THQ Nordic to Remaster BAJA: Edge of Control

baja-edge-of-control-hd_2017_03-01-17_001Almost a full decade ago, during a time when PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 owners were gearing up for yet another World War II shooter in Call of Duty: World at War, Forza Motorsport 3 and Gran Turismo 5 were still yet to be announced by Turn 10 Studios, and the whole racing simulator market was basically a genre exclusive to hardcore PC enthusiasts, THQ and Rainbow Studios took a major gamble and churned out BAJA: Edge of Control – a radical departure from their predominantly motocross based games, packing a comprehensive, semi-realistic off-road racing experience into a title which received practically no mainstream exposure, and in some cases was completely misunderstood by those tasked with reviewing it.

Save for the abysmal framerate on the PlayStation 3 copy of the game, and the admittedly simplistic visuals – which sucked all kinds of ass, even back in 2008 – Edge of Control featured a surprising amount of depth to the package and came with vast array of content, turning it into a cult classic of sorts; those who bought it knowing exactly what to expect from a desert racing quasi-simulator, were quite frankly blown away by just how much shit there was to see and do. The game boasted a lengthy, open-ended career mode with an appropriate amount of vehicle customization and upgrade options, nine massive landscapes, eight of the most popular four-wheeled vehicle classes combining for a grand total of something like 170 vehicle models, and over one hundred total tracks, with the point-to-point stages lasting upwards of fifteen minutes. If all of this sounds spectacular on paper, that’s because it certainly was.

2200_02THQ Nordic, of MX vs. ATV Supercross fame, have announced that they are in the process of re-mastering BAJA: Edge of Control for current generation consoles, anticipating the title to hit the online marketplace in the second quarter of 2017 – or in other words, very soon. Though PC sim racers will obviously feel left out of the festivities, most of us own at least one current generation console and a wheel that is fully compatible with said console, meaning a whole bunch of people who missed out on the greatness that was Edge of Control back in 2008 will be able to experience it in a significantly refined fashion.

According to WorthPlaying, THQ Nordic will make no fundamental changes to the vanilla Edge of Control experience, with only three main adjustments planned:

  • Greater immersion via various graphical improvements including better textures, higher framerate and increased details
  • More authentic racing by improved rendering techniques for shadows, lighting and dust effects
  • More accessible gameplay due to improved controls, user interface, and an easier career start

As I mentioned above, the game’s framerate was simply not up to standard on the PlayStation 3 version of the game compared to the Xbox 360 rendition, so it’s nice to see this will be bumped up to what will most likely be 60 FPS. Lighting and special effects will also be refined, though the simplistic vehicle models and environments most likely won’t do a whole lot to help with the game’s obvious lack in visual fidelity – a primary drawback of the original title.

However, THQ Nordic plan to make a second pass on Edge of Control’s ironic lack of control, which contributed to the steep learning curve that turned a lot of people off. In my opinion, this is a very good move for THQ Nordic to make, as the game indeed had problems when driving at maximum attack. As someone who invested a lot of time into BAJA back when it was a brand new title, partaking in multiple online 1000-mile races with a buddy to help kill boring evenings, trucks could enter an uncontrollable death-wobble with the right combination of speed and uneven terrain, where the vehicles would rapidly shift weight laterally from side to side until the truck shook itself into a spin or violent roll. This lead to situations where driving at a moderately quick pace was an absolute crap-shoot, because a control stick was simply inadequate at keeping the vehicle in a straight line. It was as if the moment you started pushing, the truck always exhibited mass body roll to one side and you constantly had to treat the never-ending body roll like an elongated grind as if you were playing Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater. It was weird as hell, but you got rid of it by backing off the throttle and driving conservatively.

THQ Nordic are supposedly going to fix this, so that’s nice.

baja-screenshot01Career Mode will also see a bit of a makeover, which is probably a good design decision in the long run. The original BAJA: Edge of Control forced you to start in the slowest class available in the game – the lightly modified Volkswagen Beetle hobbyist championship – meaning the first few hours were spent in a car that was simply painful to drive, and that’s before we mention the car had no upgrades whatsoever, therefore putting you at a huge disadvantage to the AI.

Most of the tracks and locations in Edge of Control were designed to compliment the two fastest vehicles on the roster – Trophy Trucks & Class 1 Unlimited Buggies – so early championships were the equivalent of taking a Spec Miata to Spa-Francorchamps in iRacing, or the Honda Fit to the Nordschleife in Gran Turismo. I tried many times to sit down for the single player campaign, and I simply couldn’t. It was unbearable to drive the slow stuff, so it’s nice to see THQ Nordic have recognized this as a weak point and are making an effort to change it.

baja-screenshot31I’m extremely excited to see how Baja 4K will turn out, as it’s truly a unique title that is unlike anything the world of sim racing currently has to offer, even if I’m forced to bust out my PlayStation 4 to play it. Edge of Control was a comprehensive off-road racer; a literal encyclopedia of modern desert racing that was created by a team who were obviously passionate about the sport, but simply released at the wrong time, and unable to fully capitalize on the power of either gaming system it was created for.

Thank you, THQ Nordic, for bringing this game back. I’m hoping we eventually see this on the Steam platform as well, because there are a whole bunch of sim racers who would love to try their hands at this stuff.

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A Forgotten Classic – WRC: Rally Evolved

pcsx2-2017-02-26-20-39-28-79Ever since picking up a used PlayStation 4 a few months ago for a fairly respectable price, I’ve been dedicating a lot of my console gaming shenanigans to progressing through the ranks in DriveClub. The last title churned out by Evolution Studios prior to their closure and the staff’s subsequent mass migration to Codemasters, I had planned to publish an in-depth review on the arcade racer, as I found there was a lot to enjoy in the title despite its relatively casual-oriented theme. Still regarded as the PS4’s best all-around racer, I’ve slowly been capturing hot-laps and completing campaign mode events in the hopes that one day, I’d get to talk to you guys about it on PRC.net. It’s really not as terrible as the mainstream gaming critics have made it out to be.

