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 Burns 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 Burns 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 Burns 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.