Sébastien Loeb had been rally champion for nine years. It is an incredible feat for a sport that has so many variables involved. From 2004 until 2013 he was unstoppable with his Citroen team at his side, in short, the man is living legend. Three years after his last championship, we finally get a game with the man himself.
Sébastien Loeb Evo Rally borrows from the racing genre and adds a few neat little touches to the genre itself. Milestone Inc. has a few members of staff from the team that brought us WRC Rally, and the game shows their pedigree.
Upon starting the game up for the first time, selecting your driver’s name, team name and the team’s livery, you are given your Peugeot 106 Rallye car, which you can use around your team’s racing headquarters. There’s a small section of tarmac to slide around, and a massive abandoned quarry to practice all those drifting and sliding skills.
Drive back to your Head Quarters, where you can start to get your rally career underway. The game itself is split down into sections. Amateur racing which is where you’ll be cutting your teeth, all the way through to the current and modern rally cars. There’s a good selection of vehicles in the game, including Renault, Lancia, Subaru, Mitsubishi, Mini through to the Pikes Peak rockets.
Each manufacturer has several standout vehicles from the rallying roster of yesteryear, and each can be owned and lined with your own team’s colours. The amateur league introduces you to the game slowly. There’s no introduction stage with incredible vistas, it’s just a pure rally experience, and the game is all the better for it. The best stages early on were Sweden and Finland, tearing through the forest stages at 100mph, where one incorrect movement would send you hurtling into a line of trees.
The stages look incredible, and over the course of the ten or so amateur races not only would you be introduced to the rally, and multiple stages, but also rallycross tracks – an eliminator where the last car is knocked out – but also a game mode called sectors. Sectors is a circuit race whereby driving the fastest around each stage of the circuit allows you to own that sector. The more you own at the end of the timer, the better chance you have of winning. While these modes break up the gameplay from the massive rally stages, they don’t feel as good and certainly don’t last as long either – it’s during these races that you will notice the long loading times as.
The rest of the events are split down into classes or eras much like the menus on Forza. Each event will tell you if you have the car required, or if you can afford one. If you don’t know much about rally racing this can be a good learning point, as you get a good introduction to each class from the narrator. For me, B class rallying is where it’s at. The design of the cars at that time was what would be considered the pinnacle of rally racing, and for safety reasons they were rightly outlawed. But nothing has come close to that period of rally history.
The game handles well, with each surface having its own little unique characteristics. Tarmac holds well, gravel can give you problems with both grip and braking, snow can pull your car. Every surface has to be mastered and really pushed to really get those times down on each stage. And if you do make a mistake the rewind function can undo those few seconds to help you attempt that corner again.
The rewind function seems to be more and more commonplace among racing games, and a rally game is where the function would be best used. The feature allows you to rewind time to a certain extent, but with numerous barrel rolls, the feature can just be enough to allow you to go back far enough. I never really had too much trouble when rewinding time, but with the nature of rally racing picking out where the car was losing control can be difficult to pinpoint. The other negative with the rewind feature is that it can only be used at certain points, and once you’ve used it there’s a cooldown and can’t be used right away.
The auto reset can have a mind of its own, even when you have face planted a tree you will just be stuck on the side of the road. Theoretically, you can lose those vital seconds in the lead. Conversely, I’ve hit a bank and reset midway through take off. The boundaries of the track are a little imbalanced sometimes, and while not a major problem, can lead you to restart the course.
I have to mention some of the technical issues as well. Some are graphical and cause some slowdown. One of the Australian tracks, in particular, has a great deal of frame rate issues when starting the course. It does ease up as you progress, when trying to drive fast and then suffering from input lag, making those few vital adjustments to your car can sometimes be a bit problematic. Then there’s the pop-up. Numerous times as you’re tearing up the course, the red and white tape just jumps into the picture. I’ve also noticed similar issues with the car. The wheels just pop on when you’re trackside. This is something that should be expected from the older generation of games. Not something two years into its lifecycle.
The graphics are also OK – not great and not terrible – they’re OK. The courses themselves are great – they look fantastic, but you just feel as though you are tearing around them, and that it’s game working too hard to keep everything in motion. There really needs to be a lot more polish on the car models, I would’ve also liked to have seen more in the way of environmental features as you fly through them.
The sounds need a bit more amplification. The cars just need to be boosted as they sound a little bit too flat, and it would be nice just to have the snow crunching a little more under the tyres or the gravel pinging more off of the bodywork.
Overall, Sébastien Loeb Evo Rally is a good game. It’s a straight-laced rally game that needs a bit more polish, along with a little bit more bombast. That’s why Dirt is the current king of rally games. They’re a hard sell to anyone but the hardcore fans, and to make the game appealing, you need to have that little bit of “je ne sais pas ce que” to make your product stand out more.
Creating your own rally team and working your way up the ladder is great fun, as is reliving certain moments from Sébastien Loeb’s rally career. It’s a nice package, and whilst it may have a few issues here and there, I kept going back to it. The tracks really are fantastic to tear up and the complete love for the sport is growing all the way through.
If you can look past some of the glaring flaws, this really is a good game at its heart. It’s not going to be for everyone, but this is a good starting point hopefully for Sébastien Loeb Evo Rally 2 to improve upon.