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Richard Burns Rally Review

James Burgess - Sep 9, 2004       0 Comments
James Burgess - Sep 9, 2004
    0 Comments

Title: Richard Burns Rally
Developer: Warthog (http://www.warthog.se)
Publisher: SCi Games (http://www.sci.co.uk)
Platform: PC-DVD
Released: 3rd September (UK and Europe)
Reviewer Machine: 2.73GHz P4, 1gb DDR PC3200 RAM, ATI Radeon 9600 XT AGP 8x DX9 128mb, SoundBlaster Digital Audio Card with EAX, Logitech Wingman.

Intro: Nice Warning Message!

So I installed and fired up the game, wait, no, SIMULATION, for the first time and headed straight for ‘Quick Rally’ mode – the logical option for wanting to get in-game straight away. What greeted me next was unexpected, but very pleasing, a warning message that said something along the lines of: “This is an accurate simulation, Richard recommends that you complete the Rally School before proceeding.” What joy! Even a warning to let me know how real this is supposed to be. I decided to follow its advice, and head on over to the Rally School. Backing up back to the Main Menu (which is amazing[ly simple] -natch), I searched down the list until I found ‘Rally School’ and pressed Enter. Onto the first lesson!

I’m greeted by a friendly message from Mr. Burns welcoming me to the Rally School and telling me to familiarize myself with the car and its handling by driving around, what I would call, a skid pan. First feelings? Well, to be perfectly honest, I was so exciting I forgot to note them. And the fact that I could barely drive in a straight line was actually, despite the obvious annoying nature of the situation, quite refreshing to know.

The depth of the Rally School amazed me, many lessons teaching you the fundamentals of driving a rally car. All the way from generating oversteer in the car, to performing a neat little Scandinavian Flick, it covers it all. For anyone wanting to get into the game, doing the Rally School is an absolute must. It provides invaluable help in driving this ‘accurate simulation’. If you try to hop straight out onto the stages, you’ll quickly find yourself in a nearby tree or have a marshal scrambling from the stage in sheer fright.

First Impressions: 3, 2, 1, Go…

So I completed Rally School, and wanted to – naturally – head out onto the rally stages of the world. I headed straight for the forests of Gateshead, here in the good ol’ UK. Loading times were great, for me under 5 seconds for this particular stage. When I appeared on the stage, my starting time appeared in the menu bar at the top of the screen, I was first out on the road. Great, a road cleaner. As I pressed continue, I settled into my chair and prepared for the 8 miles of pure rallying that lay ahead of me. I watched the clock, darn, I was late, 3 seconds late. Oh well, no penalties for that, which is probably just as well.

Staring in anticipation at the beautifully-animated marshal on the left of my view, I watched as he raised his arm into the air and Robert Reid reminded me how close the start of this stage was with a call of ‘three’ in my ear. I floored the throttle… Not good. I’d jumped the start and incurred a 10 second penalty before I’d even started. Well, right, lets get on with it then. So refreshing to hear some descriptive rally notes in a game, especially after the monotonous numerical system used by Messer’s McRae and Ringer. Straight into a ‘K-left’ and watch the log fencing. Ooops, too late, wheels locked, and sliding towards a hard collision. Ooops again, dislodged a few logs from that fence and my bonnet is now half-covering my view (in-car). Standard crumples? Not a chance. I saw my CMR-conditioned rallying background coming through as I floored the throttle, applied full lock and expected it to stick. How wrong can you be? Well, actually, VERY wrong. Next corner and I found myself in a tree, engine smoking, right-hand door barely hanging on and my engine stalled. I called for help and was put back on the track as a near-by marshal took photographs of me and his friend called someone on his mobile phone. I pressed the ignition key, floored the throttle and the engine lurched into life – just.

Carrying on in CMR-style, I soon found myself in another tree, engine stopped and not about to restart. A helpful little box appeared and told me I was too badly damaged to continue and that I should retire. Well, I wasn’t really going to go any further in that pile of scrap metal. My adventure had barely lasted 30 seconds and it was already over. But would I give up? No, why should I when I’m grinning from ear to ear?

Graphics: This is… real.

