(Note: This is an English version of my original Czech text published on my main blog. If you speak Czech, you might want to read that one instead, though currently, this version is a bit more detailed in certain areas and my notes on force feedback and multiplayer have been added here. I’ll update the Czech version as time allows. Also, do note that even though I try, I’m not a native English speaker, so if there are some mistakes related to that, I apologize.)
Lately, there’s been quite a lot going on in the world of PC rally gaming. The second quarter of last year was marked with the appearance of the amazing Dirt Rally which recently left the Early Access program, is now available as final product and is also coming to consoles in April. Then there was the next installment of the WRC games series, this time made by an entirely different developer. Sadly, WRC 5 was a real disappointment, as the game was pretty bad. And now, the final three of the current rally sims was released – meaning Sébastien Loeb Rally EVO by Milestone, who were also responsible for all of the previous four WRC games and who also don’t have the best reputation within the gaming community. And looking at the reactions on the release, that fact is pretty obvious – should the potential buyer decide solely based on what the people on the internet are saying about SLRE, he’ll probably avoid anything SLRE related entirely. But would that be justified? In my opinion (as you can probably guess), not really. Before diving in further into this post, though, please note that the opinions stated are entirely my own and that the majority of people coming to miscellaneous internet forums would stronly oppose them – though it also needs to be said that a big portion of said people tends to express their opinions in a rather…how to put it exactly…simple way? In any case – consider yourself warned. Maybe my views on SLRE are completely off.
The truth is that Milestone themselves did not exactly make it easy for themselves. The game was postponed several months during development. The trailers released while work on the game was in progress did not exactly inspire confidence in the game, despite boasting that “the first true rally simulation” is coming (plenty of people never got over that to this day). The first preview videos showed us a game that look quite bad and very arcade-like and especially the audio was pretty terrible. And to top it off, just a few days before release, they also introduced a PC demo – which didn’t really help one bit. It was badly optimized, so there was plenty of issues with it and demanded a pretty hefty PC to run adequately, but the game itself didn’t look THAT great to actually justify such high requirements. And the audio was still really bad. Then again, the stage presented in the demo was actually kinda nice – it was close to what we’ve now been accustomed to thanks to Dirt Rally, and overall was a great step forward when compared with anything featured in any previous Milestone game – but the car handling was somewhat unimpressive and unconvincing and, overall, the demo did not offer a solid enough experience to pique the interest in the final game in the diehard fans of Dirt Rally. Posts full of screaming along the lines of “just another failed arcade from Milestone, they suck as usual” overwhelmed internet discussions and review comments (and continue to do so to this day) and it looks like in part because of precisely this, the game’s actually not doing that great financially.
The final version, surprisingly enough, does – at least in my experience (which goes against what the internet crowds thinks) – differ from the demo in many important ways.
First of all – the car handling in the final game is, in my opinion, much better than what was in the demo. It’s quite likely this has a lot to do with the fact that both the stage (Sisteron in Rally Monte Carlo) and the cars featured in the demo do not represent the best nor most entertaining the game has to offer. But it might also have something to do with the fact that the game has already received a day one patch, and its changelog does indeed mention some physics related changes. Specifically, it mentions strengthening the weight transfer physics and car inertia – which is exactly what I’d consider being the best parts of SLRE’s physics. While braking before turns, as well as driving through the turns themselves, you certainly have a great feeling of the car weight and inertia, which you can take advantage of, as is the usual in rally driving, but they can of course also work against you if you fail to take them in account as you should. Honestly, I feel like this is something SLRE actually does even better than Dirt Rally, where I feel these things are kinda less distinctive (the cars feel a bit too light, sometimes it’s like they’re made out of paper) and the good old Richard Burns Rally was much better in this regard than Dirt Rally is.
