It's been nearly 17 years since Richard Burns Rally was released, yet the game remains a favourite among rally gamers.
Developed with the advice from 2001 World Rally Champion Richard Burns, RBR has long been heavily praised for its realistic rally driving physics, true-to-life courses, and being extremely difficult to master.
Burns vs McRae
Many rally fans were quick to dismiss RBR when it was released in 2004. After all, Burns’ rival Colin McRae had already lent his name to a series of rally games developed by Codemasters. Many felt Burns was simply trying to cash-in on his own name.
But on the contrary, RBR wanted to be different to McRae's game. Sure, McRae’s series had the visual advantages, and it also had a more inviting and carelessly fun demeanour. But the series lacked the scope and realism of Burns’ effort.
This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Any casual gamer or young rally fan could pick up CMR and within minutes tear across the dusty plains of Australia or the long hazardous snowy roads of Sweden in a Subaru Impreza and feel like a pro.
Enjoyment and recklessness was at the core; the very essence of Colin’s pedal-to-the-metal style.
Punishing and rewarding
Burns was different to McRae. Older rally fans will remember Burns for his smooth and methodical style of driving - he was the polar opposite of his Scottish rival, and his game reflects this.
In RBR, realism is the name of the game. While out on a stage, it's possible to slam onto the brakes as you enter a gravelly corner, heave all of the car's weight to the front, turn into the corner, and feel the weight transfer back to the rear as you slide out. The way the car moves and feels is so natural and flowing. It’s incredibly life-like.
Playing the game, you learn to appreciate how real drivers balance the car with the throttle and the brake, find better lines into corners and adapt to ever-changing conditions.
The risk here is also higher. Unlike many other rally games, you have to actually listen to your navigator's pace notes. Read here by Burns’ co-driver Robert Reid, you daren't ignore or mishear a direction, or risk driving into a ditch or wrapping your car around a tree. And then it's game over, thanks to the game's realistic damage mechanics. It takes serious time and effort to even feel remotely adequate at this game, and it’s marvelous.
In fact, such is the game’s realism and portrayal of driving in the WRC, Reid - who, following Burns' death in 2005, dedicated his time to training young talent at the FIA Institute Young Driver Excellence Academy - has started using a special version of RBR for rally safety training. The game lives on through Reid, and so does Burns' legacy.
Safety training aside, Burns and RBR is alive today thanks to a dedicated fanbase and, as you’d expect, a keen modding community, who’ve expanded and evolved the game far from its original base.
The visuals are crisper, new cars, courses and challenges have been created, and the immersion is even deeper thanks to a Next Generation Physics plug-in that’s enhanced the realism of the car through everything from how tyres interact with different surfaces through to adding whole new drive chain systems. It's pretty heavy stuff, and only shows the continued admiration and respect towards the game.
You only need to go as far as the Sim Rally subreddit to see the extent of the community's enthusiasm for RBR. They’ll be modding this game until the end of time, and that's why - for the time being, anyway - it remains the GOAT of all rally simulators.
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