This is the first rally game that I have played in which I actually recognized and was able to apply the stuff that I learned from driving my car in real life. If you really want to understand why this rally game is so different and outstanding in terms of simulation, there is simply no other way but to go into the technical details. And if you truly are a simulators fan, you probably don't consider physics as being some boring nonsense reserved for mad scientists. After some hours of documenting myself and some good tips on where to search, I was able to catalog all the main features of the physics engine.
The general body system present in most of the racing games is simplified by modeling the whole car as a single object in terms of mass, and therefore a wheel will lift off the ground when hitting a bump if enough force is generated to lift the whole car off the ground. In Richard Burns Rally, each wheel has its own weight, making it work individually depending on the terrain and road surface. Practically you can loose grip when going over a bump with only one tire (or one side) which will make your car take a fatal turn and end up in the trees on the side of the road. This is the first game that I've played in which you must actually watch out for your speed even in a straight line over uneven road surface. Tires, as every racing fan knows, are very important for a racing car because they can only transmit so much brake horse power from the engine to the road before loosing grip and going into a skid (and shamefully, in real racing you do not gain points for the "cool" smoke coming out of your tires). As a Formula 1 team manager stated, improvements to the engine and/or aerodynamics of car can buy you a few hundreds of a second, while better tires can help you get a couple of extra seconds. (For the arcade gaming fan: No. That custom paint will not help you improve your time). In Richard Burns Rally, the "slip" a tire incurs during cornering or braking is calculated in real time depending on the type and wear of the tire, the ground surface, and the tire pressure which translates into the contact surface. If you are used to arcade racing games or you just happen to have your real-life car equipped with an ABS system I cannot stress hard enough how wrong it is to floor the brake pedal. If you do so, the game will immediately put you in charge of a straight going, steering ignoring sledge instead of a car. Flooring the throttle is not a good idea either, apart from when you are attempting a power slide. Therefore, the game is not very forgiving with those who loose grip and handling of the car.
The road surface material maps are linked to the textures. Each texture has a material assigned to it, making it possible to model different depths and types of gravel, grass, rocks, etc in multiple layers. The road surface properties also change with the weather and loose material can be swept from the track by other cars that run before you. You will notice that on a particular stage the car that holds the first position so far in the rally will start the last, giving the best drivers an advantage in terms of road condition. I have a little complaint regarding snow banks however. They don't appear to have any mass and don't seem to put up any resistance when driving through them. It's almost like driving through roadside mist clouds. For those of you looking for a more realistic experience on Finland tracks, a mod has been release called "Richard Burns Rally Realistic Snow banks". The suspension is modeled after standard McPherson Struts rather than just a prismatic joint as in most racing games. Basically, for those of you who don't know much about car mechanics, the suspension model is more complex and allows more realistic simulation of the car handling depending on how you set up your suspensions before the race and the damage that the different suspension parts take. In theory at least that's how it should work, since I haven't noticed any kind of influence from the damage on the steering and handling of the car. This is not the only bug the game has as you would see further on, and a most needed patch it's already on its way. However, the suspension sounds as it encounters various terrain features is very realistic. You almost feel the damage eating away on your car if you go on a little off-road adventure. Also, the advanced suspension modeling in Richard Burns Rally allows for advanced driving techniques like left foot braking or throttle control, both of which consist in decelerating before a turn to shift the center of gravity towards the front of the car, giving the front tires more weight and thus more grip than the rear tires causing the car to over steer. Another driving technique made possible by the suspension modeling is the "Scandinavian turn". This maneuver is performed by quickly and shortly turning in the opposite direction of the turn before steering into the turn to use a pendulum effect which will help the car to take the turn at higher speeds.
The drive train is modeled with three active differentials: rear, center and front. A differential is a gear system that allows the outside wheel of a car going through a corner to spin faster than the inside wheel, because the outside wheel has to travel a longer distance than the inside wheel in the same time. The center differential allows distribution of power between the front and back axles. This has a direct impact on car handling, as it follows the actual real-life model. The brakes are also very detailed in modeling, as their efficiency depends on the temperature of the brake disks, and thus abusing the brakes and getting them hot is not such a good idea. It would have helped a lot if the motor brake would have actually worked, since it is rather ineffective, even when you switch to reverse at 150 km/h! Yes, it is possible to switch to reverse at any speed, and even more worrying, it has no effect whatsoever on the health of the gearbox. This has also been reported as a bug, as the game even has a helpful setting which doesn't allow you to switch to gears that would damage the gearbox, but you don't need to turn that on since nothing really happens. The only damage the gearbox can take is a direct hit while driving over rocks or tree stumps.
