Although it isn’t a big sport here in North America, rally racing has always piqued my interest. That’s because it’s fast and visceral, and requires both amazing skill and great reflexes. For those reasons, and more, I’ve been a big fan of some of the sport’s video game adaptations. DiRT, especially.
These games are at their best when they’re fast, fluid and control well. If they’re too heavy on the simulation side of things, that fun is sometimes lessened, although developers have been able to find a good balance in the past. Unfortunately, Milestone’s Sebastien Loeb Rally EVO doesn’t fall into that category, and exists as a rather forgettable (not to mention frustrating) take on an awesome sport.
Where Sebastien Loeb Rally EVO does excel is in its track design, because its courses are inspired by and designed to resemble ones found in the real world, including Pike’s Hill Climb. There’s a good mix of environmental facets and obstacles, as well, thanks to a mixture of snow, dirt, gravel and asphalt courses. It’s just too bad that the game’s handling can’t compare.
As a big fan of the first four DiRT games, which were arcadey in nature and eschewed the need for perfection in favour of speed and fun, I knew there would be a disconnect when I first started playing this title. However, what I didn’t expect was to not find it fun from the get go. Sure, it grew on me a bit, but I’d be lying if I said that Mr. Loeb’s game made a great first impression. The opposite is most definitely true, as the first time I got behind the wheel of one of its digital cars and tried my hand at its tutorial, I became frustrated and started to worry about what I’d gotten myself into with this review.
The game’s practice area is split into two different tracks; one which is made of asphalt, and another that is your typical, dirt-based rally course. You start the tutorial at the top end, which is where the pavement is, and must test your skills at getting through it in good time. The problem is that the handling is surprisingly bad, and given how important driving is in a racing game, that’s a huge issue. My tutorial car moved like a tank, and when I graduated to dirt, it didn’t fare a whole lot better.
When I finally ventured out into the meat of the game — that being its Career Mode — things were mostly the same. However, as I got used to the controls, my skills improved and the frustration did admittedly lessen slightly. That doesn’t exactly mean that things got better, though, because I more or less just adapted to what was in front of me and got used to dealing with its sluggishness.
The mode, itself, is huge and has a lot to offer, with cars from different eras and a plethora of events to drive them in, but its core gameplay suffers from the poor handling that permeates throughout this release. You’re expected to maneuver a car from one point to another, with little room for error, but it’s made more difficult than it should be. Simply put, while rally is supposed to be fun, this interpretation is not.
Now, I know that this is a simulation game, and that drawing comparisons to the first several DiRT games isn’t the best thing to do. I went in knowing that I’d have to change my expectations, but even as someone who’s willing to accept games’ faults and live with them, I couldn’t bring myself to really enjoy Sebastien Loeb Rally EVO. Being able to adjust its cars’ set-ups was nice, but its mechanics just aren’t fluid, and I didn’t go into this wanting to drive tanks in the guise of rally cars.
As mentioned, things did get better as I got used to how this game works, but even then, the enjoyment was fleeting. I got into the odd run, and had a bit of fun from time to time, but nothing that compared to what I was hoping for. I was, however, happy to see that the game allows you to rewind (up to 9 times per race), and also has a suggested line option, which makes things less frustrating.
What surrounds the driving is quite impressive, though, which makes me feel bad for the developers. They obviously put a lot of work into crafting a lengthy experience, because their Career Mode is akin to that of Forza Motorsport, complete with videos and text that highlight and discuss the type of vehicle class you’re driving. This mode offers a lot of point-to-point, time-based rallying, but there are also other types of events to be found in the game, such as elimination challenges, rallycross races and point-based events that task you with either going through specific gates or driving through pylons. Expect to be going up against time boards a lot, though, and if you’re like me, plan to switch things to easy to lessen the frustration.
Career Mode is where you’re going to be spending most of your time in Sebastien Loeb Rally EVO, but it’s not alone in terms of major gameplay modes. In addition to it, there’s a Quick Race option, a seemingly quiet online community and a story-based mode that highlights important events from Sebastien Loeb’s historical career.
Titled as if it’s a Pink Floyd cover band, the Sebastien Loeb Experience is a way for fans of the championship driver to feel as if they’re walking in his racing boots. As such, it’s designed around a streamlined version of his career and starts at the beginning, with him competing in local events in France. In total, there are close to 30 different events to partake in, and each one exists for a reason.
Interviews with the driver play before every set of two to four events, and there’s some interesting information to be gleaned from his words. If you’re a fan then you’ll likely eat this stuff up, but those who just want to race will likely end up skipping each one.
Presentation-wise, Sebastien Loeb Rally EVO is a mixed bag. Like its controls, its engine is somewhat dated, and — combined with its gameplay — reminds me of a slightly better-looking version of Forza Motorsport 2. There are some nice details to be found in the environments, though, and things can look pretty good in pre-race cutscenes and when there’s little action.
The racing, itself, is fine but unspectacular in terms of its visual fidelity, and the same is true of the entire game’s audio. There’s no music, as you may expect, because you’re supposed to listen to your co-driver and pay attention to the directions, warnings and degrees that he lists. If you don’t, then you’ll crash a lot.
We were provided with the Xbox One version of the game, and though it ran relatively well for the most part, there were some issues. For starters, the game crashed (complete with a loud noise) shortly after I began playing it. I also saw some strange visual glitches during loading screens, and found that there were some frame rate hiccups during gameplay. Nothing major, or overly common, but enough to notice. Speaking of things popping up, pop-in was also an issue, especially during pre-race cutscenes.
In conclusion, Sebastien Loeb Rally Evo is a game that had the potential to be good, but ended up sputtering out of the gate. It’s not a trainwreck or anything of the sort, but is just very ho-hum and forgettable. That said, those who are willing to overlook its often frustrating handling will find a deep and very long game here, though there are much better out there.
This review is based on the Xbox One version, which we were provided with.
Sebastien Loeb Rally EVO is a dated rally racing game that has a hard time being fun. It's a shame, too, because a lot of effort was put into recreating its real-world inspired tracks, and developing its incredibly lengthy career mode.