And honestly, I feel like the general car physics in SLRE, despite the internet being full of people making fun of it, is actually really good, no matter the surface you’re driving on (when it comes to tarmac, it might even be better than DR) – I’ve not experienced anything that would really stand out to me as being completely off. I’m sorry. When I compare the car handling in SLRE and in Dirt Rally, I’d be hard pressed to judge which of those two games feels better to me. Now this does not necessarilly mean the physics in SLRE is better and more sophisticated – honestly, I don’t really expect it to be (even though SLRE’s developers swear their game is a full simulation). The important thing here is the overall feeling when driving. The cars in Dirt Rally do perhaps behave more realistically (I don’t have enough reference to actually judge this), but they also tend to be a bit more “nervous” to my tastes and sometimes something happens without you actually having an idea of what exactly did you do wrong there. As it is, the physics of DR might be incredibly sophisticated and complicated, but at the same time, it sometimes feels a bit too sterile to me and bordering on frustration. SLRE, on the other hand, seems to more closely follow the philosphy of the previous Milestone games, offering car handling that might not perhaps be as ultrarealistic as DR is, but the cars are more predictable and better to handle and driving them might just therefore be more fun. Now that doesn’t also mean that SLRE’s car handling is pure arcade – if you turn off all of the assists (which are partialy on by default and tend to be somewhat hidden in the options menu, so you might not even notice them at a glance – and yes, there’s even the ever-so-hated rewind function available and turned on by default), pick some fun car and take it for a spin on e.g. a gravel stage, you’ll certainly have your hands full trying to manage it and keep it on the road while reaching competitive speeds. I’ve tried to compare for example the behaviour of the legendary Lancia Stratos, the bane of many Dirt Rally drivers (quite small and light rear wheel drive car with lots of power) in both games and I honestly don’t find the one in SLRE to be significantly easier or different to handle, it’s just that due to the aformentioned predictability, it was kinda more fun to drive in SLRE (which is not to say that I don’t find it fun to drive in Dirt Rally). In other words, I personally don’t really have any complaints about SLRE’s physics and car handling and I don’t exactly get where the people complaining about it on the internet are coming from, since it often seems like I’ve been playing an entirely different game.
Here’s one SLRE Scandinavian flick with Subaru WRC for you to showcase the physics and weight transfer. It’s on Sweet Lamb, one of my favorite stages.
There’s one thing to note, though – just like in many other driving games, the physics only work fine when your car is on the track. Once you stray from the road or make a jump, weird things might happen (especially when you’re off the road – you should stay away of the edges of the road and beyond, bad and pretty unrealistic things ensue). But, like I’ve said, that’s a common thing with many racing games. Even in Dirt Rally, you can see some weird stuff going on under these circumstances, and for example the jumps in Finland are a pretty unrealistic thing to behold.
One of the weakest things in previous Milestone rally games have been tracks, or, to be precise, the stages. There was one main problem with them – they were completely fictious and not inspired by the reality in the slightest (apart from sharing the general landscape features). And it was pretty obvious. It’s hard to describe, but they just felt too “artificial”. The turns often didn’t make much sense in regards to “why would anyone actually make a road like this?” and there was a strong feeling of them being made by some graphics designer with a very basic idea what a rally stage is expected to look like, and who also had a quota on how many hairpins, straigths, jumps and so on he’s supposed to put in the stage. Like I said, they felt very artificial.
In this regard, SLRE breaks from the Mileston tradition in a way we’ve already seen in Dirt Rally – that is to present us with actual, real locations and stages, translated into the game. I can’t tell you whether every single stage and track available does really correspond to its real life counterpart (some do still feel a bit artificial to me, but I honestly have no idea if there’s something to it or if it’s just me), I didn’t go and check. But plenty of them do actually exist and you can feel that immediatelly. The roads you’re driving on are no arcade stages five lanes wide (though some Mexico stages are certainly wider than they should be, but thankfully, they’re the odd one out in SLRE), but simple roads one or two car widths wide, with a much more sensible topology. There’s also quite a few of them – the developers talk about 300 km worth of stages and there’s no reason to doubt that number. We’re presented with eight countries / rallies overall – Monte Carlo, Sweden, Mexico, San Remo, Finland, Australia, Alsace and Wales. Each country offers eight stages while sticking to a familiar concept (also used in real rallying) – there’s actually just four unique stages, but each one is driven in both directions. Unlike Dirt Rally, though, the stages do not share parts with each other – that’s certainly a plus, since when it comes to Dirt Rally, there are actually just two unique stages for each country, the remaining six of them are just re-used parts of these two combined together. So there’s actually more stages to drive in SLRE. Apart from these, there’s also – just like in Dirt Rally – the legendary Pikes Peak hill climb available in its most modern, fully paved incarnation. Should you wish to also try the 1988 unpaved version, you have to get it as a DLC (with a car to complement it). BTW, this version will also soon be available in Dirt Rally (which currently has the fully paved Pikes Peak and also the 2005-ish mixed surface version) – the players will get it for free in April when the game launches on console. Finally, there are also some rallycross tracks, probably with a real-life counterpart as well. I’m sorry, but I’m not even sure exactly how many tracks there is (I believe it’s five in the base game, one more coming as DLC), nor how true to life they are – I’m totally disinterested in rallycross and it only gets in the way of me having fun (both in SLRE and in Dirt Rally, which boasts the official WRX license).
The stages are also quite long – at least when it comes to rally games. Which is good. There’s sadly nothing comparable to the 40+ km giant of Pundershaw stage from the memorable Mobil 1 British Rally Championship game, but most of the stages are between 7-10 km long, the shortest ones around 5 km. The longest track available is of course Pikes Peak, being almost 20 km long (and you don’t have your co-pilot available there, since it’s a hill climb race, not rally race). And BTW, for each of the rally stages (so excluding Pikes Peak and rallycross tracks), there is four alternative versions of the stage based on time of day – dawn, noon, dusk and night. Weather is static, though.
