There have been many legends in the World Rally Championship, including Colin McRae, Tommi Mäkinen, and Carlos Sainz, but there is one man that people regard as one of the greatest of them all—the nine-time record breaking WRC champion, Sébastian Loeb. Now that the French driver has retired from motorsport itself, it was just a matter of time until he had his own game. The question is, however, does Milestone's Sébastian Loeb Rally Evo live up to the incredible standards of a champion?
Taking any vehicle by the scruff of the neck and wringing it around thin death-trap roads is a typical day out for any WRC driver. Hurtling past buildings, trees, and rocks the size of your vehicle at 100mph along the long, twisty, and narrow roads is something you'll immediately appreciate as soon as you get into the driver's seat.
Your immediate entry into the world of WRC is a quick glance over how rallying works. If you have never watched WRC or don't understand the role of a co-driver, then it is highly recommend to go over the tutorials that are presented to you at the start. The gameplay tutorials have you driving around a track and trying to beat a set time while telling you the controls and how to use them. It's basic stuff, but the real tutorial that's needed is understanding all of the co-pilot signs.
Instead of going through a single long track to demonstrate how the co-pilot's notes works, you're instead given a screen with a few pages to convey the philosophy behind the system. When hurtling down the expansive sea of black, you will need to know what's coming towards you and how to navigate through a set of corners in quick succession. These instructions are given to you well in advance by the co-pilot with the necessary icon showing up either at the top of the screen or, if you've switched the 3D option on, actually on the road ahead of you. Thankfully you can turn these helpful images off if you feel brave enough.
Once you've gone through your training exercises you'll want to finally get into the world of WRC. The available options to you are quite simple - Quick Mode, Career, Multiplayer, and Loeb Experience. The majority of your gameplay experience will be through the career as a lot of the options are locked off to you otherwise.
The game sports an amazing roster of vehicles from your classic Rover Mini Cooper S and the iconic Subaru Impreza '95, all the way up to Sébastian Loeb's Citroën DS3. But in order to use any of these vehicles then you need to earn credits.
Earning these credits can be achieved in all modes in the game, even via Quick Mode. Unfortunately, in Quick Mode the amount of credits earned isn't enough to be deemed worthwhile to enter, but if you're one to push the limits of the vehicle you just purchased, then you will have more than enough fun and enjoyment earning credits while trying to beat your own times.
This issue of purchasing vehicles is present in multiplayer. Entering a lobby with no credits to at least rent the vehicle you're needing to drive will mean that you are stuck with the default vehicle for that round with no means of using any other. It is therefore best to get through the career mode to earn some credits before you do this, otherwise you will quickly find yourself falling behind the field if they happened to have a better vehicle (in your class) than you.
So the only real, and best, way of earning credits and vehicles is via Career. From the off you're pitted into the deep end, it's you against the opposition of nine others. There are multiple categories presented to you based on the type of vehicle classes. Once the class is chosen there are another set of categories to choose from, which are now based on the era. The final category chosen is the event to race on. This is very akin to Codemasters' formula, the difference between their formula and Milestone's is that you can freely go to any of the categories at any point instead of being taken through a set course, provided you have the credits acquired.
As you rack up credits you are able to purchase more vehicles to use throughout the career mode. If you don't own a particular vehicle then, depending on the event you're entering and the credits available to you, you are able to rent vehicles for that event only. Unless you have the credits to throw away, I wouldn't recommend renting a vehicle at the start of your career. In the latter stages of the Career, there are events that have multiple stages, the more stages there are then the greater the cost of renting a vehicle.
As your reputation grows, the points go towards a virtual table. Before the Loeb Events category is unlocked, you need to be ranked at least 352 on the reputation table. Getting the reputation amount for the Loeb Events can take a long time, even if you are getting gold on every event. Once you hit that magic 352 rank is when the credits start rolling in.
These Loeb Events are very tricky and require players to take their experience garnered throughout the career and apply them to these races in particular. Winning any of these events will see your credits shoot upwards as well as your reputation. The events are not for the feint hearted and can be quite ruthless.
But when it comes to ruthless tracks then there is nothing quite like the Loeb Experience. There is no point in having a game based on the most recent famous WRC driver if there isn't something to educate the players about; this is exactly what the Loeb Experience is and does. Players are presented with seven categories that are based on the years of Sébastian Loeb's career-defining moments, and the events within those categories are based on his most prolific moments to becoming the nine-time (straight) WRC champion.