However, there’s been a slight change in plans; with an Alienware Aurora R6 arriving on my doorstep, high-definition PlayStation 2 emulation is now a legitimate gaming option, and that’s allowed me to visit a title I’ve both seen and heard much about over the years, but not been able to try for myself until February of 2017. Released only in International markets during the fall of 2005, Evolution Studios’ magnum opus based on the FIA World Rally Championship – WRC: Rally Evolved – isn’t just the best mass-market rally game ever released, it still holds up surprisingly well over a decade later, to the point where modern racing game developers could learn a thing or two from the all-around stellar package Evolution had created to run on what’s now extremely dated hardware. This game is so far ahead of the curve in terms of the driving model, presentation, features, and atmosphere, it’s almost frightening how much rally games have regressed despite advances in technology and significantly bigger development budgets after Evolution lost the WRC license.

Armed with a PCSX2 plug-in from ToCAEdit that makes the emulator believe my Logitech G29 is actually an ancient Logitech Driving Force Pro, I dove in with extremely high expectations due the overwhelming number of YouTube comments proclaiming this to be the best rally game conceived in the history of officially licensed WRC titles.

I was not disappointed.

pcsx2-2017-02-26-17-10-29-78Real-life footage from the 2005 season is intertwined with a simple menu system highlighted by the use of the official WRC font, immediately establishing a very distinct atmosphere reminiscent of mid-2000’s WRC television broadcasts that makes Rally Evolved feel like a very cohesive package, as opposed to some art director’s pretentious in-house project given the thumbs up to prevent him from feeling bad about himself for an afternoon.

Though I promptly switched off the repetitive instrumental track providing some sort of background noise,  it was easy as an end user to understand what the product was about and who it was aimed for; there were no annoying voice-over tutorials or big friendly buttons to walk literal idiots who bought the game out of curiosity through each facet of the game as there were with the Milestone series. Rally Evolved takes itself seriously and sets the tone of the experience with basic black menus, prominently displaying the vehicles in the car select screen in all of their 3D glory (with doors and other oddities that can be opened at your discretion), introduces you to the roster of drivers via on-board footage where you can clearly see their faces focused on the road ahead, and establishes the whole “world championship” element by a rotating globe displaying where each event is located.

The whole thing comes off as an interactive extension of a WRC broadcast from that period of time, which is really cool.

pcsx2-2017-02-26-21-19-17-29But rather than forcing our readers to sit through two thousand words of myself obsessing over all the little things Evolution Studios perfected in their final officially licensed WRC release, let’s get the most important part out of the way first; WRC: Rally Evolved drives pretty damn well, and there’s no catch that comes with that statement. It’s not pretty damn well “for a PlayStation 2 game”, or “compared to other rally games released at the time” – I really wasn’t ready for a driving experience this robust and intuitive.

The majority of YouTube videos depicting WRC: Rally Evolved don’t do the underlying handling model justice, and that’s because by default, the game is neutered to such an extent, the game practically drives itself – with more assists than modern GT3 cars holding the player’s hands and basically not allowing them to wreck the car or deviate from the preferred line through each stage in any meaningful fashion. Coupled with a chase camera view that doesn’t really convey how much the car reacts to each bump and unique road surface – instead implying the rally car is glued to the ground – this game looks pretty butchered in the physics department if you hit up YouTube and search for gameplay footage from average players.

Upon loading up the game for the first time and creating a new user profile, the three main sliders which govern driving assists in Rally Evolved are all jacked up to the maximum value for your steering, throttle, and braking inputs. It’s lame, I know, but obviously a design decision to prevent new players from getting immensely frustrated. Turn everything off, and shit gets crazy in a hurry.

pcsx2-2017-02-26-17-57-21-24Describing Rally Evolved to an audience who has never played it, or never played it with a modern force feedback wheel and all of the driving skills they’ve picked up from sim racing over the past decade since they’ve played this as a teenager, is actually quite simple. Disabling all of the assists, the tire model is exceptionally well done, requiring the same precise pedal management techniques you would use in something like DiRT 4 or Richard Burns Rally under adverse weather conditions, though the suspension model lacks the same level of fidelity, and it can be a bit jarring in very difficult, technical sectors. This doesn’t detract from the driving model, it’s just one of those things you have to get used to.

Personally, I’m conflicted in regards to why the game feels this way; on some stages, the game’s physics drive ridiculously close to the popular NGP revision of Richard Burns Rally and you can easily get into a rhythm as you would in modern rally titles, but the car consistently bottoms out with such force, and the track geometry routinely exhibits such sharp changes throughout the stage, that it could just be a case of the underside of the car constantly slamming into the ground. Whatever the reason, and regardless of any setup changes I threw at it, Rally Evolved drives like a very stiff – but still very good – Richard Burns Rally. This isn’t a bad thing.

What I prefer in Rally Evolved, is that the cars have much more weight to them, the tires reach their limit of adhesion significantly quicker, and there’s a huge emphasis on keeping the car balanced by carefully working the throttle & brake pedals – so overall speeds are a lot slower compared to rally games you’re probably used to. Very rarely are you full throttle, and very rarely are you hard on the brakes, and this isn’t because of wheelspin or the stages being super technical and full of nonsensical zig-zagging where you’re flying off into the trees – there’s a tangible sweet spot where you’re just sort of cruising at 70% attack, pushing to 80% if you happen to know the stage from a previous outing. It’s always a constant battle to restrain yourself from driving over your head and getting crossed up; there’s no “too fast” in Rally Evolved as there is in Richard Burns Rally because the cars just don’t get the power down in the same manner – it’s instead “not having the car balanced.”