There’s another thing about SLRE stages that’s interesting – some of them (or their parts) do feature both in SLRE and in Dirt Rally. Naturally, it was pretty obvious to do a comparison of the stages in both games, which could also double as a audio-visual comparison of both games. So I went through the same parts of two of the stages (from Rally Wales and from Monte Carlo), added a full run through Pikes Peak and created a video which alternates between the games as we go through the stages, so it’s easier to compare how the games have tackled the stage. Here’s the video (I certainly recommend to watch it in fullscreen, 1080p and in a browser that supports 60 fps video playback):
Yes, even if it might not look like it at times, when the view switches from one game to the other, it really happens at the exact same spot of the stage (well, as far as I was able to identify the places and put it all together in the video). Please do excuse the not-so-great driving, the point of the video was not to showcase my great driving skills, but to make a usable recording with a car that’s not all banged up. Which is not exactly easy to do, especially in Monte Carlo 😉
The comparison probably shows one thing quite clearly – Dirt Rally remains the undisputed winner of the best audiovisual rally game experience. It’s not that SLRE looks bad (and a few days ago, when I saw a guy on the internet whining about how Milestone should fire its graphic department since the game looks worse than a six year old low-budget independent title, I was facepalming pretty hard), and the best the game has to offer is not even featured in this video, but if you’ve seen Dirt Rally, you probably won’t be taken away by SLRE’s looks. Even cockpits are not the most detailed, but on the other hand, I really don’t think they’re that bad, especially considering the number of cars SLRE has to offer. BTW, when it comes to cockpits, you can of course use the classic cockpit view from the driver’s POV, hands on the wheel and all, even if you can’t modify it or “move the seat” like you now can in Dirt Rally, but there’s also the often more usable dashboard view which is moved a bit more to the front and you only see the top part of the dashboard there. Both of these views do suffer from one slight issue, though – the windscreen of the car gets dirty as you drive through the stage and there’s no way to clean the view, there’s no manual switch to use the wipers and the automatic wipers only come on if there’s actual rain in the given stage. Thankfully the guy responsible for this effect was sane enough, so the effect is nowhere near as bad as it is in WRC 5 where the windscreen quickly gets so dirty you can’t actually see anything through it. And there’s another similar issue with the overall visibility – the cars headlights are on at all times, but there’s no visible impact on the track lighting apart from the night stages. In certain darker places and stages, the lights would certainly come handy. The night stages also accentuate the overall weaker graphics of the game, since the game uses lighting effects to “spice up” the overall visuals during the day, but given that at night, the only real source of light is your car’s headlights, what you see around you suddenly looks quite bland and flat and to some extent maybe truly DOES look like a six year old indie game. The cars themselves look very good and the models are pretty detailed, but it has to be said that the cars can sometimes look a bit too “plastic-like” and “artificial”. Then again, the variety of cars you can drive in the game is so vast (58 cars, unless I’m mistaken), ranging from the 60’s rally classics to group B monsters and A8 class cars to the most current vehicles (including of course a wide variety of Citroen cars driven by Sébastien Loeb himself) with the most recognizable liveries (though you can also create your own look for your cars, even if the option to do so is kinda buried in the menu and it might take you a while to actually find it), I could easily forgive the kinda artificial look the cars can sometimes have. SLRE also wins over Dirt Rally when it comes to replays – Dirt Rally offers a wide variety of impressive camera angles to switch between, while SLRE mostly depends on a more traditional looking “TV style” replay cameras placed along the track (though there’s more cameras to choose from manually) and the end result, especially with the pretty realistic looking car behavior, is pretty impressive and fun to watch, despite graphics being a bit weaker than in Dirt Rally.
