until Codemasters' game hits consoles, so if you want a new rally game in the meantime, you might want to consider giving this a go. Don't expect a real smash hit, instead it's a solid racing game with an interesting leading man. And it features the original Pikes Peak race. Check back in a couple of weeks for the full review.