There’s a stage in the Cyprus Rally that highlights this quite well; you’re tip-toeing down a mountain for the first segment, and for a good ten seconds you’re just riding the brake and holding on for dear life; desperately trying to settle the car for approaching the quick set of turns at the bottom. Nailing the segment isn’t about slowing to the right speed and turning the wheel; it’s down to thinking about what you’re doing and being precise with how you attack the corner.

pcsx2-2017-02-26-18-13-34-40Surface changes are every bit as terrifying as they should be, with your tire compound never quite preparing you for everything a stage has to offer. Ice patches on the Monte Carlo stages, and puddles after a rainstorm during the latter parts of the WRC championship, are pretty hair-raising if you’re not ready for them. There’s a whole bunch of heads-up driving involved when it comes to monitoring grip levels, as they never remain stagnant throughout a run. This is a huge change compared to titles like DiRT Rally, which are lauded by hardcore rally fans for their relatively stale track conditions.

pcsx2-2017-02-26-17-27-33-20You can combat the adverse conditions with a car setup menu that’s a step above what y’all saw in DiRT 3 – a very good design decision in this instance, as there’s an extra level of depth in allowing users to tweak elements such as the springs, dampers, and sway bars, but it never gets overly complex to the point where it pushes away loose-surface newbies like what’s available in DiRT Rally – a garage menu too elaborate for its own good. With six preset slots available for each car in the game, you can pretty much toss aside any of the sim’s default setups and run an entire season on your own creations. As someone who knows their way around a traditional circuit car in titles like rFactor, but struggles to know where to begin with rally cars, I dig this garage menu. It’s as complex as it needs to be.

pcsx2-2017-02-26-18-34-13-58A rally game is only as good as the design of its stages, and this is where Rally Evolved succeeds with flying colors, though some of the diehards will understandably kick up a fuss anyways. All sixteen rounds of the 2005 WRC championship are represented, though there are just three stages per country. No, that’s not unique routes that are then sectioned off by the developers to create a total of nine offerings and artificially helping to skyrocket the track count for a back-of-the-box tagline – an entire country in season mode clocks in at around nine minutes.

Is this a bad thing? I’m going to go out on a limb and say no, not entirely.

All 48 stages in WRC: Rally Evolved are incredibly diverse, each boasting their own unique flow, layout and theme that helps differentiate it from the others. Cyprus, Mexico, Greece, and Argentina are all predominantly gravel rallies in tan-colored dirt, but both aesthetically as well as geographically the routes are all distinctly one-of-a-kind, and don’t borrow any elements from one another. The variety is honestly spectacular, and over the span of an entire season, you never see the same stretch of road – or anything that even remotely resembles it. So while the whole game can be seen in one sitting if you’ve got a few hours for a run at the full length championship mode, you’re always driving something completely new, and each environment doesn’t overstay its welcome.

pcsx2-2017-02-26-17-22-54-92Stage width, a major topic of discussion across all rally games dating back to the time 3D driving games became a thing, varies from track to track. There are routes in Mexico, Great Britain, and Sweden that are absolutely nuts even by modern rally sim standards, but there are an equal amount of tracks with suspiciously wide rural paths. The trade-off, or compromise for tolerating some of the wider, more forgiving stages, is that all of these routes are immensely detailed, and below I’ve used what I feel is the best single picture to depict this to our readers.

Each stage has been crammed with trackside detail by Evolution Studios, as around every bend there are animated spectators, banners, towns, barriers, signage, parked vehicles, and other miscellaneous objects to really flesh out each environment. Had one of these tracks been released as a third party mod for something like Assetto Corsa, the community would unanimously praise it. There’s a whole bunch of shit everywhere, turning the world into a living, breathing, dynamic entity.

pcsx2-2017-02-26-17-57-50-11And that’s not just a colorful description, either. Evolution Studios implemented a very deep random events element into Rally Evolved, which throws all sorts of shit at you over the course of the championship season, and none of it is scripted – it’s all dynamic, on-the-fly shit that changes from stage to stage. This is a massive game-changer in the world of rally games, as it’s made very clear you’re not the only car on the stage in a very static environment. You’ll be in fourth gear, attacking a corner at over 100 km/h, and suddenly find the nose of your car pointed at a crashed Skoda, with medical personnel attending to the drivers, and the ambulance parked at the apex of the corner. You have two seconds to make a decision.

pcsx2-2017-02-26-19-39-26-56You can be hauling ass through the final stage in Mexico, and suddenly some asshole is kicking up a cloud of dust and making the route impossible to see. There goes your personal best, just like that.pcsx2-2017-02-26-17-33-23-87Based on the severity of the crash or retirement, you’ll occasionally (but not always) see an array of FIA officials standing in the middle of the route signalling at your car to slow down for the upcoming scene, several corners in advance of the accident. If the car is on fire, there’ll be a firetruck to avoid. If it’s not, no fire truck. If there’s an injury, there’s an ambulance. Other times, dejected drivers will leap out of the way of your at the last second, unaware their post-DNF tantrum is taking place on the racing surface..

pcsx2-2017-02-26-12-40-26-96Civilian vehicles will crash and cause stereotypical idiot backwoods driver obstructions where a giant portion of the fence is suddenly in the middle of the road thanks to Pablo’s escapades on his family tractor. Yes, there are civilian tractor accidents to avoid, and they’re hilarious. Water pipes occasionally break and flood the racing surface. Boulders fall. Road construction creates temporary chicanes. Spectator vehicles are never parked in the same position twice. Retarded photographers stand in particularly dangerous spots. Compassionate civilians attempt to draw attention to treacherous jumps or slick patches before they destroy your car. Event organizers occasionally forget to open gates along the route, and you’re the guy tasked with destroying public property in the name of championship points.

