When it comes to the racing genre, admittedly, I am not the biggest of fans. I have one heck of a soft spot for rally driving though. The never-ending twisting tracks, the thrill of the dangerous narrow roads, and of course, the scrumptious sliding around tight corners… what’s not to like? It’s been a very long time since I’ve delved into this specific genre. The last time I played a game of this ilk actually was over 15 years ago, with Colin McRae rally on the PlayStation 1. Seriously, it has been that long since I’ve zoomed around a dusty route at high-speeds.
So when Sébastien Loeb Rally Evo pulled in for review, I was somewhat nervous. On the one hand, I was presented the opportunity to rediscover racing that I once adored. On the other, I would probably be rusty as all hell, and the learning curve would surely be all sorts of overwhelming.
Let’s just say I was somewhat right on both counts.
I won’t even bother mincing words – Sebastien Loeb Rally Evo proved to be proper difficult, for a very long time. From the very beginning, on the tutorial track as a matter of fact, I found myself careening off into the scattered cones repeatedly. My vehicle handled like a ton of bricks, even at slower speeds – not that I was driving fast or anything in the first place.
Diving into the career mode proved to be just as difficult. Gone was my little safe testing grounds, replaced instead with a daunting, linear 5km track which was the staging area for the very first amateur event.
I placed last, naturally. I made friends with countless trees, and decided to explore deep ditches multiple times. This was not by choice mind you, but because, again, handling my vehicle proved to be a task of herculean proportions.
Thankfully, Sebastien Loeb Rally Evo doesn’t just throw you into the deep end – not without offering a helping hand first. There is a helpful narrator at every opportune moment, and exploring the menu gave me several options to help me not only improve my driving, but also lower the difficulty of the AI.
I really did need that rookie setting turned on, at least until I got a grip on how to play a rally game once more. Having the AI difficult lowered too proved to be incredibly helpful, especially so I could nab some podium finishes, which yielded much needed cash and reputation to progress further in the career mode.
The nice thing is that if I really wanted, I could play the entirety of Sebastien Loeb Rally Evo with these helpful beginner settings enabled. There would be no fun in that though, and no challenge whatsoever. This is a proper rally simulator after all, and the most rewarding experience stems from one’s ability to navigate the tough courses with zero assistance. I decided to take the plunge after a few races, and dialled everything back to normal. There would be no more assistance – I was determined to do things the right way.
And lo and behold, after a few hours of driving, it all began to click. Vehicles continued to feel overly heavy and non responsive, believe you me, but I was learning to handle their power far better, which resulted in improved times overall. Though, there were still many mishaps waiting to happen however. The slightest error on any track would result in flying vehicle (thanks to the nudging the shoulder of the road), or reacquainting oneself with yet another friendly tree. Remember, rally courses tend to be long. Making a mistake toward the end of a 10km track can be particularly infuriating.
To remedy this, there is a rewind feature to make use of, though it has limited uses in each race. If I ever found myself flinging my vehicle off course (much like the screenshot below), I could easily sort the problem out by rewinding a few seconds back to where I was still doing just fine. Purists will frown upon this subtle hand holding, but for idiots like me who can’t drive, it made the whole Sebastien Loeb Rally Evo experience far more enjoyable, and actually playable.
For those who enjoy unaltered, pure rally action – fear not. In the same way Sebastien Loeb Rally Evo can be tuned to suit beginners, it can be adjusted to hardcore levels for the toughest of drivers too. On top of that, each vehicle can be tuned thoroughly to suit personal taste, or in preparation for whatever track is at hand. What’s nice is that even for amateurs like me, everything is explained in proper detail.
Gameplay aside, Sebastien Loeb Rally Evo is a pretty big love letter to rally driving. Loading screens entail detailed information on each vehicle for example – how they came to be, and the impact they had on the rally scene.
That alone is a nice touch, but what’s really fun to explore is the Sebastien Loeb experience. If players wish, they can choose to take a break from the career mode and dive into the history of this iconic rally driver. This entails driving through iconic bits of his lengthy career, and has the driver himself introducing each segment in person.
These races are deviously tricky, and offer little return on investment in the bigger scheme. Completing a race will reward the player with some cash, but it’s pretty paltry when compared to what’s up for grabs in career mode. Still, the Sebastien Loeb experience is a really nice distraction, and cool feature packed into the racing package.
If driving all by your lonesome isn’t your cup of tea, there is a multiplayer mode up for exploration too. Unfortunately, it’s not as fleshed out as I would’ve liked it to be, or as functional, but it does certainly work.
Finding a lobby with enough drivers for example can be a bit of a headache. The first time I searched for a race, I bounced around for nearly half an hour before anything happened. Once I eventually found a game though, that lengthy wait was all but forgotten. I took part in one race, and another, and another. What I intended to be a 15 minute session stretched into an hour before my very eyes.
So yeah, while it did take long for me to search that first time, I learnt that being patient is worth the wait. I’m just unsure as to how long the overall multiplayer experience will last though, because lobbies weren’t exactly overflowing with players.
Other than the shoddy multiplayer (the searching – not the actual racing itself), I feel that the visual and audio components of Sebastien Loeb Rally Evo needs to be criticised too.
Honestly, for a PlayStation 4 title, it’s pretty horrific looking. I can understand that making dozens of kilometres of track look good must be a monumental task. Still, it looks like little effort was put in. The same can be said for the audio. Cars don’t sound fantastic, and I found it really irritating that there was no proper music soundtrack. All I had accompanying me on each race, was the whinge of my vehicle, and the endless drone of my co-driver feeding me information about upcoming corners.
Otherwise, Sebastien Loeb Rally Evo is a solid racing title. Its learning curve is certainly challenging, but if endured, there’s some pretty epic driving to be experienced.
Last Updated: February 4, 2016