What might be even more evident from that comparison video, though, is the really bad audio. It’s especially noticeable when you compare it to Dirt Rally, since the audio in Dirt Rally is pretty excellent and the DR developers do care a lot about the sound side of the things. SLRE’s sound is truly terrible, especially when it comes to engine sounds. Some cars sound passable, some truly horrendous, but overall, it’s simply bad. This was also one of the reasons the game didn’t impress a lot of people when the first preview videos have surfaced on the internet. The sound issues are not limited to engine sound, though – all of the sound effects are often really bad (e.g. the exhaust backfire on some of the cars sounds like someone kicking an empty metal barrel), and, to make matters worse, the overall sound mix is often bad as well, making some of the sounds incredibly loud (and annoying), while you can hardly hear some of the other. This is without a doubt a serious and embarrassing issue. Though I have to admit that when I randomly stumbled upon my old WRC 3 video, I realized that as bad as the audio in SLRE is, Milestone did indeed make a noticeable improvement in their sound design still. The only redeeming quality of this game’s audio is probably the co-driver – he’s certainly no match for the awesome Paul Coleman from Dirt Rally, who recorded his instructions live for the entire stages in one take, strapped into a motion rig while being driven through the stage so that we could actually hear the appropriate bumps and jumps through his voice, and even did that multiple times at different speeds to have a varying degree of intensity and nervousness in his voice, but it’s certainly far from the disaster that is the co-driver in recently released WRC 5 (not made by Milestone) who sounds so robotic and unnatural that even most voice-to-speech programs sound like real human beings next to him. It has to be said, though, that while he does sound quite nice (even if perhaps a bit too relaxed), he still suffers from the usual pain of all the rally game co-drivers, meaning that he sometimes obviously tries to kill you both (virtually) by making some pretty bad calls. It’s not as bad as in some other games, and even Dirt Rally has some pretty bad calls, but it happens sometimes nonetheless.
But there just might be one more thing quite obvious in the video comparison linked above – that being the stages in SLRE are quite a bit less detailed, they’re missing potholes, camber, bumps and stuff like that. Visually, they do look quite smooth and flat, which is one of the other things people often complain about when it comes to SLRE. In my opinion, this complaint falls kinda flat (no pun intended) – yes, the stages DO indeed look smoother and flatter, but it doesn’t really affect the gameplay much. Even if the bumps are not present in 3D (or at least visually), the game mostly behaves as if they were actually there so you don’t really get the feeling you’re driving on a silky smooth tarmac road. The same is true when it comes to replays – you can certainly see the wheels of the car dealing with the bumps and potholes in the road (and the suspension action looks pretty good, I have to say). Moreover, the overall style of driving in SLRE does differ a bit from the one in DR and the nature of the surface does suit this style. If I should explain this as simple as possible – Dirt Rally seems to focus more on the technical aspects of rally driving (you really have to be a highly technical driver to make it through the stage quick) and it’s more detailed surfaces reflect that, with SLRE, you’re focusing a bit more on the overall “flow” of the driving, holding lines and stuff like that, and again, the smoother and flowing stages of SLRE do reflect this. It’s not to say you don’t have to be technical in SLRE or thay you don’t need to have flow and good lines in DR (and it certainly depends on specific stage – there are more technical stages in SLRE and there are more fast and flowing stages in DR), it’s just that, in my opinion, each game puts more emphasis on one or the other. But you can’t certainly deny there’s a lot more detail in the stages in Dirt Rally.
This might actually be a good place to mention force feedback, as it is directly related to this. And the best way I’d describe the force feedback I get on my Driving Force GT wheel is – kinda okay. Some people find it terrible, some find it excellent. I don’t think it’s either of those. It’s not exactly terrible – you do seem to get a fair amount of information about what the car is currently doing, as well as some “road texture”. I’ve certainly experienced much worse in games. But then again, if you come expecting the excellent force feedback of games like Dirt Rally or similar current racing titles, you’re probably gonna be disappointed – the force feedback is not as detailed as that and I’d say it’s somewhat lacking when it comes to the feeling of the car losing grip (especially the rear wheels). It’s also not exactly easy to configure – there’s really nothing much to set, forget the detailed options of Dirt Rally, let alone the over the top craziness of Project Cars settings. You can only set the overall amount of force you get, and you can somewhat set the ratio of “car behavior” forces and “road texture” forces. It will also probably take you a while to dial it to your liking, since you can only access the settings from the main menu and not while actually driving. So it’ll be a lot of skipping back and forth. I do think the game was set a bit too high for me by default (with forces set at 100 % in my wheel settings and without any damper or spring effect), but that will certainly depend on your personal taste and also on the wheel you’re using.
Getting back to stages – one thing even I do find somewhat surprising, though, is the fact that a lot of the tracks and stages (though, once again, not all of them – some seem to be the exact opposite) do miss a lot of the elevation changes – in that comparison video, you can see that right in the first stage, which is Sweet Lamb in Wales, which does feature a lot more elevation changes and crests in Dirt Rally. In SLRE, it’s surprisingly level. The same can be said about Pikes Peak itself, which looks so level in SLRE that in some places (especially within the first third of the track) it often looks like an entirely different track. Again – it’s probably nothing gamebreaking, but it can sometimes look a bit odd. Though, as I’ve mentioned before, some of the stages are the exact opposite.