And I honestly don’t believe I’ve seen everything. The sheer diversity of random shit I witnessed in just one single player championship run couldn’t have possibly been all the scenarios Rally Evolved has to offer. It blew my mind, the shit that kept happening out my windshield. After playing these games for so many years with static environments, you’re just flat-out not expecting to round a bend and be subjected to Pablo’s tractor accident, so you don’t have time to reach over and mash the FRAPS button.

pcsx2-2017-02-26-17-59-53-86Restarting each rally a few times for the best possible championship result, none of these random events were based on predetermined conditions; there didn’t appear to be one specific spot for retirements to park based on a list of eight potential parking zones, and catastrophic wrecks, even if they occurred on the same area of the track, didn’t always look the same or play out in an identical fashion as the one I saw before it. Sometimes the car was upside down, sometimes it was right side up, sometimes there were FIA officials, sometimes there weren’t, and in some cases, there wasn’t a wreck to begin with.

pcsx2-2017-02-26-20-35-22-77These random events don’t always crop up; Evolution have dialed back the frequency to the point where just as you become complacent and forget they’re a thing in Rally Evolved, you find yourself taking a 150 km/h leap right onto Petter Solberg’s flaming Subaru Impreza as the orange-vested FIA officials you ignored a hundred feet earlier look on in horror. It’s just so bloody cool to see it all in action, especially as these events actually mean something in the grand scheme of things. Ripping by Sebastien Loeb’s busted Citroen isn’t just a fancy visual diversion designed to look cool; it means he’s actually retired from the stage due to a mechanical failure and taken a massive time penalty to boot – and that will be reflected in the results once you cross the finish line.

pcsx2-2017-02-26-17-28-01-06But what completes this living, breathing rally experience, is the lippy asshole in the passenger seat, who is less of a rapid-fire GPS, and more of a dynamic personal assistant with his own thoughts and feelings. Most rally games really fuck up the co-driver element, coding the navigator in a way where after you cross point X on the track, an audio file plays that merely reads out direction X in a really generic fashion. Evolution Studios went above and beyond when designing the co-driver element, turning him into a genuine companion.

Yes, he reads the pacenotes as you’d expect him to, and you can determine how early (or late) he calls corners. That’s a given.

But he also cheers when the leader wrecks. If you drive past a destroyed teammate’s car, he gets upset and makes off-beat comments like “oh wait, that’s one of our guys!” He bitches about competitors kicking up dust and making the road difficult to see, as well as spectators or cameramen nearly being hit by the car – with quips such as “are you trying to get hit?” If you come into a corner too hot, or completely lock up the brakes, he knows, and momentarily shits his pants. On the contrary, if you nail a particularly nutty set of corners, he voices his praise.

This feedback isn’t triggered with each checkpoint passed – as it would be in most rally games – it’s totally dynamic. Evolution Studios have programmed your co-pilot to know ideal corner speeds and trajectories for all 48 stages, allowing him to critique your driving on the fly. Traditionally, it takes race-ending contact with a massive concrete barrier to get your co-driver to do anything other than mindlessly read out corners. In Rally Evolved, he’s aware that the second sector of Australia’s first special stage can be taken predominantly in sixth gear, he can tell when you’re slacking, and he can also tell when he’s about to die. His enhanced level of chattiness and feedback, both during the run as well as during the cinematic stuff, is much appreciated. It’s as insightful as it is hilarious.

Oh, right, the cinematic stuff. Let’s talk about that.

pcsx2-2017-02-26-12-35-07-99Rally Evolved doesn’t just plop you on the starting grid, ready to attack the stage. Each run begins with you carefully navigating through a sea of spectators and FIA officials. Your boy in the passenger seat makes quick small talk, and the starter guides you to the starting line. This isn’t just “drive rally car on rally track” software, the whole enchilada is here. You’re part of an event, and events have a shitload of people working to make it happen. You get to see that boring procedure as many times as you like, though you can mash X to skip it if you’re in a hurry. Honestly, the inclusion of this stuff is extremely nice to see; it helps convey the fact that this is a world Evolution Studios have created, as opposed to extremely niche simulation software for a handful of computer nerds.

Podium finishes and championship wins are rewarded with elaborate motion-capture trophy presentations, where drivers spray each other with champagne and jump around their respective rides. Again, you can mash X and get right back to racing if you choose to do so, but it’s nice to take a breather for thirty seconds and immerse yourself in the game world. A lot of the sim autists scoff at shit like this, but it’s harmless fun that builds exposition, context, and meaning around the core gameplay. It’s a lot cooler to douse Petter Solberg in virtual champagne after your third place finish, than stare at a floating menu that says Team Subaru won Rally Sweden.

pcsx2-2017-02-26-17-20-43-25The WRC: Rally Evolved experience doesn’t just stop at the 2005 WRC season, so there’s a lot of replay value packed into the game as well. While I was able to win the championship on Expert difficulty in an evening of play, this isn’t where Rally Evolved ends when it comes to content. You’re given points for each event win, championship title, and miscellaneous in-game accomplishment, which can then be spent in the Rewards screen to unlock additional cars, cheats, and stages for other single player modes. Winning the championship once amasses enough points to open roughly 85% of the content provided you investigate on how to get the most bang for your buck, so there’s basically no grinding involved if you want to check out some of the crazy shit behind padlocks.

