Rally games haven’t had the best reception in recent years. Only the Dirt series has enjoyed real success but even the last in that series wasn’t your standard rally game, Dirt Showdown was more of an arcade Destruction Derby-like affair and was met with indifference from fans of the traditional series. The WRC games have had mixed success over the years, with the last few of games being average at best and quite poor at worst, with development being handled by different studios.
Now, with Dirt Rally and WRC 5, rally games may finally be on the up again. Kylotonn Games is handling the newest instalment in the WRC franchise, only really known for the recent Motorcycle Club, which may excuse your current scepticism. Stick with me though, as the studio has done a good job of creating an enjoyable and realistic, if unpolished, game that restores some shine to that old WRC name.
Upon starting WRC 5, you’re presented with a choice of multiplayer and single player modes, as well as any current online events that are running. More on those later. Single player is where the meat of the game lies, with options to run single events in Quick Stage, and even create your own season in Quick Rally. Rally School is also available for those wishing to learn the ins and outs of the game and how to drive a rally car. In theory this is a great idea, as seen in the original Colin McRae Rally games on PSOne, but in practice it’s far too punishing. Stray from the extremely narrow ‘suggested line’ for even a short time and you’ll likely fail the current lesson, and it only gets worse the further you get into the lessons. You’ll learn all you need to know in the first few tutorials at least, then you can leave it behind and move into the game proper.
The final single player choice is Career, which challenges the player to begin their rallying journey in the junior championship and move up through the classes to finally take part in the World Rally Championship itself. Choose a contract at the start of the season, each choice coming with its own conditions to meet such as keeping the car in the best condition, or just gunning it without giving the car a second thought. Once your contract is signed, you’ll begin your first rally and do your best to win.
If you’ve chosen to turn on damage, your rallying will come with a strategic edge during Career mode, as often you’re required to go through two or three stages without repair. This means that you need to be extra careful during these stages, in order to preserve your car and make sure it lasts until the next repair phase. It doesn’t end there, however, as you only have so much time to repair your car before the next stage and the more that needs repairing, the longer it takes, meaning you may have to forego repairing your bodywork or minor electronics in order to prioritise the major parts such as the brakes, tyres and gearbox. This may all sound a bit over the top, but it is representative of how real rallies work and it adds to the realism and authenticity of the experience.
Damage is well-integrated into the gameplay, with bodywork denting realistically and beyond that, suspension and gearbox damage affect handling and engine sounds, as well as the most affected parts of tyres and brakes severely impacting how the car takes corners. Of course if you wish to play without damage on, it won’t affect the fun available in driving the various cars on offer.
There are multiple classes available, from tiny Citroens and Peugeots all the through Subarus and Mitsubishi Evos. You can drive the junior cars and learn the various stages in something slow and manageable, or jump straight into the full WRC beasts and go full throttle into the hardest stages available. If you don’t fancy going from the ground up in Career, just build your own season in Quick Rally mode and choose any car you want. The customisation available in WRC 5 is fantastic.
If you do choose the harder option, you have the Snapshot feature to fall back on should you fail. Holding Triangle on the Dualshock 4 (or your chosen format’s equivalent button) will reset you back at the beginning of the current sector, undoing the damage done and giving you a second chance. Depending on the difficulty selected, the number of Snapshots you have will differ greatly. The game doesn’t really explain this feature much however, nor is it implemented particularly well, dumping you unceremoniously at the beginning of the current sector at 0kph. Nevertheless it is a useful tool for learning the game and its numerous stages, despite its clumsiness.
Learning the stages should be made simpler by your co-driver, as they warn you of the upcoming dangers of each corner and jump. You can even select how far ahead they are in relation to where you are, giving you time to ready yourself for what’s ahead. Even with that option selected however, the co-driver still trips over their notes and often leaves you confused over which corner is next and possibly buried up to the windscreen in a bush. There’s really no excuse for this when even PSOne games didn’t suffer from this problem, even less excuse when you’re playing on a machine as powerful as the Playstation 4.
Luckily WRC 5’s handling does make up for these problems. Cars all handle differently as expected, but they’re all responsive and easy to get to grips with as you quickly learn to throw your chosen vehicle around muddy Welsh hairpins and down icy Finnish roads. The cars move differently on most surfaces as expected, with tarmac being grippier and dusty gravel seeing your back-end slipping out more often, requiring more control. It won’t be for everyone though, as it isn’t quite as friendly as the likes of Dirt 3, but most should be able to find some enjoyment here.
Visually the game is decent enough at times. Each car has great detail on the outside, down to the tyre manufacturer’s name emblazoned on the tyre walls, and dirt splatters realistically over the bodywork as you progress through each stage. Interior detail is a bit more basic, but even the cockpit camera shows little enough of that to be an issue. Something you see an awful lot of, however, is the scenery. Some of it looks genuinely great, as the setting sun sends rays through the trees and bounces off the glistening tarmac after a rainy afternoon’s rallying. Textures are often quite pedestrian though, and the trackside spectators look like something seen on a PS2, almost completely ignoring the action as they stare blankly into the middle distance, barely animated. If that wasn’t bad enough, animals grazing in fields are basically vague, coloured shapes that wouldn’t be out-of-place in a low-budget PSOne game. This makes it all the more baffling that the framerate suffers quite substantially in certain areas.
It’s good then, that WRC’s handling, physics and general gameplay help you forget the at times stunningly average visual presentation. The sound is spectacular, the sense of speed is absolutely spot-on but doesn’t feel overwhelming, and the Career mode will keep you going for weeks or more. The multiplayer will extend that experience for many players, as you race up to seven other players’ ghosts through the various stages available.
Multiplayer isn’t easily done in rally games, unless Rally Cross is included (which it isn’t here), but racing ghosts is probably the best way to do it. It keeps the experience authentic, driving alone along the narrow roads as you attempt to score the best time, but ghosts allow for a more social game at the same time. It helps you learn how the faster players take corners, and where more accident-prone players plough into trees, as you see it all happening in realtime as you play. The servers are solid and seem well populated in these early days, leading to a smooth game even with seven ghosts on-screen. These ghosts are a little too opaque though, so your already poor visibility can be reduced further still – it’s a minor complaint, sure, but could easily be rectified by reducing the opacity of each ghost.
Ghosts aren’t a problem in the time-sensitive multiplayer events. These events will change at set times and come in different flavours – as I type this, there’s a standard challenge in which you simply compete to set the fastest time on the currently available stage; a Shakedown challenge in which you compete to set the fastest time but with handicaps, the current one removes the use of the handbrake and disables the co-driver, so it’s for the more hardcore players; the final challenge isn’t available yet, but is billed as an e-sports challenge, suggesting that Kylotonn has set its ambitious sights on WRC 5 being a big event game.
All of this is adds an extra element to the game and should increase the longevity for the more online-minded players.
Whilst it suffers from framerate problems and the co-driver stumbling over pace notes, it may be unpolished and certainly not representative of PS4 quality visuals, WRC 5 does still offer fantastic handling and a thrilling gameplay experience that rally fans will enjoy. There is plenty of content available and the extra online timed events will keep things ticking over for at least the next few months or more, as long as there are players playing and Kylotonn Games can provide. It doesn’t match the quality of the PC-exclusive Dirt Rally, but for console fans it’s certainly worth starting your engines.
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