Just to prove my point – here’s a few comparison shots of the exact same spot on Pikes Peak in Dirt Rally, in SLRE and finally in real life (taken from this video):
In Dirt Rally, the elevation changes can sometimes even be a bit more pronounced than they actually should (even though the real life shots do, on the other hand, look flatter than they should, due to the camera angle), but the track is certainly nowhere near as flat and level as SLRE shows it.
SLRE certainly excels when it comes to actual content. In Dirt Rally, there’s more or less just a very barebones career mode, online play and custom events. SLRE does of course also offer single “quick races” – be it rally, rallycross or Pikes Peak. Apart from that, you can also do a time trial run where you also have the option to turn on a “ghost” – a representation of either your best run so far, of someone’s run downloaded from the internet, and since we’re playing the game named after Sébastien Loeb, you can actually watch the master himself drive through the stage. It would be interesting to know if it truly is Loeb’s recording or if it’s just some kind of AI or approximation (which is probably more likely). There was a similar option in Richard Burns Rally and just like in that game, you’ll have your work cut out for you before you’ll be able to match Loeb’s ghost, and to make it, you’ll probably have to make some changes to the default car setup (which are overall surprisingly good, IMO). Oh, and BTW, you do have to buy your cars using credits won in the career mode, but there’s also the option to “rent” a car – you’ll get less credits if you do drive an event in a rented car (or none at all), but at least you still have an option to try some of the more powerful cars right at the beginning. And one other interesting thing – in SLRE, there are no limits as to which car you can use on what event. Which means that you can certainly take your Impreza WRX rally car to Pikes Peak, or you can take Loeb’s Pikes Peak Peugeot special and use it on any rally stage you like. That’s one thing I truly miss in Dirt Rally ever since we got Pikes Peak there.
Then there’s the career mode, which is truly sizeable and should you wish to complete it, it will certainly take you a while to finish. It is divided into plenty of categories like “Debut”, “Junior”, “Master”, “Vintage” and so on, which usually sets some general limitations on what cars can you use within the category. These categories are further divided into sub-categories which further restrict the allowed cars in the races and racing series within the sub-category. The races themselves can be of several kinds. There are your basic rally stages – either single or multiple at the same time (even from different countries). There’s the so called “rally drift”, which is once again you driving through a rally stage, but this time there’s no co-driver, you’ve got a limited amount of time to go through the stage and you also get points for drifting (which is also what is your final position based on). It’s not a drift race in the sense of the usual drift racing you often see in arcade racing games – it’s still mostly rallying and making it through the stage within the time limit is the more difficult of your tasks here. Acquiring the required amount of drift points within the stage is usually not that difficult, the game is quite generous with them. And then there’s a few rallycross variations – there’s the usual three-lap race (joker lap included), there’s the time-based sector battle for the best time in each sector of the circuit, and then there’s the usual arcade-like elimination where the last one when the time limit is up is out of the race and the time limit starts all over again until you’re either out or victorious. I’m not exactly fond of these modes since, as I’ve already mentioned, I really don’t like rallycross at all and I find it to be an annoying part of the career mode, but what can I do. I understand plenty of people like (and expect) such game modes.
As you progress in your career, you’re not only awarded credits to buy new and better cars, but you also gain reputation and you move up in the world racers leaderboard. As you move higher on the leaderboard, you unlock races in the special category called “Loeb Events”, which are hosted by Loeb himself and culminates in you racing against him on Pikes Peak. You can be pretty sure that you won’t see the final race for quite some time – it’ll take a while to reach the requirements of the final race. So I can’t tell you much about how it is – I’m pretty sure I won’t see it for a while yet.
Given the game features Sébastien Loeb’s name, there’s one more game mode, and pretty unique one at that. It’s called “Loeb Experience”. It takes full advantage of the access to Loeb himself and basically serves as an interactive guide through the majority of his rally career from his beginnings right up to the culmination of his career, which is (at least as far as the game is concerned) his phenomenal success at the Pikes Peak hill climb in 2013. This mode is divided into several chapters in which you can re-live the key moments of his career. That usually means you’ll have to finish a race based on the conditions the game sets to it – this often means you have to simply win the race, but sometimes it’s enough to place e.g. second, other times you have to just be fast enough (be it when it comes to time or when it comes to speed) and sometimes, you have to do well enough to have all of the stage sectors marked “green”. And honestly – the races in Loeb Experience are not just great, they’re also pretty hard, certainly harder than in the career mode (well, at least if you play the career on the default Medium difficulty – if you set the opponent AI to Hard or even Realistic, then even the career becomes difficult enough). Each chapter of the Loeb Experience is also introduced by a surprisingly long (skippable, but also replayable) video around 5-10 minutes long, during which Loeb himself tells you all about the given part of his rallying life – and it’s quite interesting to listen to. Overall, I like the Loeb Experience mode a lot and I do consider it an intriguing alternative to the standard career mode. It’s a pretty interesting and fun way to introduce you not only to different cars (as Loeb’s fame goes up), but also to different stages (and tracks) and game modes. Oh, and by the way – from the very beginning, you’ve got full access to any of the chapters here so you’re not limited at all as to what race you’ll be doing next – only the final race on Pikes Peak is once again locked and you’ll only gain access to it once you complete the entire Loeb Experience (but that’ll certainly take you a considerably less time than finishing the career mode).