I always have, in my reviews, started with an analysis of graphics (after the initial impressions), and so I felt I’d continue that trend. But really, what better place to start? The visual substance of a simulation is so important in generating a realistic feel. Stages, for example, that are too wide make a game easy and stages that are too narrow become undriveable. On the whole, this area has been addressed perfectly by the guys at Warthog. So, without further ado, lets get into the graphics. the stages, by no stretch of the imagination, lack any depth or quality. Everywhere you look there is beautifully done scenery and innumerable details that can be explored, exploited or just enjoyed. The scenery used throughout the stages is absolutely awesome. Photo-realistic textures all positioned perfectly to give you the real immersing feel that you need to have in a simulation. Bushes, trees and grass swaying in the wind, and twigs and branches snapping as you drive your car over the top of them. But let us not get caught up in details so early on, we need to focus on the bigger picture. The stages are perfect in width. In some places you’ll find yourself struggling to find a wide enough piece of road to put your four-wheel-drive monster on, and in others you’ll find yourself with a little bit of road (and possibly some grass) to play with.

You will find, in terms of performance, that even the gamer with the average system specification will find this game visually pleasing and get a decent frame rate. I was getting over 40 FPS with all the settings max’d out, the game looked amazing, and I don’t even have a ‘hardcore’ machine. The graphics look superb, and I just can’t get over how real they look. Every time I drive, I find myself looking at nearby trees, spectators and the occasional deer or sheep instead of at the road and I find myself going full-tilt into an approaching hedge. There seems to be a wide variety of objects and different ‘feels’ and levels of collision for the objects. You range from the generally rock-solid trees to the little shrubs that can cause a nasty little dent in that bonnet of yours when hit at high speed. One thing I found out completely by mistake, and to my frustration, is that there are often objects that seem to be concealed from view or even just ‘blend in’ with their surroundings. There’s nothing worse than coming around a ‘Flat right’ at 180kph on the Arctic Rally and finding a rock inside the snow bank you’ve just put your wheel in. We’re cart wheeling all the way to chevron tape – and beyond. The texturing and modeling of everything in-stage is nigh-on perfect. We have photo-realistic textures and models that just defy belief. There aren’t many places you’ll find Warthog skimping on model or texture details. Even the movement of objects is done superbly, the grass blows in the breeze, dust kicks up behind your car in a very realistic way and photographers run out of the road just in time, as you whiz past them in a blur. The amount of variation and randomness in stages is phenomenal. At random points in stages you’ll find yourself scaring off a little bird ‘convention’, and possibly even have one or two fly into your windscreen, not a pleasant experience. I’ve even had to swerve for the odd deer. Not only the animals are great, but items such as ruts and potholes. The frequent occurrences of these adds to the excitement and they affect the cars physics in a big way (but that will be covered later).

I just really cannot describe how impressed I am with this section of the product. The stages are true-to-life, realistic down to the last log and stone. You will find that careering into a fence will break it – and your car. Hitting logs will move them (sometimes they’ll even get stuck under your car), and sliding into the stone barriers will do you a lot more damage than it will do them.

Whilst most of the rallies are gravel, they each provide a different challenge. The narrow, grit-covered roads of Gateshead provide a slippery surface and the open, flowing stages of the US Rally have a very fast, grippy feeling. With these different ‘sensations’ and variations even within the same ‘surface grouping’, its hard to see how this sim could ever be classed as short of variety. The solitary snow and tarmac events provide a whole different experience, represented equally as well as their dirt-covered counterparts. Unfortunately we don’t have licensed World-Rally Championship cars or rallies. This, however, is understandable as the license for official WRC games has been given to Evolution Studios who make the ‘WRC’ series of games for PS2. Whilst this can prove a small problem to people wanting to follow in the footsteps of Solberg, Gronholm and the like, its not really something that should stop you buying this. After all, who knows, we may be able to mod the game enough to make new rallies. Now that would be something. On one final note, the in-car view, its quite a bit different to what I imagine, or know, a real rally car cockpit to be like. For example, in the Peugeot, I can see only the top one or two centimetres of the gear indicator, I would expect to at least be able to read it all. Also, you can’t actually see the wheel in any of the in-car shots, another bit of a bummer – or is it just a way to try and get out of having to do steering animations? I don’t know, and I guess I never will. This is a rounded, high-quality area, but lacking some important details.

