Certain marvels of modern motorsport have inexplicably eluded my interest over the years. The intense drone of Formula 1 boasts admirable speeds in competitive racing, and the curvy beauties of the Top Gear warehouse tease a life of self-indulgence and realised dreams. Yet, I find myself strangely indifferent to the amount of attention these super-charged beasts demand. Lightning fast reflexes, nerves of steel, unshakable will; these are the details that determine the victor. It wasn’t until I began following the World Rally Championship, that I started to truly appreciate the precise art that is competitive motorsport.
The shiny, clean cut image of the racing world, in my opinion, makes a mockery of the true power that an engine possesses. Pumping around a tarmac circuit is all fine and dandy but… how’s about mud? How’s about dust? Gravel? Snow? Just how much punishment can a machine take on this terrain? These are questions that have been dutifully answered by the world of unhinged rallying. It’s fast, rough, dangerous and breathtakingly beautiful. When the likes of Sebastian Loeb, Miko Hirvonnen and Ken Block take one of these beauties for a spin, it just feels… right. Like the vehicles were born there in the mud, blood and tears.
So, rally once again meets videogames. This one really had me excited. Having been a massive fan of the original Colin McCrae rally simulations, I found myself utterly abandoned when the series steered into a mainstream route with a more arcade and universal approach. Codemasters wanted the franchise to evolve and there was little we could do to stand their way, thus the rally purists hoped, waited and almost forgot about their beloved simulation until BlackBean finally rose to the challenge. And with an official WRC licence to back them up, they plunged into the racing scene in a scary attempt to challenge the top dogs of the genre. The result? Their plunge generated a mere ripple that couldn’t even ruffle the feathers of Codemasters’ DiRT. It was rough, ugly and shamelessly basic but undeniably pure. The core gameplay of rally control was great, and it was this sole redeeming feature that paved the way for its sequel: WRC 2.
Unfortunately, having only been a year since the last WRC entry, the differences with WRC 2 are predictably minimal. BlackBean obviously understood all the criticisms its last game received, and they addressed every one of them, but only marginally. Last year we had dark, drab menus and a boring general presentation. This year, the menus are brighter, sharper and include 3D models instead of just images. Gameplay presentation also suffered last year with sub-par graphics and unconvincing effects. This time we have an overhauled lighting system that looks a lot better but, above all else, tries to hide the lack of other visual improvements. In fact, WRC 2 soon begins to feel like a game that scores with every hit, yet fails to really drive any of them home.
However, some welcome tweaks have been added to the cars’ control system with a tighter overall feel and a handbrake that isn’t just much more useful, but much more fun. The cars feel faster, the jumps feel higher and the collisions feel more devastating. BlackBean have really done a great job with authenticating the experience.
Hang on. Whats this? A rewind button?
That was my precise reaction to this shocking revelation. WRC can’t compete with DIRT. Codemasters are way too established to be bested now, so why include such a feature that strips you of the realism that comprises most of your appeal? Thankfully, the difficulty settings are highly customisable to suit everyone, whether they’re master or novice, but this just downright baffled me. Discredited purity? I think so.
Other than the career mode – “Road to the WRC” – players can choose to race in all the official tracks with the official teams. This is a real novelty for WRC fans, as no other game in the genre allows them so much involvement with the sport. Also, the multiplayer features are back and are relatively unchanged. If you remember the epic online rallies of last year, you’ll no doubt recognise this as nothing to be upset about. In fact, the whole process has been lovingly refined to capture the spirit of rallying; concentrating intensely on your co-drivers commands as you speed through tracks of tar, sand, gravel, mud, snow and dirt is a lot more fun when you’re doing so against players all over the world. Too bad the community is so small; a quick look at the games leaderboards has the amount of entrants at just over 700. Perhaps it will slowly creep up over time but, for now, don’t be expecting any of those epic 16 player sessions.
The graphics still aren’t up to scratch and the effects, such as billowing trails of dust, are still low res and unimpressive, but the cars feel and sound considerably better. If you’re a fan of WRC, you’ll probably still love this but, if you’re looking for the next big budget, adrenaline fuelled racer, look elsewhere. WRC 2 is a pure rally simulation for pure rally fans.
Personally, as a rally simulation fan, I was adequately satisfied with this year’s entry but, if nothing else, BlackBean should be ready to bring out the big guns for WRC 3. Hopefully, with a bigger budget and wider scope, we’ll see the inclusion of more unique features like truly accurate damage visualisation and even a custom track builder and less rewind buttons for the weak! Wait a minute. I bet Loeb has one of those in his Citroen. That’s why he keeps winning! He’s a cheater!
I’ll be raising this issue with the FIA…
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