There’s also a multiplayer option in SLRE. You’ve got to be registered on Milestone’s servers to access it (with some people having issues with receiving the confirmation mail, either due to it ending up in their spam folder, or, according to some, the necessity to use a Gmail account – neither of which affected me). The multiplayer is what you’d probably expect – players set up matches (rallycross or rally), which can be either private or public, and you join them via a lobby. If you play a rally stage in multiplayer, you see the other players as ghosts, so you’re racing all at the same time. Thankfully (more so as the ghosts are quite opaque and you don’t really see much through them) you can also press a button to disable them. If you win, you get some points (which people see at all times so they now how good you’re likely to be), if you lose, you lose some of the points as well. One interesting thing is that you can set the matches so that the participants vote before each race as to what rally and stage they want to play and under what conditions – the majority of the votes wins. You also have only a limited amount of time to spend on setting the car up, so that can also be an interesting experience, in a way. What this implementation of means overall, though, is that you’re pretty much out of luck if you’d wish to create online leagues like those in Dirt Rally, since in SLRE, there’s no option of online play that doesn’t involve people being online at the exact same time – so if you want to play online, there have to be some people playing at that very moment, otherwise you’re out of luck. I’m not saying one approach is better than the other – that is certainly pretty subjective. The SLRE approach is more thrilling, competitive and direct – the people you’re playing with are there with you at the same time. But it also means that you have to plan ahead if you want to play online, and that there’s a fair amount of just sitting around waiting for other players. The Dirt Rally approach is actually more of an offline experience, since you race completely alone and at your own time, but some people might find it dull. I prefer to play at some pretty odd times whenever I can spare time and I don’t exactly need the other players around (a sociophobic multiplayer experience, you might say), so I prefer the Dirt Rally leagues approach. But it’s your choice. One thing has to be said, though: the choice of using the ghost based multiplayer experience for SLRE has been, so far, quite appropriate – the multiplayer lobby often very much resembles a ghost town. As in you can count yourself lucky if you actually find someone playing. But given the game’s reputation and low sales so far, that’s only to be expected.
You might be wondering when I’ll finally get to the real cons of the game, given how much controversy and bashing the game receives. The thing is, I honestly can’t offer you all that much in this regard. Apart from the partly subjective stuff like the car handling or the design of the stages, the biggest SLRE problem from my perspective is the bad audio, like I’ve already mentioned. And since – even if Milestone choose to support the game beyond release (their reputation is not exactly stellar in this regard, which is also one of the things people base their criticism of the game on – though currently, the game has already received patches on both PS4 and Xbox One, resolving some of the issues people had, and the PC patch has been confirmed in the works and coming soon as well), there’s not much chance there will be a lot of changes in this regard. I’m not expecting the audio to change that much by patching the game, if at all. We just have to hope there’ll be some community mod to try and remedy at least some of the audio problems the game has. Then again – I really wouldn’t say the audio in SLRE is so bad it makes the game unbearable. It’s quite bad, you won’t be amazed by it, but I don’t think it would be wise to pass this game just because the sound is not that great.
Quite a few people have also been reporting performance issues – there’s been talk of stuttering and stuff like that. I’m sorry, but once again, I can’t really comment on that. The demo, mentioned earlier, was indeed pretty bad in this regard – to get the framerate at 1080p as close to solid 60 fps as possible, I had to lower the graphics options (of which there’s not that much available, to be honest) and basically just forget about antialiasing. And even then, the framerates on my GTX 970 sometimes dropped below 60. But the final game performs much better for me – I can reach stable (and I really mean stable) 60 fps without any problems with full detail and 8xAA, which, I’m sure you’ll agree, sounds much better than how the demo performed for me. I do get some occasional intermittent stutters while playing the game – it looks like it might be related to disc activity or possibly texture streaming. It’s nothing serious and it’s really only just short-term (meaning less than a second) micro-stutter, not a consistent stuttering or framerate drops, but it can certainly be kinda annoying at times, especially given how smooth the game runs the rest of the time. I’ve found some solutions to make this issue less noticeable – first, before running SLRE, I close the GeForce Experience app that’s running in my tray (and I only use it because I sometimes use Shadowplay). I also do up the priority of the SLRE executable in Task Manager to “Above Normal” (from “Normal”). And the last (and most recent) discovery related to this is to lower the texture resolution – even though the game seems to run just fine with textures set to the maximum 4 GB, you can see in Afterburner that on longer races and especially on Pikes Peak, you can get pretty close to reaching those 4 gigs of VRAM, and given the 970’s issues with the last 512 MB of VRAM, it’s probably not optimal. Nvidia themselves recommend to set the game to 3 GB on 970. I’ve recently tried going even lower to 2.5GB (no noticeable effect on image quality, to be honest) and it seems to me the stutters are less frequent, if present at all (it’s a very recent discovery for me, so it needs further testing, sorry). However, the stutters I’m talking about truly seem infrequent enough to not be bothered by them unless you’re as obsessive about such stuff as I am.
