Richard Burns Rally
Being the first journalist ever to see Richard Bums Rally may not quite be up there with breaking the Watergate scandal, but it’s the kind of sacrifice we are prepared to make for you, the PC reader. The grand unveiling came in a sparse room above a cafe near Earls Court, and consisted of a lot of men talking a lot of noise. Fortunately, we were able to wade through the technical jargon and bring you the important facts (not just that the bagels were a bit dry).
Colin McRae may rule the world of PC rallying, but one man regularly gets the better of him in the real world, and he has been drafted in to bolster the latest pretender to the rally game throne. As Britain's top rally driver for the past three seasons and 2001 World Rally Champion, Richard Burns is the man of the moment. At the time of going to press, Burns is also leading this year’s championship.
Further spice is added to the new-found gaming rivalry by the fact that McRae and Bums actively despise each other, hissing like jackals whenever they are in the same room. Or at least that’s what they want you to think. It turns out that it’s all for show and there is a great deal of mutual respect.
That said, McRae has already dismissed Burns’ forthcoming game, bracketing it in with the numerous others that have failed to dislodge his. So how can it compete? Well, rather than take on McRae on his own terms, the developers of Richard Bums Rally have opted for a radically different approach. Whereas McRae is essentially a pick-up-and-play arcade experience - along with pretty much every other rally game - Bums is attempting to provide a proper hardcore simulation of the sport. To have any chance of competing, players will have to acquire the essential skills at the Forest Rally School, based on a real-life location in Wales, where Bums learned his trade.
Roll With It
As in reality, should you roll your car during a rally, the crowd will be able to roll it back on to the road enabling you to continue. But that’s as far as the generosity extends. Slew into a tree at 150mph, and you’re looking at an airbag followed by an airlift, with your rally coming to an undignified end.
According to creative director Patrick O’Luanaigh (who worked on McRae 1 and 2): "It makes it a lot more exciting because you know if you make one mistake then you’re out, and that’s what real rally drivers feel. That's the route we’re going down, and we believe it’s the right one for this kind of game."
It’s a bold approach, but one that could breathe life into an increasingly stagnant genre. We’ve been playing Colin McRae 04 recently, and while it's a superb game, it's hard to see where the series has left to go. Enter Richard Bums Rally. there’s a new cock in the roost.
Download Richard Burns Rally
- PC compatible
- Operating systems: Windows 10/Windows 8/Windows 7/2000/Vista/WinXP
Although rally driver Richard Burns is currently taking a break from racing to receive treatment for a brain tumour, work on his first self-titled videogame remains right on track. Far from just cloning game DNA from Colin McRae's leather driving gloves, developer Warthog is throwing out Codemasters' pick-up-and-play approach in favour of a rally title that promises to deliver every splash of mud and engine splutter in exhausting detail.
Richard Burns, his co-driver Robert Reid and ex-professional Simon Redhead have all been heavily involved in the game to ensure the driving model behaves exactly like a real rally car. Everything involved with the vehicles has been painstakingly recreated, from the air pressure in the tyres to the different dampers for the suspension. So, if you're careless, pile into a tree and bugger the radiator, the simulation will calculate how (in real time) the damaged part will affect the other areas of your vehicle - and how quickly you'll grind to a halt.
Hardcore rally enthusiasts will love the ability to tweak the car's stats and for some details such as setting up differential maps, you'll need to take an advanced mechanics course. However, for the rest of us who just prefer to press a button that makes the car go faster, Richard Bums Rally has automatic set-ups for the game's eight vehicles (including Richard's favourite Subaru 2000), all created using the car manufacturers' actual rally settings.
Stuck In A Rut
All the tracks are modelled on rally courses from France, USA, Finland, Australia, Japan and the UK, yet it's the actual surfaces of the roads that deliver the real difference in gameplay. Unlike other rally games, the tracks have more rubble, boulders and ruts than a typical British B-road, even having potholes that fill with water if the random weather delivers a sudden downpour.
The road imperfections can have a dramatic effect on your vehicle, sending you skidding from the track if you hit a particularly nasty obstacle at top speed. On the plus side though, they can also be beneficial, enabling you to pull off moves such as a 'Scandinavian Flick'. No, this doesn't involve a Swedish porn film - it's a genuine rally manoeuvre where you can ride a rally car around a deep rut on a corner like a train on a rail.
Pedal To The Metal
However, if Richard Bums Rally has one thing over racing rival Colin McRae, it's speed - this game is fast. We caned a rally car across a punishing Japanese course, and exactly like the real drivers, we couldn't just slam the foot on the accelerator for speeds of 160mph plus, or we'd constantly spin off and career into the nearest spectator. You have to drive by the seat of your Y-fronts, listening intensely to Reid's barked directions and constantly shifting gears to make sure you keep a decent speed while maintaining complete control of the vehicle.
