Rallying fans have been spoilt for choice over the last few years, picking between the resurgent Dirt and WRC series of Codemasters and Kylotonn Games respectively. 2019 in particular seems to be the year that both of them are coming good, with Kylotonn having purged themselves of their arcade rallying urges in V-Rally 4 and taking WRC 8 in a much more simulation-like direction.
It’s truly impressive how far they’re pushing on compared to WRC 7, especially as they’ve been releasing new games on a yearly basis. Making full use of the World Rally Championship license, the game features all of the world locations that the WRC circus is heading to this year, including new locales Chile and Turkey. There’s a huge range of stages to take on with a mixture of shorter 5-7 minute stages, more of the longer 15+ minute Epic stages that get closer to the kinds of challenges that real world drivers face, and the 1:1 recreated Special Stages. In total, when factoring the ability to race each of them in reverse, there’s 102 stages to test yourself against.
Underpinning the entire game is a revised physics and handling model (as there always is with new rally games), and it is almost cruelly difficult to try and pick up and play. I’m someone that always needs to wind up to a good tilt at a rally race, often cheating by getting a feel for the stage first before restarting and trying to put my learning into practice. Of course, that still doesn’t always work…
With just a short window of time with Kylotonn to run through the game’s new features and go hands on, they nicely dropped me into the tight and winding gravel trail of Turkey, with sharp drops on one side that my car seemed to be magnetically drawn to, like a bowling ball to a gutter.
What wasn’t doing me any favours was the new dynamic weather system. You can, of course, manually set the weather, picking from four times of day and night, and then choosing from a range of clement, inclement and ruddy awful weather. Alternatively, you can let the game randomise it based on the realistic expectations of the region (so Mexico will probably be sunny and hot, and Wales will be raining 100% of the time), or pick from a few scenarios where the weather shifts. So, from already slipping and sliding around on the Turkish gravel, and feeling self conscious in front of the game’s developers, the rain started to fall, distorting my vision, making the gravel wetter and even less useful for grip. Good times. Well no, actually my stage time was abysmal.
What surprised me at this point was just how much data the game then hands you. Based off the sheer weight of telemetry that real world teams are able to collect and process, you get to dive in and see, not just your split times compared to your competitors, but also how the wear and damage has manifest itself on your car, how that compares, and so on. From that, you can learn a little about where you can try to make up a shortfall in the next rally.
With enough data to feed a rallying team, you now get to manage said rally team in the expansive new career mode. Previous games effectively just had the career as a procession through season after season, but now you get to wear both a driver’s helmet and a team boss’ cap. Between rallies in the career, you have several areas that you can dip into from an attractive 3D representation of your team’s base, from looking at the calendar of events, to spending points on upgrades and managing your personnel, there’s plenty of decisions to make.
The game has got all of the real world cars from WRC, WRC2 with the new R5 class of car and the homogenised WRC Juniors, as well as dropping in a handful of much requested classic cars, like the iconic Lancia Stratos. Obviously the point of the career is to work your way up from the bottom to challenge in the top tier championship, and as you do this you’ll be working to unlock more and more of the tech tree that each team has.
Each will initially lean toward different types of tech, whether it’s performance, team, crew or reliability. Depending on your agent, you might have some points to spend right off the bat, potentially shifting their direction, but outside of this you’ll simply have to put in the hard graft and earn experience.
That’s where the calendar comes in. it’s not a straight series of rallies anymore, but also has free days that you can use for other activities. You can use these to take on a training session at the test circuit, put yourself in for an extreme challenge like racing at night while it’s chucking it down with rain, take part in a classic rally race using those newly included classic cars, or simply let your team recover from fatigue and drained morale with a rest day.
Every successful driver has to have a strong support network behind them, and that’s where managing your team members comes in. With a good mechanic, you can get more done repairing the car between stages, with a good agent you can bargain for a better contract when switching teams, with a good meteorologist you can get a better picture of what the weather will be like when you race, helping to inform your car set up.
Your car set up can be as light or deep as you want it to be. At the basic level, just leave things at stock and pick some appropriate tyres, with a strategy choice to make between softer and harder compounds for a particular surface. Delving into the actual set up, there’s both simplified ‘classic’ settings for suspension, diff, aero and so on, or you can toggle to advanced settings and get at the minute details of each area.
What this all adds up to is WRC 8 being Kylotonn’s most ambitious rally game yet. The studio’s tilt at the more hardcore sim racer audience feels like it’s been a long time coming for the series, and they’re seriously delivering with the depth of the car set up and telemetry on offer, not to mention how they’ve broadened the scope of the career mode. Watch out Dirt Rally 2.0, because WRC 8’s coming for your crown!