pcsx2-2017-02-26-21-04-39-60WRC fans will obviously gravitate towards the 2005 season stuff, but the game features four alternative classes of play, beginning with Super 1600 entries and real-world concept cars, all the way to a very respectable roster of every notable banned Group B competitor, and finally the Extreme spec vehicles, which are basically oh-Jesus-what-the-fuck variants of the 2005 cars. All additional cars exhibit reasonable handling characteristics for what they’re attempting to be modeled after, which combined with the already stout physics engine, means there’s no bullshit cars that turn Rally Evolved into Railway Arcade at a moments notice. The Group B and Extreme cars are not insta-win vehicles with absurd increases in speed and grip, but challenging in their own right.

pcsx2-2017-02-26-21-10-56-02There’s a Historic Challenge mode that lets you unlock the Group B cars rather than purchasing them by partaking in ridiculously challenging time trials, a separate time trial mode with impressively quick times set on every single stage by the staff at Evolution Studios, and an offshoot Rallycross variant of play that takes on a more arcade approach to the game. It’s certainly hard to ask for more ways to play the game, as there’s only so many ways to change up the concept of driving from point A to point B against the clock.

pcsx2-2017-02-26-18-03-55-30Thirty-seven hundred words later, I’m tasked with summarizing WRC: Rally Evolved for sim racers who have been spoiled for choice when it comes to modern rally simulators, and in some cases couldn’t possibly consider digging out their old PlayStation 2 to have another go at a game they once played to death in their adolescent years.

Here is the honest truth: In February of 2017, Rally Evolved is still currently the most complete rally package available to turn a lap in; the nostalgia goggles of YouTube users across the world making outlandish claims about this being the best rally game ever made are wholeheartedly justified.

Building on a solid set of driving physics and diverse stage design by creating a dynamic, breathing world that constantly keeps you on your toes with new hazards to avoid in the quest for a championship, and loading the title with a solid supporting cast of vehicles and modes to master once you’ve exhausted the core 2005 season, WRC: Rally Evolved is impressive not only in what it accomplishes as an all-encompassing rally game that ticks every last box, but in how Evolution Studios managed to cram this much stuff onto a disc that was meant to be played by a console so woefully under-powered. If you’re lucky enough to own a PC powerful enough for PlayStation 2 emulation, this ISO should be your very first download, and it’s certainly comforting knowing many of the same geniuses behind Rally Evolved are now over at Codemasters, continuing to create phenomenal racing games.

 

gRally Struggles to Remain Relevant

772533407_preview_grally07Just because you can build it, doesn’t mean you should. The development of open source PC rally simulator gRally was once a quest to move on from the ancient Richard Burns Rally platform by taking the best bits of what the rally sim community could come up with and packing their work into an entirely new title, but with five years spent behind closed doors, virtually no major advancements in development to speak of, and a very different sim racing landscape compared to when the title was first teased in December of 2012, I have a very difficult time supporting what RBR-Online.it are attempting to do in the spring of 2017. gRally has moved onto Steam Greenlight, so they’re inching closer to letting the public have a go at what the indie simulator has to offer, but a very important question needs to be answered – does anyone actually care?

No, they don’t. And there are fairly valid reasons as to why.

grallysim-2014-05-01-08-59-47-933According to VirtualR, talk of gRally first began sometime in 2011, which at least provided a reason for this project to start up in the first place. At the time, rally simulators just weren’t made, and the few rally games on the market had taken a very casual approach that put off a lot of hardcore simulation fans. The Milestone WRC titles were nothing to write home about, featuring giant tracks and a really simplistic handling model, while Codemasters’ own DiRT 3 injected a lot of non-rally elements into the core gameplay experience, forcing many of our resident sim dads to tolerate both short course off road racing, as well as freestyle gymkhana, in addition to what was a very simplified point-to-point rally offering – intended primarily for a different generation of gamers.

Richard Burns Rally had also been getting a bit long in the tooth; people were simply tired of modding it, sick of working with ancient software and the limitations placed by SCi on the actual rallying due to the technology they were working with at the time – so it was only natural to want something more. RBR-Online.it basically came out and said they’d provide a solution to these problems by creating their own simulator that met everyone’s needs.

Then they went silent for several years.

sweden-vw-3-r_ndhr-jpgIn the meantime, the market became over-saturated with rally games, and not just any rally games, but good rally games. While the team behind gRally were hard at work on their own little simulator, Codemasters built a spiritual successor to Richard Burns Rally in private, and just sort of released it on Steam one day without any prior warning. DiRT Rally was an instant success, warranting a current generation console release, as well as a PlayStation VR re-release a few months later. Milestone, the company who once spearheaded the officially licensed WRC titles, lost the WRC license, but promptly set out to build their own hardcore simulator. Sebastien Loeb Rally Evo features significantly more content than DiRT Rally, though your experience may vary depending on your platform of choice – the PC version can be turned into a sublime experience with certain third party patches which remove trademark Milestone niggles, while the PS4 version suffers from enormous framerate and input lag problems.

Regardless, there are two exceptional modern rally simulators you can currently purchase for the PC, built by massive developer teams with equally massive budgets and licenses.

richardburnsrally_sse-2016-12-10-14-11-01-98And we haven’t even gotten to the other two players. The WRC license ended up going to a French team by the name of Kylotonn Games, who stumbled out of the gate in 2015 with WRC 5, but allegedly put together a somewhat acceptable simcade offering with WRC 6 in 2016 – depending on which sim racing outlets you trust. Richard Burns Rally, a simulator rally enthusiasts have been playing & modding for over a decade, has also been blown wide open, with the NGP physics project basically re-building the game from the ground up, producing a driving model that takes lessons learned from other modern simulators and generates much more convincing tire behavior at the limit of adhesion compared to the vanilla experience – which saw literal rocket ships maintain crazy slip angles that added to the title’s Grand Prix Legends-like reputation of being completely fucking ridiculous for veteran sim racers to master.