Some people do complain of consistent stuttering that doesn’t go away. I’ve seen a few videos on the issue on YouTube and when I’ve set the game just like the people in the videos did, I’ve found out that what seemed like stutter on video was mostly caused by something entirely different (at least for the most part) – by turning the Vsync off, causing the game to redraw the screen much faster than its refresh rate could actually allow it to display, in effect creating a stutter. It might be there really is some issue with Vsync, though – people who use 120 Hz and 144 Hz monitors sometimes report that they got rid of the stutter once they turned the Vsync on, as well as only used the 60 Hz display modes. I do currently have Vsync disabled in-game and (since my framerate never drops below 60 and I really hate tearing and would rather have the tiny amount of input lag Vsync might induce, rather than look at tearing) I’m using adaptive Vsync set through the Nvidia panel and as I’ve said, I have no issues with any persistent stutter. Then again, I never get them even if I just set Vsync on in the game. There’s not much else I can really tell you about this. BTW, just to be aware – there are two Vsync settings available: full rate and half rate. Some people seem to be confused by this. Be sure to set your Vsync to full rate. Half rate, like the name suggests, limits your framerate to half the refresh rate of your monitor – so to 30 fps on 60 Hz monitor. And you most certainly don’t want to play a racing game (well, any game, really, if it can be helped) at 30 fps.
The next two issues are the main reason the game gets slammed by many of the “real simracers”. These are the people using triple screen setups and expensive steering wheels, pedal sets, handbrakes, H-shifters and stuff like that (which often means a considerable amount of them are avid fans of Dirt Rally, bringing a factor of bias to the game). If you are one of them, chances are you’ll have issues with SLRE (as it is right now when this text was written). When it comes to display issues, the thing is – the game, for some crazy reasons, doesn’t really support any other aspect ratio than 16:9 (which is sadly a common theme with Milestone games). This means that even I on my 16:10 monitor do see black letterboxing of the image (you can see that on most of the screenshots here as well) since the game can’t actually use a 16:10 aspect ratio screen. The owners of the ultra-wide monitors or multi-monitor setups obviously do suffer quite a lot more due to this issue, since the game introduces pillarboxes (black stripes on the sides) for them, leaving large portions of the screen (or the side screens) empty, as the game is still fixed in a 16:9 aspect ratio. Obviously, this is not a huge problem for me, the letterboxing for me is annoying at best, but I absolutely do understand that the multiple monitor setup users do not like this one bit and it’s a very stupid issue to encounter in this day and age. This should just not happen and I really hope Milestone will do something about it, it’s a stupid issue that’s hurting their sales. But I also think it’s not exactly fair to slam the game as hard as plenty of said people do and make nasty jokes and insults of the developers just because of this. I just don’t, sorry. Being nasty never really helped anything. Feel free to disagree with me.
The second of those issues concerns controls. The support for controllers is not exactly the best in SLRE. There are some issues even when using the keyboard – if you install the game and try playing it with the keyboard, you’ll soon find out you can’t actually enter the pause menu during gameplay, which means you’re unable to restart the stage or reset a stuck car, your only option is to finish the stage or restart the game. The solution is simple, even if somewhat bizarre – go to the control options menu and choose the option to reset the controls to default. That will, surprisingly enough, set the default keybindings to an entirely different set the game was set to on install. Then you should be able to redefine the keybinding to your liking (well, most of them) and go play – Esc should now get you to the pause menu and the R key should allow you to reset the car back to track. Speaking of resetting the car (and this goes for any controller, not just keyboard) – please note that you’re not limited to resetting the car only when the game shows you the prompt to do so as many people think. You can reset the car anytime you want. You just have to hold the reset key/button for a short while. Tapping it quickly doesn’t really work, which is what makes plenty of people think you can’t actually reset it without said prompt.