Damage: Now where the hell did my door go?

What makes this section awesome is our vertex damaging. I set you the challenge of trying to get your bonnet to crumple the exact same way twice – I just can’t seem to get it to happen, and that’s not for want of trying (or not trying, depending on which way you look at it). This truly is awesome. Smack the parapet of a bridge at 70kph and expect to have some seriously damaged suspension and a nice long scrape (not to mention a flurry of dents and dings) down the side of your car. And don’t think you’ll get away lightly when you clip a rock at 150kph. On the ‘Realistic’ damage level, you’ll be lucky to be alive, let alone moving. I felt it a good idea to include this section, as many people will be interested in how much of a mess they can make of their car. You’ll be pleased to know, you can make quite a mess, your roof can get smashed in, windscreens broken (oh, its a pain trying to drive a 13km stage, in the wet with a big crack across your screen) and panels lost. Even driving through a shrub, you can hear the branches scratching and scraping along the bodywork. When sliding on your side or on your roof, you can hear the bodywork crumple, and watch it happen before your very eyes! One thing that amazed me was how the cars, after service, are not ‘made perfect’ again. You’re still left with dents and evidence of where you hit that rock on the previous stage and where the mechanics had been furiously beating away at the bodywork with a hammer to get it all back into some sort of shape in time. This is something not found in other sims and whilst seemingly unimportant, it just shows the level of detail that Warthog have gone into when making this product.

However, there is just one minor aspect that I would like to point out. You can, yes, retire from a rally by hitting a tree at rather high speed, or clipping a rock and rolling a few hundred metres but there is one thing I can’t seem to be able to do (unless I’m just not trying hard enough). That one thing is get my car looking like Markko Martin’s did a few rallies back. I cannot get it looking like anything other than a messed up car. I was hoping to be able to get it looking like a pile of metal better suited to the junk-yard. Other than that, I can’t actually find anything wrong with this area of the product. Even your in-car view changes with the damage (look closely to your left, for example, to see the door opening and closing when you’ve broken it). Come to think of it, that’s not a minor aspect. I want to be able to totally trash my car when the damage level is set to realistic, I want to feel severe adverse effects from clipping a tree at high speed – but I’m not getting that. After repeatedly smacking my Peugeot 206 into anything hard at extremely high speeds, my bodywork was damaged but I could not feel any adverse effects in terms of handling. The wheels all pointed the same way, the steering was fine. Something’s amiss. I’m still fumbling around to find the reason why such a vital element appears to barely be there at all. I’m just baffled. Maybe that ‘in awe’ is now shifting to ‘impressed’ – I really cannot work out why I can clip a rock at 150kph and my wheels all still point the same way… If you know why, please, let me know so I can at least have a logical explanation for this…

However, a redeeming aspect is that upon damaging your car sufficiently in a correct area (i.e. the front for the engine, etc.), you can get warnings such as ‘high water temperature’ and ‘low engine water’ which your co-driver will helpfully point-out to you. I just clipped a tree at about 50kph on a realistic damage level and hey presto, water started leaking onto the engine and rising through the outlets as steam. My top speed was severely hindered and a few hundred metres later, my engine cut out and that was the end of my rally! For me, the damage is a very good area but hindered by the lack of effect on the handling of the car. This is, if there is one, the ‘let down’ area of the game.

Physics: Over-steer baby, yeah!

The physics we’re looking at in this game are in the region of the Grand Prix Legends physics. That means they’re pretty darn good! As this is THE most important area of the product for many people (including myself), I’m not planning on skimping on the description. First, though, let me clear one thing up. This simulation does not use, as we have seen in many others, an ‘all-round’ suspension method. Each wheel acts individually and has its own physics that affect the car directly from that point. Running over a pothole with the left of the car will have an effect acting through the left-hand wheels of the car, as is in real life. This makes for some, let us say, ‘exciting’ corners and some very challenging situations when landing those jumps.