When choosing one of the categories you're presented with a video interview with Sébastian Loeb describing his entire career based on the category years you have chosen. It's amazing to hear his story on how he became the record breaker he is today, and goes to show that you can become something completely different from the path you were lead down. These videos are rather lengthy so you can skip them if you like and view them at a later date.
The crux of any racing game is in its online component. Playing against other players and beating them, especially in a rally game, is highly satisfying and Sébastian Loeb Rally Evo doesn't disappoint. Whether you join a new lobby or create one, everyone votes on the country and track where they wish to race, even the time of day. The vehicles however are all dependent on what the host decides - this is typically decided on the vehicles unlocked by the host at the time.
After each race you're given credits and points, which are all dependent on the position that you finished the round in. When you start multiplayer you're given 1000 points. Unless finishing at least third, your points will gradually decrease - this is most likely for matchmaking reasons but at the time of this review there were not enough players playing online to test this.
Whether you're in a Rally (point to point), Rallycross (circuit), or even Pike's Peak, racing against other players is a lot of fun, but there are a few caveats that can make the experience troublesome in both multiplayer and single player. When you fly between the trees you expect to see the corner ahead of you, but the issue comes when a player is just a nudge in front and you get their ghost vehicle blocking your view. Even five metres ahead makes a big difference.
Even worse is Rallycross, where it's imperative to know your position on the road in relation to others around you; even in real life you need some form or peripheral vision to see your surroundings. This is where things become a little odd. Your mirrors seem to negate the fact that there are other vehicles around you—well I guess I lie, they do show the vehicle’s… steering columns.
What also causes disorientation at times is that the mirrors, or anything with reflections, update at half the rate of the game. When the game runs so buttery smooth at 60FPS, you would hope that the rest of the game would be like that too. Unfortunately, these reflections, and even the animations, are all seemingly set to 30FPS. This could be the cause of the disappearing vehicles in the mirrors as they're not updated to the framerate.
Thankfully the majority of the events are Rally-based so peering into the mirrors isn't required so often, but when a vehicle has a reflective sheet veering the driver side window, then I found the best thing to do was to drive into the sides of the track to get rid of it; driving became easier after that.
Those aren't the only issues either. The pop-ins are very noticeable and can be seen within fifty metres in front of you. There have been times where some objects don't show up in the distance, and on a snowy track with a tight hairpin coming up, it's hard to judge where the corner is until the barriers show up, and by that time you've passed your braking distance.
For a game that pits you in the middle of terrain so vast, it forces the designers into that sticky situation of what to focus on detail wise. While the game does looks splendid in places, specifically up close, it feels muddy compared to other Rally games. Hurtling past at 100mph the environments are so close that it's very difficult to take in any detail that is put into them, that is unless you start colliding into them, which will happen again, and again, and again!
Seeing your vehicle fly in the air and roll after making a mistake is frustrating, but so much fun. Having your entire bodywork dented or falling off also adds authenticity to the Rally action, and you can even have your tyres fall off from your wheels - not ideal to drive around on rims but you can definitely have a good laugh at how bad of a driver you are!
Again this is where the game starts to fall apart a bit. The physics feel a little on the arcade side. At the start of any event you have the option to change the vehicle's settings, which is very diverse I might add, changing things from your rebounds, bumps, antiroll bars, brake bias, spring stiffness, gear ratios, ride heights, and more. But no matter what you do there doesn't seem to be any major changes in the handling of the vehicle; it's actually better to just leave the settings at default and be done with it.
When you're using the controller the vehicles feel very heavy but are workable (feels like too much understeer), with the wheel the controllability of the vehicles actually feels much better and the game certainly plays much better with a wheel. Precision is everything in a Rally game and unless you have a wheel then you're not going to be able to shave those dozens of seconds off your times. The controller is plenty good enough for a fun time though.
With such a splendid array of options, a wealth of content, and lengthy history lessons, Sébastian Loeb Rally Evo offers a fun rallying experience that WRC fans will like, especially with the grand variety of tracks at your disposal. Despite issues with both graphics and physics, Sébastian Loeb Rally Evo is a fun drive and a great starter game for those interested in the World Rally Championship. If you're looking for a more simulation-like WRC experience, however, then I'd suggest looking elsewhere.