Even at this pre-beta stage of development, it's a thrilling ride - and Warthog assures us that the finished Richard Bums Rally will also look fantastic, with subtle lighting changes depending on what time of day you race, detailed background textures and particle effects such as realistic 3D fog and heat haze. Can Burns beat McRae? We'll find out at the finish line this autumn.
Richard Burns Rally Introduces A New Way Of Looking At The World
The problem with most racing and rally games is that the in-car view often looks great -with those snazzy rain effects and beautifully-modelled windscreen wipers - but they're almost impossible to play. Rally games, especially, are difficult enough without having to attempt the tricky driving terrain by looking through a letterbox. So, Warthog has come up with an ingenious solution for Richard Bums Rally, by placing the in-car camera on the dashboard. This means you can still have the aesthetically cool windscreen effects, but are able to play the game with almost a full-screen view of the rally course.
As Yoda wisely once said: You must unlearn what you have learned. This is certainly the case for Richard Bums Rally, which on initial viewings could convince you into thinking that this is just a Colin McRae clone - but that couldn't be further from the truth. To master this game you have to forget about the arcade pick-up-and-play aesthetic of Codemasters' classic series and drive with a completely new attitude. Richard Bums is Hardcore with a capital H', stamped into concrete and embossed with 18-carat gold leaf lettering.
Back To School
To prove the point, developer Warthog has included a fully comprehensive Rally School, where you can get a vital feel for the different handling of the seven cars -such as a Subaru Impreza and Hyundai Accent - learn how to brake safely and advanced techniques such as the use of the camber of the road to guide you round comers. At the end of class, if you've been good (and given him a shiny red apple), Mr Burns even takes you for a high-speed passenger ride around a course to show you how it's done.
After you've figured out where the accelerator and brake are, you can take part in either a quick rally, a multiplayer game for up to four players, or a Richard Burns Challenge against his ghost car in one of the six courses around the globe, including snow-covered Rovaniemi in Finland and dusty sunbaked Canberra, Australia.
However, it's the Rally Season mode that can really bring out the Sunday mechanic in you, allowing your team of engineers in overalls to fiddle with everything from the car's rear differential torque to wheel axis inclination. Also, each stage has random weather, so you have to make sure that you have the right tyres before you leave the garage or you'll be slipping and sliding around more than Emile Heskey.
Rallying is seat-of-your-pants stuff - you can't just slam the pedal to the floor and hope to stay on the road, as any slight clip of a tree stump at 140kmh will flip the car and send you crashing off-course. You have to strike a balance between being as fast as you can, listening intently to Richard Reid's pace-notes, while maintaining cool control of the car, which reacts to every rut, bobble and debris on the road surface. Unlike Colin McRae Rally, if you get into trouble off-road, you have to call for help and a group of yellow jersey-wearing officials (who you can also accidentally hit) will help get your car back in action. Finally, after you finish a stage, you only have a limited time to repair any damage, so you have to take advice on which essential parts you need to replace or you may have to start the next rally event with a completely crocked vehicle.
This is the most original rally title I've played for some time, as it genuinely offers a new driving experience, but we'll have to wait until the review next month to see whether the painstaking attention to detail prdves to be hellishly addictive or just downright exhausting.
Forget everything you know. If you've played a rally game at any stage in the last decade, you'll be familiar with the form. It's all about driving heavily sponsored cars through rural areas at high speed, sliding round bends with aplomb and launching yourself into the air at every opportunity. That's why we play them, to replicate the unfettered joy of tearing down a country road with your tongue lolling like a dog with its head out the window. As far as gamers are concerned, that's rallying, and it's a template that dates back to Sega Rally in the arcades.
It turns out that games lied to us. All the rally games we've played over the years have been nothing but a cruel deception, designed to kid us that we're enjoying ourselves. The truth is that rallying is nowhere near as much fun as we thought. It is in fact a highly technical sport contested by dour men, that requires years of practice to be remotely competent at. Stop the car - Richard Bums Rally is here to drive that message home.
Richard Burns has been driving rally cars since the age of 15, and claims that it's the only thing he's ever wanted to do. Comparable levels of commitment are required in order to play his first official game. Eschewing the arcade stylings of its genre mates, Richard Bums Rally wears its simulation colours proudly on the sleeve of its overalls, claiming to be the most accurate representation of the sport ever created.
