WRC: FIA World Rally Championship Review

By on November 24, 2010

It isn’t pretty, but it is fun. A bit like rallying, then.


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First Impressions
My reaction is

There is little doubt that WRC: FIA World Rally Championship (or, if you aren’t too fond of unnecessarily long video game names, simply WRC) is Milestone’s biggest title yet. The Italian developer has tackled officially licensed motorsport games before. None, however, have been beyond that of the two-wheeled variety – MotoGP and SBK. With WRC, Milestone has also, unenviably, found itself in the position of trying to match Codemasters on not one, but two fronts. To begin with, could it infuse as much quality into WRC as Codemasters managed with this year’s other global motorsport gaming reboot, F1 2010? Secondly, and more importantly, does Milestone’s first foray into the rallying sub-genre pack enough punch to challenge Dirt, a series with which Codemasters has firmly planted its flag of dominance in recent years.

Admittedly, WRC is meant to offer a rallying experience considerably different to that of the X-games variant mainly provided by the Dirt titles. There’s never more than one car on the track, and the only thing you’ll ever be racing against is time, as you attempt to land top spot at the end of a gruelling rally. Trees, rocks and huge drops take the place of chicanes and barriers, and small lapses of concentration almost always result in disastrous consequences.

WRC does do a great job of communicating this sense of pure rallying. Unfortunately, a few fundamental shortcomings prevent it from being anything more than a slightly above average game.

Most of your time in WRC will be invested in the game’s “Road to the WRC”, a career mode that spans all the four major classes of world rallying: P-WRC, J-WRC, S-WRC and WRC itself. Beginning with a lowly start-up team and a two-wheel drive Fiesta R2 or Citroen C2 R2, it’s a long ladder that needs to be climbed before you can compete with the likes of Ogier, Solberg and Loeb in the World Rally Championship. Progress is made by completing various events, which can range from a single stage or manufacturer-specific rally to a full-blown championship comprised of multiple rallies. A certain percentage of completion has to be reached before the next level of events is unlocked. There are ten levels to get through in total, so you should be kept busy for quite some time.

Given the contrasting track designs and road surfaces you’re exposed to with each successive event, the “Road to the WRC” mode fortunately never ends up becoming a monotonous chore. One aspect that it is lacking in though, is depth. There isn’t much else to do besides taking on the numerous events. Car customization is limited to preset vinyl designs and colours, both of which, along with the procurement of new cars, are the only things you can spend your hard-earned credits on. In addition, the only tuning that is allowed is through the basic car setup screen right before the start of each stage. While the ability to recruit ridiculously named team sponsors (The Daily Carrot Village, anyone?) is a welcome feature, it’s poorly implemented. Thankfully, the same cannot be said of perhaps WRC’s most crucial feature: it’s driving mechanics.

Any doubts harboured about the integrity of the driving in WRC vanish once you’ve pulled off that most characteristic of moves in rallying, the Scandinavian Flick. It’s far from easy, mind you. Braking late into a corner before quickly shifting the car so that you’re almost driving sideways, while modulating the throttle ever so carefully, is, safe to say, quite the challenge. The handling physics in WRC are set up, however, in such a way that even the most modestly skilful of players  will not find it impossible to perform. There is an excellent balance between accessibility and authentic simulation. If you do find things to a bit too easy for your liking, you can always disable the myriad driving aids like braking and steering assistance. Infact, I would suggest you do, purely because it makes for a more exciting (and punishing) experience; don’t let the comparatively placid 2WDs offered at the initial stage of your career fool you, you’ll break quite the sweat trying to tame the twitchy 300 bhp beasts in rallying’s higher echelons.

Driving conditions noticeably change with each different road surface. The co-driver will alarm you of any change in track surface during a stage, but it’s almost unnecessary since you’ll become aware of a distinct shift in the car’s behaviour right through the first corner. As a result of some stages containing up to three or four different surfaces within them, constant adaptation to the differing driving conditions is usually the key to a fast time. Damage also provides a tangible effect to the car’s performance. Although throughout my play time I never retired due to damage once, there were times when the engine power was cut by more than half, my gearbox was just barely functioning and the car just would not move in a straight line. Accumulating excessive damage can be disastrous during a long rally, though, as the extent to which repairs can be carried out between stages is limited. Similarly, there are some facets to the driving in WRC that could do with a little repair themselves. Drifting with the use of the handbrake, for example, as your co-driver will often advise you do, is nigh impossible. You’ll be much better off ignoring the handbrake when taking on hairpins, lest you lose precious time. In truth, it is a minor niggle. Something I was more griped with, however, is the way the cars seem to lack a sense of true weight on the track. It diminishes that visceral feeling of driving an aggressive rally car.

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The Scorecard
GAMEPLAY
7
The handling mechanics manage to provide authenticity and accessibility in equal measure.
GRAPHICS
5
Car models lack fidelity while environments are undetailed. All in all, this is definitely not the most beautiful game to look at.
SOUND
6
Feedback sounds from track surfaces are minimal while co-drivers seem lifeless. Engine noises could do with a little more work.
VALUE
7
Through the relatively long career mode and enjoyable online multiplayer, the game offers a substantial amount of content.
FUN FACTOR
7
It might be frustrating to achieve it, but there's nothing more satisfying than executing a perfect stage.
OVERALL
6.5
It may not be enough to challenge the likes of Dirt, but the framework is definitely there for Milestone to produce a great rally title.

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To quote one Mr. Shigeru Miyamoto (creator of Super Mario and Legend of Zelda), "Video games are bad for you? That's what they said about rock and roll."

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