You’ve got to hand it to Italian developer Milestone: for years now they’ve been making solid racing games, most notably with licences such as SBK, MotoGP and WRC.
With a licence comes a certain degree of limitation however, and so after skipping over the development of last year’s WRC 5 they’ve made what I feel is project born of passion, and undoubtedly their best rally game yet; Sebastien Loeb Rally Evo. Hopefully it’ll be the game that gives them the recognition they deserve.
As the most successful driver in WRC history, I don’t know exactly how much input Sebastien Loeb had in the making of Sebastien Loeb Rally Evo but it improves on Milestone’s last rally game, WRC 4, by leaps and bounds. It’s not the first time Sebastien Loeb has been involved in the development of a game either; the seminal Gran Turismo 5 also received some technical input from him, and even featured him as a virtual mentor for the game’s rally mode. That’s certainly a good connection to have.
Booting up the game for the first time, you’re welcomed by Milestone’s typically pleasant – if not a little generic – menus, prompting you to name your driver and co-driver as well as select your racing attire and team colours. A duo of comedy name decisions later and with the GameSpew colours chosen, I opted to take part in the optional tutorial to get to grips with the game’s controls. Feeling happy with my rally driving prowess (undeservedly so, as time would tell), I soon elected to exit the tutorial area to find out exactly what Sebastien Loeb Rally Evo had to offer me. The answer? A hell of a lot, it would seem.
Heavily geared towards being a single player experience, Sebastien Loeb Rally Evo features over 50 cars and 300km of tracks spread across its three main modes: Quick Mode, Career and Loeb Experience. Whilst Quick Mode is self-explanatory, simply enabling you to set up events to your liking, Career and Loeb Experience modes offer an interesting and lasting challenge for all rally fans, and possibly even those new to the sport. Those with a penchant for a spot of multiplayer need not fear though, as online multiplayer features are included, allowing you to search for quick races, create your own, or just check out how you stack up on the worldwide leaderboards.
If it’s not already obvious by its name, Career mode is where you’ll be spending the most time with Sebastien Loeb Rally Evo, serving up hundreds of events for you to enter across a huge number of car manufacturers and categories. The events aren’t all just the traditional “get from point A to point B” rally affairs either, giving you some much needed variation as you strive to accumulate masses of reputation and credits, essential to you moving up the rankings and purchasing more vehicles. You have elimination races, sector trials and perfect trajectory challenges, all sitting alongside other more traditional events such as Hill Climb and Rallycross. It’s an impressive assortment that truly manages to keep you interested in what could otherwise become a fairly dull and repetitive mode, and it’s also assisted by a progression structure that necessitates you to buy more cars in order to access more challenging events. Ultimately, your goal is to ascend an entirely fictional rally leaderboard, completing challenges given to you by Sebastien Loeb at set milestones until you finally reach that number one spot, but trust me, it’ll take you a long time to get there.
As vast and engrossing as Career mode is though, the mode that impressed me the most in Sebastien Loeb Rally Evo is Loeb Experience. Great for both fans of the man himself and those that are unaware of his great achievements, the Loeb Experience enables you to relive some of Loeb’s greatest rallies throughout his career, with interesting and informative videos prefacing each distinct era. Admittedly there’s not much variation to the events; they’re all pretty much just a case of finishing first bar one or two time trials and a few instances where you have to be the fastest in each section of a rally to win, but the videos put them into context, and with an ample bounty of cars unlocked as you progress there’s plenty of motivation to complete them all.
No matter how much content Sebastien Loeb Rally Evo has though, it wouldn’t be of any use if the actual act of driving wasn’t up to standard. Thankfully it is. Weighing very heavily towards the simulation side on the balance of things, initially Sebastien Loeb Rally Evo seemed awkward. After playing countless other rally titles of an apparently more arcadey nature, including to some extent even Milestone’s previous efforts in the WRC series, I got frustrated as I threw my car into corners with my usual vigour, often ending in disastrous results. I was perplexed as my car flew into an impressive corkscrew manoeuvre whilst speeding down what would usually be a pretty flat straight. With its realistic handling, impressive physics and accurately modelled tracks full of dips, ridges and undulations, Sebastien Loeb Rally Evo demands you to drive sensibly within each car’s limits, yet always push yourself to achieve the best time you can. Eventually, as I learned to drive less aggressively, I found myself making fewer mistakes, improving my times, and most importantly, becoming more absorbed and entertained as I cautiously blazed around the tracks.
Just because Sebastien Loeb Rally Evo is more of a simulation, it doesn’t mean that it’s not accessible to all skill levels. As well as the raft of optional assists and difficulty levels available, Sebastien Loeb Rally Evo also sports the rewind feature common to many modern racers, allowing you a limited opportunity to turn back time if you do make a catastrophic mistake. With the assists turned on and difficulty down low, even the most inexperienced and unskilled drivers will be able to remain competitive, but turn off the assists and put the difficulty on high and you’re certainly going to be up for a gargantuan challenge. Another indication of Sebastien Loeb Rally Evo’s simulation leanings is with its damage modelling, which as well as being pretty realistic is also impossible to turn off. You can tone it down somewhat or even make it more punishing if you wish, but you always have to be aware that each mistake you make is going to have some effect on your car.
So, we’ve established that Sebastien Loeb Rally Evo has shedloads of content and great gameplay. Does it complete the holy triumvirate of video games by being technically impressive too? Well, yes and no. For the most part Sebastien Loeb Rally Evo looks great and runs silky smooth, with some beautifully created environments and exquisitely modelled cars. Unfortunately, you do sometimes come across the odd track that just looks a bit flat and boring, and there are some rare instances where you can notice a distinct drop in the framerate – an issue most prevalent on some of the game’s night stages. Elsewhere, the game’s load times are noticeably erratic, with some races taking particularly longer to load than others. Apart from these minor issues however, Sebastian Loeb Rally Evo generally impresses, and during my time playing I encountered no bugs or glitches of note.
Overall then, Sebastien Loeb Rally Evo is one of the best racing games currently available on consoles, and is definitely your go-to rally game if you are a fan of the sport. It looks great, sounds authentic, has enough content to keep you hooked for the long run, and crucially, it handles like a dream. Those looking for an arcade racer that they can pop on, turn off their brain and be happy to just keep the finger on the accelerator probably won’t find anything here but frustration, but those that like tense thrills requiring the utmost skill and concentration will find themselves enamoured with Sebastien Loeb Rally Evo‘s offerings.