So there are four reasonable rally simulators on the market in February of 2017. The team behind gRally believe there is room for a fifth, and it looks like this:

The major sim racing websites will all celebrate this game’s arrival on Steam Greenlight, but I can’t say I echo their enthusiasm. We are spoiled with high quality rally simulators, as DiRT Rally, Sebastien Loeb Rally Evo, and Richard Burns Rally 2016 are all available at this very moment – with the latter being a free download thanks to the game’s abandonware status. Codemasters have also recently revealed their plans to release DiRT 4 in June of 2017, bringing that number to four by the time the public would be able to get their hands on gRally in some sort of beta environment.

hq720I’m unsure what incentive anybody would have to buy this game. DiRT 3 was free at some point last year and basically any person on the planet who didn’t already own it yet was still curious about the game, now have DiRT 3 in their Steam library, which despite the addition of race types unrelated to point-to-point rallying, is still a fantastic all-encompassing off-road racing game. DiRT Rally was essentially a high-res remake of Richard Burns Rally, Sebastien Loeb Rally Evo offers more content than DiRT Rally and a more realistic sense of weight transfer provided you pick up the third-party patch that unfucks all of Milestone’s hiccups, and DiRT 4 will be on store shelves in a few short months – a game boasting randomly generated stages, online leagues, and a massive single player career mode. And if none of the above sound appealing, you can just go out and download a 2016 upgrade for Richard Burns Rally, as the game is technically abandonware and people can just release the whole game, brought up to 2016 standards, on Mediafire.

gRally, on the other hand, have sent out this incredible list of features to get people excited.

  • gRally is not in a position to have official licenses at the moment and its starting point is a limited number of racing cars.
  • gRally, considered its Indie character, is modding-oriented. We developed integrated Unity tools that will facilitate the insertion of your creations, whether it be additional cars or tracks.
  • gRally recreates the range of real rally conditions that drivers must face, including various type of surface and climate as well as different times of day and night.

Next to no content, visually unappealing, powered by the Unity engine, and encouraging scratch-built modding projects – all when a game set to be released in a few months has an in-game stage generation tool… Why should we be excited for this, exactly? In 2011, I can at least see why this game was on the drawing board, but fast forward to 2017, and it’s instead horrendously dated, falling behind no less than four or five rally games that offer an infinitely better experience.

I’m genuinely surprised the project wasn’t scrapped; there is no point to this title’s existence.

Still the King: Richard Burns Rally 2016

richardburnsrally_sse-2016-12-10-14-11-01-98It’s hard to pinpoint exactly where to begin with Richard Burns Rally, a title which once temporarily graced store shelves in 2004 as a no-nonsense, hardcore alternative to the Colin McRae Rally series; designed specifically for the crowd who had grown bored with the virtual Rubiks Cube known as Grand Prix Legends. With the help of the late professional rally pilot and 2001 WRC champion Richard Burns, SCi Games set out to essentially construct a rally simulator nobody could play, and as a result, nobody bought. Though there was nothing inherently wrong when it came to the physics engine, the stages remained well within the realm of what would be deemed authentic rural roads, and the vehicles accurately exhibited the same performance characteristics of their real-life counterparts, Richard Burns Rally proved a set of titanium testicles were required to post competitive speeds on the WRC circuit. By comparison, a large portion of sim racers at the time didn’t even posses valid drivers licenses, so forcing these hobbyists to execute Scandinavian flicks with pinpoint accuracy wasn’t a recipe for success by any stretch of the imagination.

Needless to say, SCi Games disbanded, and Richard Burns Rally was deemed a commercial failure.

Determined to master what quickly established itself as the ultimate challenge in sim racing, an extremely small segment of the community worked tirelessly to master the in’s and out’s of Richard Burns Rally, discovering in the process that another developer had captured the magic of Sierra’s Grand Prix Legends in a relentless and grueling off-road nightmare that has undoubtedly been the cause of many smashed keyboards, controllers, and plastic steering wheels around the world. In a manner similar to Ninja Gaiden II or the Dark Souls franchise, sim racers wanting to subject themselves to a special kind of sadomasochistic hell began flocking to the world of Richard Burns Rally purely by word of mouth reports from others who had tried and failed to keep their Subaru pointed in the proper direction.

richardburnsrally_sse-2016-12-10-14-11-18-10It took a few long years of dissecting the game’s file structure and figuring out how to reverse-engineer a one-off engine not used in other racing simulators, but a proper modding scene surrounding Richard Burns Rally eventually rose from the ashes of SCi’s demise. Yet due to the game’s semi-restricted format, installing new vehicles, stages, and external plugins to support rapid advances in home computer technology became a literal pain in the ass compared to the simplistic drag-and-drop format used in titles such as rFactor or GTR Evolution. To combat the arduous process of installing new content into the obscure rally simulator, the RSRBR mod packs were created to ease the process, though in reality they actually made matters worse. Richard Burns Rally fans were forced to download almost twenty gigabytes of additional content from a website with notoriously slow download speeds, forcing sim racers to set aside entire weekends just to update their Richard Burns Rally install – and do it all over again the following year when a new one was released.

