Though the title would indicate that this is the fifth game in the longstanding rallying series, that couldn’t be further from the truth with WRC 5. With new developer Kylotonn at the helm – who’ve built the entire game from the ground up on a new game engine and with all the content completely refreshed – this is a completely fresh start for the series.
So it’s vitally important that they nail the fundamentals of driving a car, and Kylotonn have done a great job of building a fun and accessible handling model. It’s more on the arcade side of the racing game spectrum and quite forgivingly allows you to throw your car about a bit as you go through corners, giving you plenty of grip and generally allowing you to feel in control, whether you’re on tarmac or slipperier surfaces like gravel, mud or snow.
Turning off the handful of assists and going for Simulation mode doesn’t really affect things as much as you might expect though, and it always retains the same overall feel. However, plug in a wheel from the small list of supported models and things suddenly feel a lot more lively. There’s more force feedback for one thing, which is noticeably feeble and infrequent on pad, and I found myself much more prone to sliding and squirming around with a lot more tension in my arms as I grappled with the car. I just felt like I was on the ragged edge a lot more, even if I could manage comparable times with either control system.
The career mode, always the bread and butter of single player racing games, is a relatively barebones affair. You start off in J-WRC with the Citroen DS 3 R3-MAX, before stepping up with a contract to WRC-2 and finally WRC, with the aim of winning the world championship. The J-WRC season is somewhat shorter that the others, but the career takes you through 13 rallying locations, with five distinct tracks to weave through over the course of a rally’s six stages.
Having five tracks for six stages means that they get to mix things up, showing you a track in different lighting and altered weather conditions. Making use of these systems within the game helps to create a different atmosphere, even if the corners you’re twisting through will feel familiar.
From one round to the next, damage accrues and starts to build up on your car, with just 45 minutes given each day for you to have your engineers fix the suspension, tyres, steering and so on. It’s a constant juggling act to keep things working well enough, and one that might end up making you a bit more cautious on the third day. Take too much of a hammering and your car might start to pull to the left a little bit, your co-pilot might be reduced to radio static as the electronics fail, a gearbox failure will see you stuck in 3rd gear, or your engine might completely cut out and force you to restart the stage, rewind to a checkpoint or retire completely.
Sadly, the tuning and the persistent damage is stripped out for when you race via the quick rallies option. This lets you create your own season of rallies, whether just one location or all of them, but each time you roll up to the starting line, you car has been completely renewed. You might as well just be playing a single stage.
Online play is also relatively pared back, with just the purity of racing against the other players’ ghosts, whether in a quick lobby or a custom one. Beyond that, there’s online challenges which set you a stage, or the Shakedown Series, which feature certain handicaps – no handbrake and no co-pilot at launch. Though quite some way away, with the 90-odd day countdown on the main menu, 2016 will also see the launch of the eSports WRC, to run alongside the real world championship.
Really, this game is setting the foundations from which Kylotonn can build, and you get the feeling that they might have spread themselves a little thin by also aiming for a PS3 and Xbox 360 launch, as well as PS4, Xbox One and PC. Though it doesn’t look bad, it also won’t blow your socks off with the visuals, and the frame rate just isn’t as solid on PS4 as you would expect it to be, with far too many dips in performance, noticeable pop-in and incessant screen tearing.
There are more than a few other rough edges elsewhere, with both male and female co-driver instructions sounding far too much like pasted together individual words and their directions often tumbling out in a fashion that’s almost distractingly difficult to follow. If you crash into something a bit too hard, they also continue to smart over the next minute or two, interjecting with an extra “Ouch!” or another “Are you OK?” a few moments later once you’ve got back up to speed.
The list of little annoyances goes on and on, whether it’s menus that need you to scroll to an option off the right and side of the screen to start actually racing, the way you can always seem to be one or two tenths ahead of the second placed driver even if you have a few offs, or the game’s inability to switch from controller to wheel without being restarted. It can be quite infuriating to hit a seemingly minor bump or barely visible rock in a particular stretch of road and find that it’s completely killed your car, forcing you to restart.
WRC 5 is a new beginning for the series, and when viewed in that light, Kylotonn’s efforts come out quite well. There’s several issues, both big and small that detract from the game as a whole, but underneath it all there’s a rallying game that’s just a good bit of fun. When it’s just you and your co-pilot racing through a forest, barely making it through a series of tight twists and turns, that’s really what matter.
Version tested: PlayStation 4