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WRC: FIA World Rally Championship Review

11 October 2010

Rally driving isn’t a sport for the faint-hearted. While there’s a great deal of accomplishment and satisfaction to be had out of hand-braking smoothly around a tight hairpin bend or careering successfully across a narrow track over an uneven, muddy and unpredictable surface, it’s a pursuit that carries with it real risk. But with great risk comes a lot of excitement!

Codemasters has done fantastically to mimic the crazy, daredevil nature of the sport with the DiRT series, proving that the thrills, spills and intensity of rally driving can be captured accurately in a video game. Now there’s a new contender on the block vying for a piece of the action! Italian-based developer Milestone has snatched the official license to the FIA World Rally Championship and, in its own words, believes it has the potential to grab the mantle from the UK-based studio. Sounds like a move that can only be good for fans of the sport.

Milestone is well versed in the racing genre having developed the SBK 08 and Moto GP 08 in recent years, and its pedigree on the track shows. WRC FIA World Championship 2010 offers a sound rally experience with impressive car handling and physics, not to mention a damage modelling system that honorably showcases all the bumps and buckles to your vehicle. This is a tough game to master, thanks to Milestone's decision to create a simulation of the sport rather than opt for an immediately accessible arcade racing model, but judging it purely based on our on track experience there’s little to complain about. Our main complaint really comes from the way the overall package has been presented, the lack of diversity between the vehicles, and how much better it could have been when, inevitably, you compare it with DiRT 2.

First up, let’s concentrate on the good, and there is plenty here to suggest that WRC could well become a viable and established franchise in the future. As the official game of the Championship, fans will be glad to see that all locations from the tournament are present; that’s 78 courses in total offering a staggering 40 different types of terrain. Along with all the drivers, teams, sponsors and even the support classes, including J-WRC, S-WRC and P-WRC, it’s an impressive roster that bodes well for future iterations of the series.

The bread and butter mode here is your career the Road to the WRC. There's a range of difficulty settings so you can choose to have increased stability or brake assist, or alternatively you can drive like the pros with no help at all. Working your way from the Regional to the World Championships you start off from the bottom of the ladder, earning credits as you complete rallies which you can then spend on customizing your vehicle, gaining new sponsors and buying new cars. There's a decent set of other modes, including Rally Academy where you'll find tips on how to drive and an online version of career mode where you have the ability to earn EXP and get your name up on the global leaderboards. They all boil down to doing one thing though: racing on your own with no visible competition. Codemasters learnt its lesson with DiRT and included the option to take on real opposition in DiRT 2...Milestone could have learnt from that.

On the track it's going to be a tough experience if you're new to racing games, or indeed if you're used to playing an arcade-style racer. You can't go full pelt and drift around bends with ease; instead, you need to take a measured approach and learn how to hand brake at the right time and apply pressure to your brakes as you approach the corners. Though it doesn't quite capture the same speed and intensity of DiRT 2 there are some brilliantly designed courses to drive across and you can really feel the difference in handling as you move across the likes of wet gravel, or hard tarmac. The weather conditions also affect the way you drive and you have to adapt the way you drive accordingly. As we've already said, it's a decent handling model that shows great promise. The problems really arise when you start to unlock cars and get further into the career mode.

Despite vehicles supposedly having varied set-ups, which should mean they feel different to drive, we couldn't really tell the difference between one car to the next. The Suzuki Swift S1600 in the low J-WRC class, for instance, feels identical to handle as the Subaru WRC 07 in the World Class category. The change in handling really only seems to come into play with the different terrain and weather conditions, or if you actually go into the settings and tweak performance drastically. Before you start a race you can tweak a range of settings; adjust the gears, for instance, with a shorter gear giving you quicker acceleration but a lower maximum speed, or you might want to choose a soft suspension which is apparently better for a bumpy road. We've tweaked these settings throughout our career mode and can honestly say that it makes minimal difference to the way the cars handle.

The inconsistencies continue when you take into account the presentation of WRC. There are times when it looks great. The car models are impressive representations of their real-life counterparts, damage modelling is good and some of the locations showcase the graphics engine well. Other times, especially when you compare it to DiRT, the environments look quite bland and a number of minor graphical glitches, such as clipping, prove to be quite an irritation. The audio is also quite poor. The cars lack the roar that you'd expect from the engines, or the screeching from the tyres, while the co-drivers shout out remarks that often don't even correspond to the action.

There's a good framework here for the WRC franchise going forward, and we wouldn't dismiss it if you were a fan of the sport. It's a punishing game to try and master but it is rewarding when you manage to whistle around one of the challenging tracks in record time. What we are saying, however, is that there's a far better rally game out there that actually makes WRC FIA World Championship feel five years out of date. If you walk away with anything from this review we urge you to try before you buy folks. There's a demo on PSN awaiting your download. You'll either hate it, or think it's simply ‘okay.’

-The Final Word-

Lacks the oomph and fun factor of its rival DiRT 2, but provides a good framework for future installments of the WRC series.
  • Having access to all the cars, tracks and drivers from the World Championships
  • The variation of tracks and terrain on offer
  • It looks and sounds five years behind the times
  • Lack of variation in handling across the classes
  • There is so much more room for improvement
6.5
Platforms reviewed : PlayStation 3
See PSU's reviews scores on Metacritic and Gamerankings

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