This created a situation where most people have spent more time downloading and installing stuff for Richard Burns Rally than actually playing it. The few hardcore guys in the community merely accepted this task as part of the deal when diving head-first into the grueling simulator, but significantly more sim racers who otherwise would love to try out Richard Burns Rally in a casual setting, were instead turned off entirely.

rbr2016An Argentinean website by the name of RBRPlus have offered a fantastic solution for those looking to get into Richard Burns Rally, yet can’t be assed polluting their computer with enormous amounts of additional content. As the original Richard Burns Rally is considered abandonware software, and SCi Games no longer exist as a developer, this mythical rally simulator is now freely available for all to download – which RBRPlus took advantage of for the benefit of the sim racing community.

RBRPlus have taken the base Richard Burns Rally install, along with both retail patches released by SCi, and injected them with all relevant third party plugins necessary to run the game on modern PC hardware – such as resolution fixes, support for multiple inputs, and performance tweaks to get the most out of the application. They’ve also replaced the default car roster and list of AI drivers with the full fleet of cars from the 2016 WRC championship and WRC2 support series, powered by a completely revitalized set of physics that have been re-built from the ground up and draw upon lessons learned from ten years worth of tire model advancements made in other racing simulators.

In short, these random guys from Argentina created the ultimate 2016 World Rally Championship simulator, and the free download – which is a stand-alone package that does not require the original game to function – weighs in at just 1.6 gigabytes.

You can grab it HERE.

richardburnsrally_sse-2016-12-10-19-43-39-15It still looks like Richard Burns Rally, so that’s probably going to turn a few people off. While the stages are loaded with detail – and the Japan environment in particular is almost obsessive in the sheer number of plants and trees lining the side of the road – the lighting engine is straight out of 2003. The car models serve their purpose, but at first glance I was under the belief they had been ripped from one of the Kylotonn Games and hastily thrown into the Richard Burns Rally platform, a theory supported by the existence of websites like GameModels.ru.

I personally believe there have been a few environment texture updates added in here and there, but I’d chalk this up to the fact that I haven’t sat down with Richard Burns Rally and spent any serious amount of time with the game for a few years. There are some spots – particularly in the Finland stages during heavy snowfall – where the scenery looks fairly impressive, but you are indeed soon brought back to reality and reminded of the simulator’s age.

richardburnsrally_sse-2016-12-10-19-00-13-07But the big topic people will want me to address is how this new set of revised physics stacks up againsthe original Richard Burns Rally driving model some of us have been accustomed to, and to that I have to say they’re absolutely brilliant. This is easily worth the ten minute download and thirty second install, especially if you’re feeling burned by WRC 6, have grown tired of DiRT Rally, or aren’t a big enough Milestone apologist to mess around with Sebastien Loeb Rally Evo.

The Richard Burns Rally 2016 Season package makes use of what the community have deemed NGP physics – a similar on-going science project akin to iRacing’s New Tire Model, where months upon months of revisions and alternative theories have gone into essentially reverse engineering everything to do with car-meets-road and car-goes-fast stuff under the hood of Richard Burns Rally. Whereas the original game’s physics turn the default selection of Mitsubishi’s, Subaru’s, and Toyota’s into literal rocket ships that can maintain crazy drift angles with minimal weight transfer effects, the NGP physics strive for car behavior on par with that of other racing simulators available on the market in 2016.

richardburnsrally_sse-2016-12-10-19-43-18-70Force Feedback-wise, I didn’t have to touch anything – it’s that good. Out of the box, it feels like someone yanked everything you like about the overall steering wheel feeling found in RaceRoom Racing Experience, and somehow seamlessly converted the whole damn into this ancient rally simulator, a task that’s extremely impressive when you consider these are just random dudes doing all of this in their spare time. It’s a very comfortable feeling behind the wheel, and it gets light over crests and in sketchy sideways moments in the appropriate fashion to remind you that there’s an edge to what the car is capable of in RBR. The more you drive, the better it gets. The whole driving experience feels extremely natural in your hands, and this is super important considering many of these stages leave absolutely no room for error.

When we talk about the overall car behavior, it’s as if RBRPlus have dug into DiRT Rally and rectified most of the problems we’ve discovered with the Codemasters release over time, such as the ability to lug the car over ludicrous leaps at maximum attack with little regard for the car’s condition, as well as the super hero-like side forces acting on the car which keep it in check during extended drifting periods.

It’s very similar to DiRT Rally in that you can hit the stage at 70% attack and make it through unscathed, a far cry from the adolescent boot camp vibe of the vanilla game – which punished you for doing so much as breathing on the steering wheel out of time – but unlike DiRT Rally, there’s a very tangible limit to how retarded you can be. Though the cars are extremely planted and balanced by default, you can’t just send the thing sideways at will and expect it to stick – this is a driving model which rewards keeping the car balanced above all else. Drifting is no longer an all-encompassing answer, but a solution to a very specific type of corner. In some sectors, you can definitely push hard provided you know the layout of the circuit, but as the loading screens state, there are times where you indeed need to back it down and ride through a technical section.

The same comments, of course, can be said about the vanilla game and about rallying in general, but this is really the first time you can put this advice to good use in Richard Burns Rally. In the version of the simulator most of you are familiar with, dialing back your performance to 70% attack meant merely shifting down a gear and reducing your speed, but with the NGP physics, you can physically feel the steering wheel settle in your hands and the car regain the stability you’re seeking with its stance – because weight transfer and body roll are a lot more prevalent this time around. It’s this weird hybrid of DiRT Rally and Assetto Corsa, with the Force Feedback effects straight from Sector 3 – which is every bit as enjoyable as that sounds on paper.

