Rally-Tastic Fun Just A Few Hairpins Shy Of Perfection
It is not easy to create a racing game based on motorsport where the track surface is constantly changing. This is just one of the challenges facing WRC 9, which launched on Xbox One, Playstation 4, and PC on September 3. The official World Rally Championship game franchise dates back almost two decades to the start of the Playstation 2 era, and the many titles since then have not earned the best reputation for realism or playability.
Things have improved over the past few years, and it clearly shows in WRC 9. It’s hands down the best WRC branded game of them all, combining fun with challenging action, a realistic WRC environment, and it looks great. . But is it a legitimate competitor to the current gold standard of rally racing sim, DiRT Rally 2.0? The answer to this question is complicated, but the fact that it is very good thing for rally players.
Balancing the rally genre
I sampled WRC 9 via a Logitech G920 SIM card setup on an Xbox One X, and right off the bat I can say the physics are impressive. Feedback through the wheel is good and the game offers prolific wheel settings to set the preferred amount of force in various situations. However, the physics is not as crisp or precise as that of DiRT. There’s a slight arcade feel to work here, but it’s only light and in that context, I think that’s actually a good thing.
WRC 9’s learning curve could be a perfect compromise between hardcore simulation and low-powered arcade, delivering a stimulating experience for wheelchair racers that stops just before it gets frustrating.
Hardcore simulation racers yearn for cutting edge physics that take considerable practice to master, but that might be too much for many players, especially in the rally genre where very precise control makes the difference between a podium finish and an end-of-event crash. WRC 9’s learning curve could be a perfect compromise between hardcore simulation and low-powered arcade, delivering a stimulating experience for wheelchair racers that stops just before it gets frustrating. At the same time, it has enough mojo to keep the interest of more experienced slow cookers.
Live WRC life like never before
There is so much more to WRC 9 than driving. Being an official WRC title, it is the digital bible for those who live and breathe the modern day championship and these teams are faithfully represented. The career mode is incredibly in-depth with everything from team building and management to marketing, skills development and, of course, referrals. Or, if that doesn’t appeal to you, just jump into a season championship and enjoy the same racing success without the corporate red tape. You can also perform individual rally stages or tinker with your car on one of the many practice stages.
Speaking of which, WRC 9 offers players an exquisite microcosm of testing steps. These fast-loading, quick-access courses are a godsend for dialing in your wheel settings and experimenting with different car setups. The tuners have a plethora of settings to play with in advanced mode, and you won’t want a one-size-fits-all song. Different cars have different handling characteristics, so pick one car and get to grips with it, or be prepared to spend some lewd time in practice classes tinkering with mechanical settings.
When it comes to racing, the visuals are crisp but still not as crisp as in DiRT. What you get, however, are 13 iconic WRC destinations and each one looks great. The weather can be selected manually or randomly, and I’m not sure there is another racing title currently available that looks this good at night. Going through a rainy night stage in Kenya is downright humbling, but heed this advice: spend a lot of time training and adjusting all your settings before you jump into a season. Like I said, there is a learning curve here, especially when it comes to running in the rain.
Problems in the matrix
Unfortunately, there are a few issues to discuss, and it starts with the range of vehicle parameters mentioned earlier. Most are just arbitrary numbers with no context as to what they mean, which isn’t a problem for things like short or long gear ratios. But what exactly does a 2 camber adjustment or 8,000 for shock compression mean? The only way to go through these advanced settings is trial and error, and with so many advanced settings available, it might take a while. long time. Even for mechanically tilted tuners, sticking to the base might be the best option.
I consider this a symptom of the sweet arcade flavor of WRC 9, and unfortunately the rhythm notes suffer the same fate as well. You can adjust how fast the co-pilot calls them, but frankly, it’s hard to trust them. Distance and corner calls can be vague, especially when it comes to long or extra-long turns. Small details are often omitted altogether, such as small ridges, slight turns, obstacle locations, or areas requiring care. This is not good considering that precise rhythm notes are absolutely vital to achieving a fast beat.
WRC 9 is also not for those who aspire to relive the glorious past of the WRC. Historic cars like the Lancia Stratos and the Alpine A110 are included, but Subaru, Peugeot and Mitsubishi are all MIAs. You will find Fords, but Sierra or Escort Cossies are not one of them and unless you buy the game in pre-order, you also won’t find Audi. The flip side is a flood of current WRC content that even includes online events coinciding with live WRC action. The Monte Carlo Rally will start in 124 days from this publication in mid-September. How cool is that?
So is WRC 9 destroying DiRT Rally 2.0 as a benchmark rally simulator? From a simulation standpoint, DiRT still looks a bit better, the physics are tighter, and the rhythm notes are more precise. WRC 9 is very close though, and it might be the best title for those looking for rally excitement that isn’t so frustrating. It’s also the only title to give you a properly immersive WRC experience with teams, careers, and online events that will eventually include Esports actions.
Rhythm notes could be better, sounds could be better, there are occasional bugs with steering feedback, and the water-related vehicle physics are sketchy. We hope these issues will be addressed in future updates, but in the grand scheme of things these are small potatoes compared to the satisfying payoff of nailing a good stage in WRC 9.