Sebastien Loeb Rally EVO - a review
I just picked up Sebastien Loeb Rally EVO (+DLC) over the christmas steam sale, and have finally played enough to give a review.
I've only really played Richard Burns Rally (+ mods) before this, and I've been playing for 3 or so years. I've played Dirt Rally, Dirt 4, and WRC 5, 6, and 7, but I haven't done as much of them because I didn't like their traction physics compared to RBR (WRC 5 followed by 7 were the best though).
Dirt Rally has the most photo-realistic graphics and shaders, but SLRE's are nice, and the tracks have an authentic real-world feel to them. WRC 7 in comparison can look a bit too colorful and "cartoony" at times but whatever. I come from RBR's 13 year old playstation 2 graphics so it's not the biggest concern for me.
The engine and tire traction sounds are good, but they don't have that amazing environmental reverb that Dirt Rally has, where you can hear your engine literally echoing through the trees as you roar through the forest. You also don't have as visceral a sound of the gravel and rocks pummeling the bottom of your car like in Dirt. I had to go into the sound options and turn them up, but the tire sliding sounds in SLRE are better imo, and are emitted per-wheel so you can hear exactly which tires under you are doing what, which is valuable for feeling what your car is doing. They aren't as good as RBR's tire traction audio feedback, but they're close.
Framerate / Performance
The PC port of SLRE is pretty unoptimized, and you need a decent gaming computer to run it well. I have an i5 2500k and a GTX 770 and I get fps dips here and there.
Some people have trouble getting their wheels and pedals recognized by SLRE, in particular the home-built equipment using Arduinos, but the devs have since patched the game and it recognizes a lot more than it used to. If you're unsure, try the steam demo. you could also use UCR to pipe your hardware into a virtual joystick that the game might recognize, but I haven't tried it personally.
Unfortunately I don't have a wheel and have been using an Xbox controller, so I can't comment on the force feedback, but people have said that while it isn't as good as RBR's force feedback, it's still very good.
SLRE automatically split my triggers for me, so I didn't have to install a 3rd party driver and manually split them like I have to do with RBR, which is nice. It also let me map the handbrake so I could just tug down on the right-stick, which was also impressive. I had to do a ton of driver config workaround bullhockey to get that working in RBR.
It doesn't allow you to set steering/throttle/brake curves like you can in RBR, but I've found its default settings work really well for me.
SLRE has a shitload of cars from all eras and types, 56 cars in total. rookie FWD, pro FWD, vintage era, RWD, Group B, Hillclimb, modern, EVO, Prototype, and more. I haven't driven any of them in real life obviously, but they each have their own handling and character, and none of them feel "phoned in".
here's a video showing the full vanilla car list (without the rallycross/hillclimb/prototype DLCs)
while the tuning options aren't as extensive as RBR, they're still pretty complicated. you can tune different shock elements, wheel camber, gear length, limited slip differential load, spoiler height, body height off the ground, roll bar stiffness, etc etc. I don't know too much about real cars though so I just let it auto-set all of this from track to track, but it does change them pretty drastically depending on the track so they must have a big effect. I'm sure if I knew what all this stuff did I could get even better times.
for rally tracks, there are 8 countries, with 4 tracks each, plus their reverses, for effectively 64 total rally tracks (32 not counting reverses). each country has a surface category (finland-snow, mexico-dirt, australia-gravel, italy-tarmac, etc). Here is a video of all the vanilla tracks and their surface types (without the rallycross/hillclimb/prototype DLCs).
all of the scenery and textures feel realistic, and the track widths and other aspects feel accurate and nice. some tracks let you put your wheels down in the gutter for extra grip on the inside of turns. other tracks have a sidewalk lip that can fuck you up. I think a lot of these are based on real-world famous rally tracks, but I personally am not that familiar with real rally so I can't confirm for sure. (edit: yeah, it says they're all recreations of real tracks from GPS data)
the pacenotes are okay, but sometimes they'll come too late, or be slightly inaccurate and cause you to crash. the game has an optional "rewind" feature, where you can press a button and it will warp back in time and let you try again. you have a limited number of rewinds per track, and every time you use one you lose credits, but until you get to know the tracks by heart, you will probably need to use them to avoid getting dicked over by pacenote mistakes.
You can set the pacenotes to display as "cards" up at the top of your screen like other games, place the turn numbers out in actual 3D space as you race along the track, or display a little image of the track's shape up near the top of your screen. I've settled on the 3D pacenote display to avoid getting dicked over by late co-driver calls. Hopefully in the future someone can figure out how to mod the game so you can put your own pacenotes in, because the default ones are iffy sometimes.