But the main controller issue is obviously not related to keyboard controls since there’s not a lot of people actually using it while playing racing games (I do, sometimes, even in Dirt Rally, but that’s mostly because of the fact that when my choices are keyboard or gamepad, I always choose keyboard in pretty much any game, since I suck incredibly with gamepads and I’m much better off using keyboard). The main issue here is that currently SLRE does not support inputs from multiple USB control devices at the same time, meaning the players with fancy setups, combining different wheels, pedals and other devices can’t actually get these to work. But there are also some issues even with the supported devices. The latter you can usually solve by some pretty easy workarounds, but it’s kinda embarrassing you actually have to resort to that. This is of course also true for the former issue of using the multiple controller devices at once – even though it’s most likely only relevant to a minority of SLRE’s target audience (even though often the most vocal one, as it usually is), it’s certainly embarrassing to get a final release of the game in 2016 that is plagued with such stupid issues.
Thankfully there’s a solid chance some, if not all of these issues will soon be a thing of the past, since as far as I’m aware, the issue with using the multiple controllers has already been solved on console and it’s a pretty good bet the upcoming PC patch will fix this as well. Plenty of people do doubt what Milestone actually will or will not fix since Milestone’s track record at supporting their games after launch is sketchy at best, but it really does seem like this time they’ll try a bit more (they better). Still, it doesn’t really stop a lot of players to obviously fix all of the game’s issues two days after launch and if they don’t get an official statement within a few days of complaining, they take it as a sure sign the game has been abandoned by the developer. Welcome to the wonderful world of gamers today…
Personally, I can’t really comment much on those issues as they simply don’t concern me – I don’t have a fancy and expensive display or controller setup to play my racing games on (wish I have, sure), so my experience in this regard has been mostly flawless. There’s the issue of the letterbox I’ve already mentioned, but I can certainly live with that. And as far as controllers go, I only hit a minor (but kinda dumb) issue with my Driving Force GT wheel – I had to set up a special profile for SLRE in Logitech Profiler that does not allow the game to change the wheel settings to get my desired degrees of rotation on my Driving Force GT, otherwise the game would always set the degrees of rotation to 180 and enable soft lock at this value. The in-game wheel animation is still limited to 180 degrees of rotation when I play using wheel (though it’s not when I use keyboard, weirdly enough), but it’s just that animation – the wheels do respond properly and when the on-screen wheel reaches those 180 degrees, the wheels truly are at full lock. I’ve verified. Some people also complain about input lag when using a wheel (for a more extreme example, see Inside Sim Racing review of SLRE). I’ve tried measuring my input lag based on the reaction of the on-screen wheel and it’s perfectly fine for me – it’s at about 100 ms average, which is on par with what I get in other racing games including Dirt Rally, and I honestly don’t feel any effects of the lag on gameplay at all. I’m not saying the people who experience the input lag are lying, but as far as some people actually claiming the lag is an inherent problem of the game’s design – that’s obviously not true as it only affects some people. I wish I knew what the reason for the lag is. But if you do suffer from it, try turning the Vsync off in the game settings and use the Nvidia adaptive Vsync (is there a corresponding option on AMD cards?). There’s been reports it might help – though my input lag stays the same no matter what I do, it’s still around 100 ms. The only time I experienced higher input lag (but not THAT higher) was when I set the game to half rate Vsync, but given that this limits the framerate to 30 fps, it’s only to be expected the input lag raises as well.
With all that said, one can clearly see SLRE is a flawed game. There are certain issues and nobody can deny that. Then again, it’s also true that from my personal point of view, the issues with the game are pretty minimal and certainly far from gamebreaking. There’s a pretty good game lurking behind them and even though I do have some complaints about it, I also enjoy it quite a lot. It’d be nice, though, if the gaming community was a bit less dramatic and aggressive when it comes to this game – I do often find the kind of comments and general approach to the game you can see on the internet quite absurd and unfair. Fair reviews (or what I perceive to be fair) of SLRE are hard to come by – from the top of my head, I can think of the one at the Pretend Race Cars website of all places (though I feel like their approach to both the game’s pros and cons is a bit too extreme to my tastes) and the Inside Sim Racing review (but I suspect there was something else going on with their PC copy beyond just the game having issues). Sadly, it seems such comments are also the loudest, dragging down a game which, despite its undeniable issues, does not deserve all the hate it’s getting. Well, at least in my opinion. In the end, you have to make your own mind – and sadly the demo that’s available won’t exactly help you with that, as it might or might not represent the full game properly. Still, there are options like Steam Refunds – meaning you can buy the full game, try how it feels for you and then refund it within two hours if you find the experience bad. There’s also another way – you can find the game discounted quite significantly basically from day one if you care enough to look. The usual price at the Steam keys reselling sites seems to be around 18 euro at this time. For this money, I’d say this game is an absolute bargain.
And here are some more SLRE videos for anyone interested (more will probably show up on my channel sooner or later):