They'll certainly get no argument from us. Having slipped, slid and sworn our way round 36 tracks of evil, we have to conclude that professional rally driver' may have to be scrubbed off the list of possible career changes (along with footballer, rock star and respected journalist).
Essentially, Richard Bums Rally makes a fool of you. It's so difficult that the first time you play it is akin to the first time you rode a bike, or indeed played a game. The first time I played it was at publisher SCi's headquarters, and it was frankly embarrassing. Naturally setting off at full speed, I remained on the track for all of five seconds before careering into the shrubbery - a cycle that was to repeat itself for the best part of an hour as the air turned bluer and my face turned redder, not helped by the hollow platitudes of encouragement from the brace of attendant PR men. Amazingly, despite my abysmal performance, I actually posted the second best time of any journalist so far.
Don't Do It
If I could have my time again, I'd revisit the scenario with the current benefit of a month's practice under my seatbelt. Such is the steepness of the learning curve that you simply have to put the hours in to become anywhere near competitive. It really is a case of rewiring your brain to oppose your instincts. That inviting jump up ahead? Resist the urge to floor it and sit back as you glide gracefully through the air -instead dab the brakes and wince as you briefly become airborne, praying that the car doesn't buckle on landing. That tempting bend? Forget about powersliding all the way round it - you'll have to gently brake in a straight line and then smoothly accelerate out of it. Such is the vicious nature of the game that it's even possible to crash while driving in a straight line, given the authentically rutted tracks that make up the stages.
It's this wilfully hardcore approach that sets Richard Burns Rally apart from the rest, and it's going to leave a lot of people cold. If you pick this up hoping for a quick whizz round a few exotic locales, you're going to find it bewildering, and may well be looking for your money back. In fairness, the hardcore nature of the game is made apparent throughout, with messages urging you to take it easy before each stage.
Back To School
Furthermore, a comprehensive Driving School is included, located in the forestry of North Wales and hosted by Burns himself. Consisting of a number of increasingly difficult tasks, it's pretty much essential, and in fact the basics have to be completed before you are allowed to begin a rally season. Ultimately, success at Richard Bums Rally is acquired by driving sensibly. It's simply not worth taking risks to gain a couple of split seconds, as this is more than offset by the time it will take to haul your crumpled car out of a ditch. A conservative strategy is required, and not crashing is highly recommended -particularly as on the harder levels this will often mean that your race is over.
So where's the fun in all of this? Well, the fun' - such as it is - is in the tightrope effect of careering down country roads in the knowledge that a slight clip of a tree stump will send your expensive car hurtling through the air and quite possibly snap your neck. Countering this by driving slowly (often in the pissing rain) doesn't sound that exciting, but it's a ploy that can win championships, at least on the Rookie level. The hardcore approach continues under the bonnet, with a bewildering array of tuning options that almost nobody will ever use. In fact the only vaguely viable skill is in attempting to second-guess the weather with your choice of tyre.
Releasing a hardcore simulation is an admirably bold approach from SCi, as it would have been all too easy to fax in a substandard McRae clone. When Bums goes head to head with his arch-rival this September, there will at least be some difference between the games (and I think we can all hazard a guess as to what Colin 5 will be like).
That said, graphically Bums is largely indistinguishable from any rally game of the last five years, featuring the perennial locations of England, Japan, Finland, France, USA and Australia as well as a somewhat miserly eight official cars. Whereas Bums himself appears visually and in voiceovers, the pace notes are the responsibility of his co-driver Robert Reid, who does a passable job, give or take the odd freak pronunciation. As for other modes, up to four players can take it in turns to play, and the Richard Bums Challenge allows you to race against his ghost car. It's not so much a challenge as a walkover however, as keeping up with him for more than ten seconds is nigh on impossible.
The hardcore approach may deter a lot of people, but by the same token those who've found rally games too simplistic may be tempted by the obscene challenge that Richard Bums presents. For those prepared to put in the ferocious amount of practice required to get to grips with the handling, there's a wealth of gameplay here. For the rest, there's always good old reliable Colin.
Give Us A Shove Mate
A Rush And A Push And The Land Is Ours
In Richard Bums Rally, careering off the track isn't so much an occupational hazard as a regular fact of life. Fortunately, the stages are littered with gormless spectators who are prepared to put down their Thermos flasks and digestive biscuits long enough to right your car, heave it back onto the road and send you on your way. This can take between ten seconds and half a minute depending on the difficulty level. On the hardest setting, if there's no one around, then you simply don't get a push, and are forced to sit in your car making small talk with your co-driver until one or both of you loses your mind.
As a further hazard, the spectators occasionally get in the way, resulting in a dull thud, a red screen of death and the loss of several valuable seconds of race time. Dickheads.