. Career Mode and AI
SLRE has a huge career mode that takes you through all the car types and eras, eventually having special unlockable "Sebastien Loeb" grade events that are really hard. I've had the game since Dec 22nd and I'm still only about halfway through all the game's content.
the AI is kind of strange though. I set my driving controls to "simulation" quality (all traction/braking assists completely off, etc) and put the AI on the highest setting ("Realistic") and I was just mopping the floor with them in every era, all the way up until the Modern and EVO car classes, when the AI seemed to suddenly get really good, and I had to start trying again and again and really busting my ass to get first place. It also has some weird inconsistencies, where multi-rally tournaments will have you losing by 10 seconds on one track, but easily winning by 8 seconds on another. there's this one snow track in particular that the AI seems to really suck at, and I can win by a pretty big lead. but the AI is godlike on tarmac, so be prepared to keep retrying tracks and busting your ass, especially in tournaments with multiple tarmac tracks. if you mess up one hairpin by the tiniest bit you're boned, but when you finally get that 1st place it feels so good. at first you'll think tarmac AI is bugged, but trust me, it's possible, you just really have to keep trying and figuring out how to push yourself. I only wish the jump in difficulty wasn't so abrupt.
saved the most important part for last.
Before SLRE I had the most experience with RBR and Dirt Rally. I actually started on Dirt, then moved to RBR. RBR's traction was so visceral, and I could literally feel myself sliding across the gravel. I was hooked, and I've been playing it for years.
then I got SLRE. the cars felt a lot heavier and the steering less snappy compared to RBR, but the cars had that weight shift and that slide, and I soon found myself applying a lot of RBR techniques in SLRE.
after playing SLRE for about a month, I went back to RBR and the difference was jarring. RBR suddenly felt really cheap.
the cars in SLRE have a weight and bounce to them. you can feel the whole car flexing on the roll bars as you take a turn. you feel the jiggle of the shocks, you feel your car's weight catch and the chassis flex as your tires grip the tarmac. (speaking of which, the tarmac in SLRE feels incredible. I'm talking like, circuit sim quality). the cars give a little jerk whenever you switch gears, and FWD cars actually get torque steering just like they do in real life, etc
in comparison, the cars in RBR feel like solid little rocks zipping along. there's really no bounce or flex, it feels like you're driving these zippy little solid tanks.
I was actually able to give SLRE more of an RBR feel by increasing the stiffness of both the front and rear rollbars to maximum, so maybe SLRE simulates vehicle chassis flex, whereas RBR doesn't at all.
RBR is still fun to play, but idk, the car physics feel really simplified compared to SLRE
Compared to SLRE and RBR, the physics in the Dirt and WRC games feel a lot more arcadey and forgiving. in Dirt 4 and Dirt Rally especially, there seems to be some magical magnetic force that wants to keep you on the track. When you oversteer or go into a turn too fast, the game doesn't want to let you slide out. Instead it seems to magically push you back toward the track and re-align your car to keep you going straight.
When I played a tarmac level in Dirt 4 and I started sliding out, I was actually able to regain traction by flooring the throttle, which is the exact opposite of what should've happened.
Dirt Rally used to be a lot worse about this when it first released, but they've overhauled the physics significantly since then and it's worlds better, and they've allowed you to slide around a bit more, but these "magic physics" are still present to a degree. Even on a RWD car it's incredibly difficult to throttle slide the back out, and hairpins are pretty forgiving compared to RBR and SLRE. edit: alright I'm playing DR right now and even when I screw up and end up on the far outside of a gravel turn, on the bad side of the camber, I still somehow maintain traction, even while accelerating. something weird is definitely going on with their physics. it doesn't feel like they're actually simulating car weight or per-tire contact.
As far as WRC7 goes, look at how fast he's able to take this sharp right at about the 0:58 second mark. this is insane, there's no way.
WRC 5 actually had incredibly good gravel/snow physics, although its tarmac was total ass, and its tracks were awful. WRC 6 and 7 seem to use the same engine, and the tire grip is super arcadey, but unlike the Dirts, there still seems to be accurately simulated car weight and momentum transfer so they're more fun and natural to drive imo. WRC 6 is even more arcadey than WRC 7 and generally pretty boring, but WRC 7 is like a more slidey WRC 6 and its camera is a lot more dynamic, it has incredible stages, and is fun as hell to play, although it's not a die hard simulator by any means.
I picked up SLRE plus the DLC on winter steam sale for $10 and it was an incredible deal for me. Nobody gives a shit about this game so it goes on sale for cheap pretty regularly. If you're used to Richard Burns Rally but always wished there was a newer incarnation with simulation-grade car physics, definitely give Sebastien Loeb Rally EVO a look. It's definitely a modern RBR in my opinion.