This department is astounding. Yes, I know I’ve said that before, but this time, I’m not going to regret saying it. This is in a totally different league to any other rallying sim I’ve ever witnessed before.

In RBR you will not find any of the ‘centre-point pivot’ found in so many other modern rally sims, what you’ll find is dynamic, realistic and a nigh-on perfect representation of real-life. Weight distribution is handled dynamically, the car lurches and tips and the direction in which the car weight acts changes when you hit the brakes, slide around that corner and power out of it at full tilt. Come over a jump a little at an angle and find yourself struggling to control it on the landing (especially on the Mineshaft). Remember to dab your brakes as you’re going over jumps, or you’ll end up with no front bumper as your lovely little rally car dives nose-first into the ground. The car feels light and nimble when going over crests and dropping down into dips and has a very heavy and clumsy feel when going up those hills or when you’ve just managed to land that awkward jump.

The ability to generate over-steer, under-steer, a pendulum effect and how your car flies in the air off a jump is also done well. Dab the accelerator and the brake together and you’ll find the back end start to slip its way out and you had better hope you have the skills required to correct it!

What you can’t fault in this area is variation. Each different car has its own set of physics tailor-made to provide a realistic rallying experience. From the heavy handling of the Subaru Impreza all the way through to the fairly light and nimble setup of the Peugeot 206.

I don’t know how they did it, but Warthog surely have a top-notch physics engine on their hands.

Sound: My eardrums…

If the other areas of this product fail to impress you (and if they do, you’re weird), then the sound area certainly won’t. Driving through a stage, at more than high speed, I suddenly clipped a rock, flipped onto my roof, and started sliding along the ground. As I slid, I could hear the bodywork crumpling and hear various branches and stones scraping against the side of my car. Heading towards the nearest tree, I found myself shutting my eyes and holding onto my desk for dear life. I hit the tree with a resounding thud and heard Messer’s Burns and Reid make some ‘oomph’ noises as the car crumpled into a mess of tin foil. I cannot stress how realistic the sounds are. Each of the sounds, from the turbo to the launch control, all are done very well indeed. Backfire sounds like backfire, not something out of Star Wars and the various squeaks that the suspension makes are pretty much true-to-life. I’m finding it hard to fault any area of this product, let alone the sound. When your doors fall off (or start flapping open and closed), you’ll hear variations in the sound. All of a sudden, you’ll find the car will seem noisier and there will be an increased echo as the external sound rumbles around the interior of your now bashed-up car. The first time this happened, I nearly blew my ears off as I’d had the volume turned right up before hand. Well, that’s realism for ya! Outside of car sounds – which, as I’ve mentioned, are superb – the ambient sounds, the sounds of animals and things such as streams and fjords are extraordinarily good! Just like the rest of the sounds, they have been captured from a real-life environment, and this certainly shows in their quality and nearness-to-reality. All that I can figure out, in this section, that is disappointing is the apparent lack of individual car sounds. I would seriously have expected an Impreza to sound different to a Xsara. And an ZR to sound different to a 206. Another thing that I can’t quite grasp why it’s been left out.

Extras: The small bits that no-one notices

Well, I’m sure you will notice some of these great, small features. I definitely think they’re worth noticing. For starters, the animals. You’ll find at random points – and very rarely, I might add – throughout stages that you will encounter such wildlife as cows, sheep, deer or even birds that will hinder your progress, whether it is just a quick lift off the throttle, or a fully-fledged swerve in avoidance, you’re bound to lose some time by encountering one of our animated friends. There is a small part that is, apparently (according to Ed, who wrote the PS2 review for this site) not in the PS2 version of the game. We have an ‘ignition key’. When you’ve stalled your engine, press this key, floor the throttle and hope your engine splutters back into life. If you fail to hit the accelerator, you’ll make a bit of noise, but you won’t go anywhere fast. In terms of unlocking cars, it is relatively simple to do. To unlock the Impreza 2000, complete each Rally School test with a ‘gold star’ or a ‘perfect’ rating – it isn’t really that hard to do. To unlock the MG ZR, take Burnsie on in ‘Richard Burns Challenge’ mode, and beat his time on the Rally School stage (you will have to pass the Rally School first) – again, not a very difficult task. To unlock the rest of the cars (The Xsara, Accent, 206, etc.), head into a Rally Season on ‘Novice’ difficulty level, and win all the rallies in a season and the championship. This will also enable you to use all the rally stages in other game modes. One thing I am slightly disappointed about is that there are ONLY 8 cars. With games such as Colin McRae Rally offering around 20 cars, it’s hard to see why they’ve been left out here.