Wet weather driving makes the new tire model come alive, as locations such as Japan really force you to pussy foot around technical sections and roll on the throttle gradually for the wet gravel tires to have a better shot at regaining grip. I can’t stand the Japan stages, they’re still a bit much for me, but I gained a new appreciation for them thanks to how I was required to drastically alter my driving style in a way that both made sense and felt natural – which can’t be said about the original game.

The original stages are still every bit as demanding as they were when the game first launched in 2004, but the key thing is your average sim racer will be able to complete many of them in a row without blasting into one of the several low poly spectators lining the route. Only when you push for competitive times and dig for every last bit of grip does the game bite back in the way we’ve come to expect from RBR, and it does so in a way that feels much more natural and justified than it did with the vanilla physics.

richardburnsrally_sse-2016-12-10-20-02-56-83And unlike the RSRBR bundle of mods, Richard Burns Rally 2016 still functions as a complete game. The entire single player campaign mode has been overhauled to include the names and teams of the 2016 WRC season, allowing you to embark upon a five hour championship marathon if you choose to do so. To my surprise, the artificial intelligence have been re-engineered to produce elapsed times on par or sometimes better than the player’s performance, creating a highly compelling offline battle against the bots, but there are a few inaccuracies I’ve found during my own championship season. Sebastien Ogier of Volkswagen, who has won every WRC championship since Loeb’s retirement at the end of 2012, has failed to complete a single rally in a season and a half of gameplay on my end. Meanwhile, relatively unaccomplished WRC drivers such as Mads Ostberg, Kris Meek, Pierre-Louis Loubet, and Craig Breen, can consistently be seen fighting for the title.

Though the 2016 package earns points for how little time was required to configure everything – it was literally just a matter of entering my resolution in the INI file, mapping a few buttons to my wheel, and downloading CamHack for my custom cockpit position – it was definitely shitty to see such weird AI performances that hardly matched the real WRC standings.

richardburnsrally_sse-2016-12-10-14-03-15-04As a whole, however, I’m certainly glad RBRPlus have put out their own custom rendition of Richard Burns Rally based solely on the 2016 WRC season, as it allows people who are unwilling to download a ridiculous amount of mod packages to indulge in the absolute best parts of what has been hailed as one of the greatest racing simulators ever. Weighing in at only 1.6 gigabytes, featuring all the top cars from the current WRC calendar, and bundling everything with a phenomenal set of rebuilt physics which draw upon ten years worth of tire model advancements in other simulators, you certainly owe it to yourself to check out Richard Burns Rally 2016. DiRT Rally has the presentation of an AAA-title, Sebastien Loeb has more content, and WRC 6 may have the official FIA World Rally Championship license, but Richard Burns Rally is still the king when it comes to the raw driving authenticity.

http://rbrplus.blogspot.com/2016/12/rbr-2016.html

Indie Trophy Truck Simulator Receives Massive Surprise Update

ss_a42ecbbad20a187e7e5d609885737f8563a08655-1920x1080Well this certainly came out of nowhere. Residing on the Steam Marketplace for almost two years, the indie off-road racing simulator known as D Series from one-man show devotid Mediaa title most had rightfully dismissed back in May of 2015 due to fairly underwhelming gameplay and an objectively light list of features – has been graced with a surprise update this morning. Rebuilding almost the entire game from the ground up, an application that once failed to captivate basically anyone within the sim racing community has now been injected with a bit of life; the Christmas 2016 update to D Series introduces a comprehensive in-game track editing sandbox that’s been seamlessly tied to the Steam workshop, as well as an assortment of new vehicles to mess around with. Bundling the three primary classes of Trophy Trucks alongside an assortment of other off-road vehicles, such as a Ford Fiesta WRC knock-off and even a generic Toyota-bodied Monster Truck, there’s a lot of potential inside this $16.99 CDN purchase compared to when we were first introduced to this simulator.

I use the word potential, because the update may have shipped a bit prematurely, and there’s no guarantee D Series will gain traction within the sim racing community thanks to what I consider to be its main attraction.

Currently, the game does not recognize my Logitech G29 throttle pedal and I literally cannot move the truck forward, which means I’m forced to plug in my Xbox 360 pad and be treated to an experience similar to devotid’s other racing game on the market, RC Sim 2.0. Now while radio controlled cars are meant to be piloted with a pad, it’s definitely hard to gauge the authenticity of any vehicle available in D Series when these are the kinds of trucks you’d want to be driving with a steering wheel – sending eight hundred horsepower to the rear tires with the right trigger, and keeping the thing straight with your left thumb, simply doesn’t work.

And yes, as mentioned both above and in the trailer, D Series comes with a massive, and I truly mean massive track editor, which lets you build whatever the fuck comes to mind. I happen to own RC Simulator 2.0 and have churned out a few decent creations with the in-game tool; it’s really the selling point of the game, and the only reason I haven’t spent more time on my custom tracks, is because at the end of the day I can’t enjoy driving an RC car in the same way I can enjoy wheeling around in a trophy truck. However, due to how comprehensive the editor is, the game’s success will extend as far as people are invested into pushing the limit when it comes to what is possible within the editor. If the community can’t get a grasp on how to churn out high quality tracks, D Series will always be that little indie trophy truck game that people never quite figured out.

There appears to be a multiplayer component and time trial element included within the vanilla roster of features, though I’ll save my judgement on them for when I’m actually able to give D Series a proper shakedown. For now though, given how small of a game this is and how many mainstream simulator sites most likely won’t cover it, I’m merely spreading the word that it’s out there, and if you’re curious about Trophy Trucks and need something to mess around in as a diversion to your routine crop of simulators, there’s a reason to give D Series a second look. If your throttle pedal is recognized, it’s a small enough game and quick enough download where you can see everything the sim has to offer in much less than the two hours Steam allows for a trial period.