It’s been five years since Sony and Evolution released the last officially-licensed WRC game, and five years since Codemasters shunned the Colin McRae Rally template in favour of a raucous reboot by the name of DiRT. Brilliant though the DiRT games were, traditionalists yearned for the precision-centric, time-trial rallies of yore, and so it didn’t help when Sega Rally and Motorstorm turned up, looking as though ripped from the imagination of a prepubescent Jeremy Clarkson. FIA World Rally Championship, on the other hand, does exactly what is says on the tin. It might not be the prettiest, nor the most mechanically-sound racer of our time, but WRC’s no-nonsense approach to rallying is sure to go down a treat with hardcore rally fans.
With driving aids switched off, WRC is everything that a great racer should be: fast, addictive, and delightfully accessible. Milestone (the Italian development outfit responsible for SBKX and Superstars V8 Next Challenge) has clearly taken the utmost of care to deliver a realistic, satisfying and and true-to-form rallying experience with WRC. That the developer has made the transition from two to four wheels with considerable aplomb is also deserving of applause.
Each of the game’s 40 unique road surfaces feel distinctly different, and each requires you to change your driving style to stay ahead of the competition. However, if you were wondering whether such a sophisticated and realistic driving model (that is, for such a small team) comes at a price… well, it does. WRC rolls out of the garage with a presentational style and overall structure that’s so irrevocably behind the times you can’t quite believe your eyes, and never is this more apparent than in the game’s “Road to the WRC” campaign mode.
If you’ve played a Milestone racer before, you’ll already know roughly what to expect of the game’s campaign mode. Here, the set-up is startlingly familiar, and equally as primitive. Pitting you as a “newbie”racer, the game presents you with a series of rather bland ‘chapter’ screens, each consisting of six events. Regardless of the event, you’ll be tasked with fulfilling a series of achievements too, with credits awarded according to difficulty. Successfully complete the race, and you’ll unlock the next event, but while merely finishing a rally will earn you much-needed credits, earning a podium finish will bag you many more. Implemented correctly, achievements could have set WRC apart from the competition, but, as it stands, WRC only awards achievements based on your finishing position, and as such they are never used to add flavour to the proceedings.
In-game credits can be used to purchase new vehicles, liveries and paint jobs, and this is true across all three of the game’s racing classes. As you rise up the ranks from Junior championships, to Production and then Super-2000 classes, more cars will become available to you, allowing you to move from local to national cups, to the more prestigious regional and continental cups. Credits can also be used to acquire new sponsors, and while they differ very little in what they are able to offer you at first, sponsors become vital to acquiring additional credits and cars later on in the game.
If there’s a complaint to be leveled at WRC, however, it’s that the difficulty level – while certainly open to adjustment – is a little on the easy side. Whilst opponent lap times can be shortened, and driving aids can be switched off (and we strongly recommend that they are, or else driving feels a little on the ‘floaty’ side), we found ourselves hurtling through the main campaign, and even earning podium finishes for the majority of the events. What’s worse, WRC’s difficulty curve seems all but invisible, and the game doesn’t seem to ratchet up the challenge even during its final few stretches.
However, while attempts at letting gamers set their own difficulty level ultimately fall flat, they are nonetheless inspired. The game’s ability to automatically configure tyre pre-sets for various road types, be it gravel, tarmac, dirt, or just about any other, adds greatly to the game’s accessibility, and simply begs to be improved upon in the inevitable follow-up.
Our biggest bone of contention, though, lies in the game’s shoddy presentation values – which permeate every facet of the game, from the track design, to the drab menus, and even the cars themselves. Graphical glitches and presentational pitfalls are in abundance, with disappearing mountains, architecture and textures, and a draw distance that stretches to all but an inch from the driver’s nose. Textures are generally muddy, and car models lack the fidelity we’ve come to expect of our racers, resulting in a game that looks as though it’s been ported from a bygone generation. Lighting is also largely unconvincing, creating a startling disconnect between the track and the cars, which often look as though superimposed. Sound isn’t much better, and it’s safe to say that the majority of cars, regardless of make or specification, sound the same – something that’s made all the more noticeable by the genre’s fondness for acute detail.
That said, if you’re willing to put aside the game’s many graphical and structural shortcomings, you’ll find WRC to be a competent little racer indeed. WRC’s impressive handling model and focus on traditional rallying means that it’s certainly worth a look, especially if you’re among the niche group of gamers who can tell their Loebs from their Solbergs.
There certainly isn’t a shortage of content for you to work through, either. WRC’s campaign boasts 78 tracks across 13 rallies, and there’s a great deal to do outside of the main game, too. In addition to the usual single stage, single rally and championship modes, there’s a lengthy training mode in the form of the Rally Academy, as well as a Time Trial mode, and a 4-player Hot Seat mode. Online multiplayer is a welcome feature, too, allowing up to 16 players to compete for pole position over Xbox Live, although it has yet to be seen whether the servers will remain populated once those all-important gamerpoints have been milked.
WRC is, without question, Milestone’s most ambitious game to date, if not the best it has produced in recent years. However, its production values are so sorely lacking as to render it impenetrable to modern tastes. If you’re partial to a bit of traditional rallysport, WRC is certainly worth a look, but everyone else would do better to remain in Colin’s camp.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to email@example.com.
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