It’s been almost five years since we last saw an official WRC game. The name is now in the hands of Milestone, the team behind the SBK motorbike games. Turns out they’ve been dying to get on four wheels all-along.
The full list of official WRC Rallies have been included. Sweden, Mexico, Jordan, Turkey, New Zealand, Portugal, Bulgaria, Finland, Germany, Japan, France, Spain and GB all make the cut supplying 78 tracks between them. For those of you that don’t follow the WRC, the tracks are for single cars only, with everyone getting one shot to get the best time over a series of stages. The road surfaces change between tarmac, dirt, gravel, mud and snow; with the car handling changing for each. Some tracks are backwards versions and many of them often share some sections too, so the 78 number can sometimes feel a bit padded.
These narrow tracks can be tough and generally offer a much sterner challenge than those found in Dirt 2. There are rocks and trees everywhere, especially where you want to cut corners. Milestone has included the dreaded Hinkelsteins for Rally Deutschland. These are roadside concrete blocks that are mostly buried in the ground except for a dangerous peak, like an iceberg if you will. They were originally laid keep tanks on the road. We’ve been watching them tear apart WRC cars on the TV for years and they prove to be satisfyingly terrifying, especially when you hammer through a gauntlet of them at full speed.
Looks wise, the game often produces mixed results. Woodland tracks or roads that wind through small villages are generally nicely detailed, especially the winter forests of Sweden. But the barren tracks set in the more desert-like locations of Jordan and Portugal are really bland thanks to the empty landscapes. It’s not much of a concern though seeing as you don’t have time to look around as your concentration is focused on keeping the car on the road.
The only poorly designed tracks in racing terms were the Spanish ones that took place in almost total darkness, without lights. The winding roads on a mountain surrounded by shadowy trees and rocks are just a nightmare.
The tracks can be tough, but Milestone has done a good job of trying to cater for various skill levels, although the words “bottleneck, don’t’ cut” from the co-driver never get easier to hear. At the very start of the game you can choose beginner, intermediate or expert settings. Beginner has all the driving aids (stability and braking) turned on and the AI set to useless. Expert turns off all help and forces you into the in-car viewpoint.
If you’ve enjoyed rally games before, then intermediate is a good place to go for. You can still tweak some slider bars to set the amount of braking assistance and how good the AI is. I’d advise picking a stage and retrying it a few times with different settings to set yourself an appropriate level of challenge. The braking assistance can sometimes be a little over-bearing, even when set to low, with it often stamping all over the brakes when your crawling up a hill through a long hairpin.
The gears are semi-automatic which means they will change by themself, but will often do it really late, after the engine has been revving itself stupid for a second or two. I also found that when going uphill it would often be in too high a gear for a few seconds. I’m used to avoiding manual gears, but I managed to handle the odd change when I couldn’t be bothered waiting for the automatic system to get its act together.
The career mode, Road to WRC, is a long effort. You begin in the J-WRC leagues with the low powered vehicles and progress through the P-WRC, S-WRC and finally the full-on WRC. Events start off small with just a single race or two for each one. Soon enough though you’ll have to race six times over two countries, and then 15 races over five countries. These long tournaments make it very difficult to have a quick play and chip away at the career mode.
With over 70 tracks on offer it’s a shame that the same few tracks are repeated too much early on. You can always go for a WRC Calendar tournament instead though if you just want to replicate the top tier experience.
Unfortunately the game’s presentation as the official WRC game really lets it down. The cars and drivers are all present, but there’s nothing official-feeling between races, just static screens showing your car and drab menus. Forget about racer likenesses or unlockable videos, all the focus has been put into the racing.
WRC supports local and online play. Local play is turn-based with players choosing a stage then trying to get the best time. Online races can feature up to sixteen other racers, with optional ghosts racing at the same time as you. This is a great way to allow everyone to compete for the best time all at once, plus it lets you judge how far behind you are. It’s also good to see the styles other people have. The game generally does a good job of making the other cars extra transparent when you get closer so they don’t obscure the track ahead.
When setting up or looking for a race you can choose whether you’d like a single stage, a full rally or an even longer tournament. You can also choose from the various categories of cars and drivers. Damage can be set to heavy or light and you can adjust the car’s technical settings too.
The driving aids can’t be set by the host though, so they will default to whatever you have them at for the offline game. The better players are playing without any braking assistance and you can see when you’re trailing them that they don’t have to worry about the AI stamping all over their brakes too soon.
Experience points are rewarded overall and in each car group. Finishing fifth in a race of sixteen will net you more points than third in a group of five, so aim for the busy looking races when you can. Trophies and reputation aside though there aren’t any incentives for levelling up as the unlockable material is all buried in the career mode. The online races are great fun though and add another point to the final score.
- 78 tracks
- Tracks are tough, but fair
- Online mode works really well
- Some tracks are a tad ugly
- Doesn’t take full advantage of WRC license as presentation is dull
- Some tournaments in the career mode are way too long
The Short Version: Despite a lack of gloss and shine, this is a great rally game to keep you going until Dirt 3 arrives next year. The narrow tracks surrounded by car-mangling dangers offer a great challenge and thanks to the adaptable settings and difficult levels, they’re not just for hardcore gamers.