It feels strange to think of WRC 9 as the beginning of the end. KT Racing have built up an ever improving franchise over the last half decade, but there’s now a looming end date for their time with the license.
It somehow feels relevant to this year’s game, and yet it actually doesn’t make the blindest bit of difference. This is KT Racing trying to push their series that step closer to capturing all aspects of the World Rally Championship, and in truth, the most pressing concern will be trying to bridge the generational divide to support PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X. Of course, we didn’t get to sample those next-gen versions, but got to go hands on with the PC version instead. Still, I installed the game to my PC’s SSD, so I guess that counts for something?
The headline new features for WRC 9 include some new locations, a new Clubs system to allow fans to run their own online championships, and also the promise of overhauled preexisting rallies and a co-op co-driver mode coming in the months after release.
There’s three brand new rallies in the game, as the 2020 WRC planned to return to Kenya, New Zealand and Japan, after some extended periods away from each. They’re a great trio of contrasting additions with the wide and open terrain of Kenya up against the tight twisty mountain paths of New Zealand and the similarly tight and twisty roads of Japan. They have their own character and their own type of challenge to present you.
Later this year, the Portuguese and Finnish rallies will both be receiving a boost with new stages alongside the old. It’s this point that feels somewhat indicative of the game. This is a continuation of what has come before, with the game boasting over 100 stages in total, many of which were found in previous games.
Correction: Our understanding is that new stages are being added to Rally Portugal and Rally Finland, not that the existing stages are being replaced.
Diving in with a gamepad, I thoroughly enjoyed visiting each of these new locales. Once I’d taken my usual time to adjust to the mixture of derring do and caution that rallying requires, I found the game relatively easy on the fingers and thumbs.
However, I also recognise some of the complaints that we had of WRC 8’s gamepad handling model. I’m nowhere near as analytical as Tom is, but I definitely get the sense that there’s still a tendency for tank slappers that are far too easy to overcorrect and slap in the other direction, and some wacky collision physics in WRC 9. It was a handling characteristic accentuated on the grippier asphalt roads of Japan, certainly, and the tightness of that rally’s roads led to a number of collisions that made the car just look far too light as it spun and took off from the ground. WRC 9 feels much happier in the gravel and dirt, where it’s easier to slide out the back end with intent through twists and turns, and this scenario feels much better suited to playing with a gamepad.
Honestly, with the added workload of the next generation consoles (however easy Sony, Microsoft and developers make this generational leap sound), the general process of running a yearly sports series, not to mention the other challenges of 2020, it’s perhaps no surprise that WRC 9 feels like a more iterative step forward with a focus on content.
There’s an impressive amount of that content to be found under the hood, with those 100+ stages spread across 14 countries, and KT Games stating that over 35 of these stages are brand new. That will then come to include Rally Portugal and Rally Finland both being expanded to feature eight stages each in the months after launch. You’d be forgiven for not being able to spot what’s new and what’s old, especially when what I’ve seen of the menus and UI is nigh on identical to WRC 8, right down to the pre-rally intros. I guess you don’t want to fix what isn’t broken.
So there’s a lot of great new rallying coming to WRC 9, and some intriguing new features that we look forward to seeing in action, but WRC 9 is maybe shaping up to be more of a transitional year for the series, taking a bit of caution as they approach a big console jump.