Need For Speed Hot Pursuit. Test Drive Unlimited 2. F1 2010. Ferrari Race Challenge. Man Furismo Jive. We are currently in the process of being rained upon by driving games, so you could be forgiven for wondering if it was even necessary to release WRC FIA World Rally Championship at all. The good news is, this is Black Bean’s best driving game to date. The bad news is, that’s not exactly a groundbreaking achievement.
WRC is of course nothing like any of the other games mentioned, it’s also nothing like DiRT 2 so if you’re expecting that kind of adrenaline rush, look elsewhere. What we have here is a serious, slow-paced take on pure rally driving. There are no crazy race modes: this is rally, after rally, after rally. Therefore, if you like rally driving, you will probably love this game. If you like Split/Second, you’ll hate it.
Let’s start with the positives. This game is crammed with things to do. There is a very long campaign – The Road To WRC – as well as a separate campaign-ish mode where you play all the special stages and championship rounds of the real 2010 WRC according to the official calendar, which is also incredibly long. Two to four players can also sit down and set times in turn-based play with no restrictions on stage, rally or championship setup.
Finally, the online mode is excellent, and although everyone – up to 16 of you – drives in their own instance trying to set the best time, you can see the ghosts of the other players which makes it feel much more like a race and much less lonely. There are a decent variety of online modes with the obligatory ranking tables and XP/levelling, I had no problem finding a game and there was no lag during play.
The Road To WRC career mode is broken down into ten levels, each of which has six events. You have some leeway in the order you complete the events within a given level, with subsequent levels being unlocked by reaching a certain completion percentage.
Like Need For Speed Shift, there is a well-paced reward system with constant livery, colour, car, sponsor and event unlocks as you complete each event. The trophies are also very well-designed and paced, and will encourage you to play plenty of different game modes.
Let’s talk difficulty. This is a two-pronged affair: you can set the various driving assists, and you can change the AI difficulty independently via a slider, giving you many difficulty levels to choose from. There are three default combinations of settings when you start the game but you can tweak as you see fit, and there is no punishment for playing on an easier setting. This is a good thing, because playing with any combination of assists other than everything turned on will immediately thrust you into F1 2010 Expert mode levels of toughness.
With all assists on, you rarely need to brake although getting round the stage without crashing once is still a moderate challenge unless you drive carefully. Cut down on the traction control and brake assist and you are going to need every ounce of concentration to keep the car under control – so this should appeal to arcade and simulation fans alike. Similarly, with the AI on the easiest setting, it is ridiculously easy to win, even if you crash constantly, but on the hardest setting they are ruthless. Black Bean should be commended for this range of settings because it vastly broadens the appeal of the game.
Driving ‘alone’ constantly can be quite a lonely experience, so you should bear in mind that you will only see other cars on the track during online play. In offline play, you simply see the current times of the AI cars. This is though, naturally, par for the course with rally games.
True to form, between each special stage you can customise your car settings (downforce, suspension, all the usual suspects) and spend your allotted repair time choosing which bits of your car to repair, with each repair type costing a certain amount of time. Use too much and you receive a time penalty.
The driving physics themselves are.. a little strange. You get to drive over tarmac, gravel, dirt, ice and so on, with the car behaving differently on each surface, and differently from car to car as well of course. It seems awfully hard to do long drifts at speed, similarly the handbrake does not quite function as it does in other games. This isn’t really a criticism as the controls are perfectly fine and with no experience of drifting in a real rally car it’s hard to tell whether this is realistic or not, so this is more of an observation. If anyone here remembers the awful driving mechanics of V-Rally 3 on PS2, fear not, the controls in WRC are solid.
We played the game using a Logitech Driving Force GT Pro wheel – wheels of course being a must have for any serious driving game fan – and the control was excellent, however there was quite a large steering deadzone with the default settings. Fortunately there are many sliders you can use to tweak the wheel to your liking. The force feedback worked flawlessly.
As always, there are some problems. For one thing, the presentation is awful. Just awful. While the menu music is unobtrusive enough, the menus themselves are dull and bland, using black, white and green for the most part. The backgrounds are low res and not animated. It makes the whole thing feel completely soulless. Worse still is that the in-game graphics are pretty shoddy. The cars are low on polygon count, the pop-in is moderate-to-severe in places with bushes appearing randomly for example, and the overall scenery is barely above PS2 graphical standards.
Whilst there are plenty of titles, even recent titles like Sports Champions, with mediocre graphics that are great fun to play, in WRC’s case, the poor graphics actually hurt your enjoyment. We have come to expect so much more than this, graphically, even in run-of-the-mill titles. In WRC’s defence, there are absolutely tons of special stages and what scenery there is is very varied, so you won’t be seeing the same thing over and over.
There are two interior views which is a very nice touch that can enhance gameplay, but the interiors are not representative of the actual cars themselves. The cars get nice and dirty but damage modeling is minimal to non-existent.
Another major gripe is that nothing is explained. This is fine if you’ve watched a bit of rally on TV, but if you don’t know the difference between N4 and S2000 cars, or what the green and red lines mean on the left side of the screen while driving, the game isn’t going to tell you. It also amazed me what counted as a clean section: you can crash three times and still be told you did a clean section.
A couple of nice touches: you can choose whether your co-driver has a male or female voice. You can have three career profiles at once. If you quit out of a long event half-way through, your progress is saved.
- Long campaigns, lots of stages, tons to do
- Online modes work great
- Significantly marred by terrible graphics and presentation
- Offline multi-player is turn-based only
At first, playing WRC was a slog. In truth, the more I played it, the more I liked it – once you get used to its quirks and nuances. There are a lot of nice touches and thoughtful features, spoiled by the presentation. Ultimately though, while I couldn’t recommend WRC to just anyone, it is a solid but slightly soulless game and has the official WRC license, which if you have at least a passing interest in rally games makes this the only realistic choice.
Just don’t expected to become a rally fan if you aren’t already.