Another impressive model is that of the internal combustion engine. If you damage your engine, apart from the obvious performance reduction, you will instantly be aware of that because of the sound that it makes. The engine audios are generated in real time, depending on a large list of factors. Now how's that for a feature! SCi (the developers of the game) even claim that the complexity of the engine modeling goes so far as to take into consideration the altitude of the tack, and therefore the air pressure. That of course very hard to notice (if true at all). The engine comes complete with a turbo injection, which as you might have guessed by now, has its own damage model. Also if you park the radiator into a tree, it will start to whistle and loose water and as a result, the engine will overheat, the visibility will be reduced from the steam, so you better be close to that finish line when you try and take a dangerous shortcut. I have not found any reference to aerodynamics, which leads me to the conclusion that they haven't modeled any. This is of course not a major setback for a rally simulation, because rarely you see speeds high enough for the aerodynamics to actually count. Now all the complex models mentioned above affect the performance of the car not only by taking damage, but also by being tuned. By who? By you, of course. Really, you have to know a thing or two about cars before entering the tuning setup screen, because there is an extremely large number of parameters just waiting to confuse you completely. Not to worry though, the game comes with a pretty good balanced car setup default. And for those of you who will earn enough driving skills to make fine tune-up matter, the dedicated community forums will be packed with tips.
In terms of graphics Richard Burns Rally doesn't really shine or set new standards for today's driving games, but it sure holds its ground. The car and terrain 3D models are quite good and very detailed. As you would expect in a realistic simulator, you will not find any shiny or blurred cartoonish like graphics, nor any bombastic colors. The graphics engine is capable however of rendering quite detailed large open spaces and that sure is a nice change from forever driving into a forest, tunnel-like environment, like you did in Colin McRae Rally. This does not mean that Richard Burns Rally doesn't have its fair share of narrow tracks through rich forests. When talking about views, one must notice that the dashboard camera is positioned somehow awkward. I cannot say if it's to far too the right or maybe a little lower than in reality but the point is you have a pretty narrow viewing angle. Good thing though that Richard Burns Rally is easily and highly modable and a "Richard Burns Rally Realistic Cockpits Mod" is already out there, though I personally never tested it (as I never got to test the snow banks mod either). However, the official patch should be out soon and we can only hope that these issues will be taken care of. The sound effects are very good (as stated above) and they really give that extra feedback on how the engine or the suspension is performing. An unexpected feature is noticeable when driving from the inside of the car (as we all should) and you loose a door or a window in an accident: the engine and suspension sounds coming from that direction will be significantly louder. But there is another feature which is very important in a rally simulator: pace notes. The voice of the co-driver is very clear and understandable even if it has an intercom effect applied to it. This is not a general fact when it comes to rally games. You can set up the distance at which pace notes will be called, and the visual pace notes are also very configurable so you can adjust them to fit your preferences.
The game modes available to the player are the standard ones found in any rally game: quick rally, rally season and multiplayer. By winning the rally season you unlock other cars and all the quick rally tracks. There is also the Richard Burns Challenge, which is nothing more than pack of 7 stages handpicked from all over the world on which to compete against a ghost car nearly perfectly driven. The multiplayer lacks support for LAN or internet, the only mode available being hot seat, which is a justified choice from the producers if we take into consideration that this is a rally simulator after all. What is new to the genre is the "rally school" mode, in which Richard Burns will guide you through a series of lessons designed to help you better understand the game's physics and car handling. The school is divided into basic and advanced driving courses, and I must recommend that you follow both before hitting the track in a season, even if you are accustomed to racing simulators. It takes a while to complete the rally school, especially the final test, but when you do so, you will be able to properly compete in a rally season on professional difficulty.
There can be no doubt that Warthog have put a lot of work in this quality title, and even if there are some bugs to look after, there is nothing that a small patch can't handle. Their move is also quite bold, since it's clear for everybody that simulators nowadays aren't very popular. But who knows? Maybe gamers will understand after all that going into a hair pin at 30 km/h is quite an adrenaline rush, and braking is not just for showing off those custom taillights. Personally I think anybody who has some real-life driving experience and is an auto racing fan will appreciate this title for what it really is: the very first rally simulator.
People who downloaded Richard Burns Rally have also downloaded:
Rally Championship 2000, Rally Trophy, Rallisport Challenge, Grand Prix 4, TOCA Race Driver 2, V-Rally 3, Need for Speed Underground 2, rFactor
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