Features: What’s it got – a quick summary

8 fully-licensed international rally cars.
6 beautifully detailed and modeled real-life rallies with a total of 36 stages.
Rally School, taught by Richard Burns.
Genuine environment effects and real spectators and marshals.
3 play modes: Quick Rally, Rally Season and Richard Burns Challenge
A wealth of setup options including differential maps, ride height, suspension
settings, drive train and more.
Detailed pace-note system as used by Richard and Robert (including a pace-note
menu to adjust timing of notes, etc.)
Ability to save Replays (unfortunately, no rewind, slow-motion, etc. modes –
however, camera can be changed).
Multiplayer on a single PC.
Driver Profile system.

The Manual: What’s inside?

The hard-copy manual included with the boxed version of the game is very simple, thin, but very informative. Inside is a detailed description of the pace-notes and other important aspects such as a guide to the options menu and what each of the menu options does. There is also a PDF version of the manual included in the ‘Manuals’ folder of your game installation for easy reference.

Modding Options: What you need to know

Warthog have kept their promise – this is moddable. Explore the numerous INI files and you’ll find you can configure a lot of things within the product. Many of the textures are in DDS format, which seems to be becoming a popular commercial texture format. As I am by no means someone who is clued-in on what file formats are editable and what are not (in this area specifically), I could not tell you whether the actual items such as stages and car models will be editable, but it seems as if they will (from looking at the various INI files which explain how to add a new entry for a car, etc.). I have so far found that all the weather can be edited, cars can be added into the listings, stage details can be modified, on-car cameras can be changed, etc. I suppose we’ll have to wait and see how far this develops – and as such, I’m not going to rate this section – but it certainly does look promising.

The Summary: OK, so what about it…

The +’s and the -‘s…
+ Unparalleled physics creating the most realistic rally game ever.
+ Realistic visual and mechanical damage.
+ The ?Heart in your mouth? experience.
+ Detailed garage where you can fine-tune your set up.
+ Dynamic weather.
+ Unique features: Helicopter rescues, animal incidents, pace note tweaking and assistance from spectators
+ Modability.
– Limited cars and stage lengths (each averaging 3-4 minutes).
– Not accessible for everyone, being a simulation some players could find it too difficult.
– Not Colin McRae. Meaning, CMR is perceived as the top rally title and people will be reluctant to try RBR.
– In-car view.

Laydeeeez (if there are any reading this) and germs, I cannot describe to you just HOW MUCH FUN this sim is. But we’re not here to talk about fun, are we? Well, yes we are because for many people who will be reading this now, realism is fun. And what you’ve got here is a product jam-packed to the brim with realism. Richard Burns Rally will now become synonymous with the word, it is the epitome of realism.

If you don’t have the system to run this at its full potential, upgrade now. You won’t be sorry you did. I’m seriously considering getting a new wheel, a nice analog clutch and getting on with some serious rallying!

Overall, I’d give this about 90%. Its a game that you need to buy, its a game that looks promising in terms of play-time and editability, its just a darn-good game. Go buy it, STAT. I suppose I could have rated it slightly higher, say in the 92-95% bracket, but as it is more of a ‘hardcore sim’ it isn’t going to be for everybody. The few points that let it down are some small areas of the damage and sound, and just some niggly bits like a lack of replay functions and lack of WRC license. These are things that aren’t the be-all-and-end-all of a game/sim, but its stuff that is noticed – and wanted – nonetheless.

Please note, this is a simulation rating. If you’re looking for a good rally game, you’ve come to the wrong place. This is simulation territory and its so real, it hurts. If its good enough for Burnsie, its good enough for me. If you want me, I’ll be adding to the 800km of stage miles I already have under my belt…

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