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Sebastien Loeb Rally Evo Hands-On Impressions: An Uphill Climb

Developed in cooperation with professional rally car driver, Sebastien Loeb, Sebastien Loeb Rally Evo is a realistic racer that tests players' skills in a variety of conditions. I spent a short time playing Rally Evo at the Bandai Namco Summer Showcase, complete with a high end racing wheel and pedals. Even with these controls, it turns out driving a car at high speeds on narrow roads and changing conditions is no easy task.

I usually prefer arcade racers, so I tried to choose an easy track. However, "easy" is a relative term when it comes to realistic racers. My goal was to drive a lone car (which happened to be Loeb's signature vehicle), up a twisting mountain road and beat the clock in a rally race. I tried my best to stick to the paved parts, which became increasingly difficult with each hairpin turn. I couldn't help pressing hard on the gas during the short straightaways, then losing control when I took the turns too fast. All the while, I braced myself and held my breath during moments when it looked like I would veer straight off the road and drop off the mountain.

The game features a variety of real-world rally tracks, including the one I was driving on, located somewhere in the Swiss Alps. It was mainly comprised of a lot of back-and-forth driving, with straight sections, left turn, straight, right, then repeat. The road was just barely wider than the small car I was in, so I spent a lot of time trying (unsuccessfully) to stay off the dirt and avoid crashing into trees.

Without the motion blur of arcade oriented games, I often found it difficult to judge my speed. The straightaway sections seemed a little too short to reach my top speed, but I gain enough momentum to lose control when the turns came up. I learned that in order to properly take the turns, I had to learn to use the brake and drift like a pro - something that I simply couldn't master during the short demo.

There are also a dozen subtle environmental effects that impact the way the car handles. Puddles and swaying off the pavement and onto the dirt will cause the tires to lose grip. Snow began to fall and collect as I made my way further up the mountain. Driving over a patch of snow at high speeds could send my car veering out of control, so I tried my best to avoid them. The game was beginning to transform into a version of Spy Hunter for me, where I had to dodge every obstacle while trying to maintain some sense of speed. I was told that the game had even harder tracks that were practically covered from beginning to end with ice and snow. Damaging the car by crashing it into trees and other immovable objects will also have a detrimental impact on the car's performance.

I didn't have the skill to complete the course, which might have been a little too advanced for me despite its easy setup. The game will include a career mode where you vie to become part of Sebastien Loeb's team, and he'll serve as a mentor who will teach you the secrets of rally car racing. The tutorials go beyond simple basic driving techniques, and will focus on how to handle individual car types. I sure hope that he has the skill to teach a mediocre race car driver like me the best way to make it up a winding hill.

Sebastien Loeb Rally Evo releases for PS4, Xbox One and PC in 2016.

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