The World Rally Championship license stands amongst the most prestigious in the motorsports gaming world, but it’s one that’s bounced from developer to developer, most recently having an extended stay with Kylotonn Games. Despite its prestige it’s not always been a hallmark of quality, and though the outgoing series’ highlight, WRC Generations, benefitted from years of experience with the license it’s now fallen to Codemasters to take their turn at the wheel. As the developers of Dirt Rally and its sequel, arguably the best Rally games of the last decade, expectations for EA Sports WRC are high.
EA Sports WRC recreates the sport in its entirety, and not just out on the open roads and winding trails. Through the career you’re expected to become involved with the successful management and operation of a racing team, from keeping your sponsors happy to managing the day-to-day running costs, and it’s a mix that in the wrong hands could prove boring or unwieldy. Codemasters strike an excellent balance through the Career mode of keeping you in control, but not distracting you from the heart of the racing action.
Your first task is to create your racer, and I was initially impressed by the visual appearance of the stock character. However, I soon realised that there was a paltry 20 preset appearances for you to pick from, with no physical customisation options. So, the best you can probably hope for is that you make a racer that’s the right race and gender to stand looking a bit gormless in the background of the menus, which seems especially frugal.
There is customisation via the Rally Pass – the progression system you move through as you level up – and you can grab new helmets, suits and gloves here. Admittedly, this is what they’re normally wearing, but it immediately makes a disconnect between you and your character. What’s most irksome is that my co-driver – whose appearance you can’t customise – looks far more like me than my own character. It’s a minor thing, but if you’re going to include creation options, make sure there are actually, you know, options?
While the character options are limited, the array of modes certainly isn’t. Most people will be looking to the Career mode for the majority of their single-player thrills and it’s not just about the racing here. You can choose whether to start out as a young rookie in the Junior WRC, a newcomer in the WRC2 or immediately jump into the full WRC experience from the off.
Alongside that, you’ve got Beginner, Experienced and Pro difficulty presets, each with varying levels of driving assists, co-driver input and AI performance, and you can customise these to a certain extent for just the right level of support or lack thereof. The co-driver input is well timed, and clearly delivered, and I found I was able to rely on it a lot more than I have in Kylotonn’s WRC games.
Keith is your Chief Mechanic, and he’s here to guide you through running a racing team. You’ll be designing your team logo, signing contracts and balancing budgets, all of which is handled clearly and straightforwardly. No paperwork chicanes here.
You then get to choose your car. You can either go for one off the shelf, or build your own, though the build-your-own option is slightly odd in the way its implemented. First off, you choose your chassis – so far so good – but then you’re onto the engine and while you can select different power engines, with part quality and part condition important to consider, the performance rating is always the same.
You’ll then choose the most expensive parts as you’ll be well under budget, so there’s no point in picking terrible parts unless you’re roleplaying as a driver for a poverty-stricken rally team. As you progress, more options will become available to make budget control slightly more challenging, but it’s an odd starting point, even if it does ensure a consistent level of competitiveness.
The best thing is the visual customisation options you can bring to bear, fitting out your car externally and internally, making something wholly your own. You can then choose livery designs and add decals to your heart’s content, all of which are handled in such a way that you can make something that looks smart and realistic in a short amount of time.
Keith is on a journey of his own as your Chief Engineer, and you can level him up through an upgrade tree so that he can more efficiently run the team, providing perks to purchases, repairs and team stamina. It’s involving without feeling onerous, and you won’t come away from spending time here thinking you’ve just been looking at Excel spreadsheets for hours.
Racing is why we’re here though, and as you’d expect from Codemasters, EA Sports WRC feels fantastic. Each car’s performance and handling feels accurate, tight and well-judged, and whether it’s the twitchy rear-engined speed of a classic Lancia Stratos or the reassuring front-engine drift of a modern Ford Puma, each feels perfectly weighted. Kylotonn’s WRC entries always edged towards lighter, twitchier handling whereas this feels more like Dirt Rally’s grounded, though no-less accurate and exacting model.
There’s a host of places to enjoy that racing with every stop on the real world championship included, featuring roads and stages that recreate the actual locations. Beyond the Career mode you’ve got Time Trials, Championship, Multiplayer, Clubs, and the Moments where you get to recreate specific moments from WRC history. Moments are great windows into the WRC’s past, fully recreating memorable highlights and feats from the past for you to then take on, and with more to be added through each six-week season.
The mode does however highlight an issue which simply shouldn’t exist, with EA Play subscribers able to access a two further Moments events. Subscribers also get extra unlocks on the Rally Pass, and while in theory I have no problem with subscribers receiving additional unlocks, having events so blatantly locked away in a full-priced title is not the direction we want to head in. They’re only short sections, but they should be in an EA Play tab, and not the central mode menu.
Performance on PC is not where it needs to be at launch either, and as it stands there continue to be frame skips and hitches at unwelcome moments – the common shader compilation issues with Unreal Engine games on PC seem to be here in full force. I’m well in line with what’s considered the recommended settings – GTX 3070, 16GB RAM etc. – but you need to have a real tinker with the graphical settings to get a reliable 60fps from the game, which is hugely disappointing for such a big title.
From a brief comparison on Xbox Series X, console performance is more consistent, however it comes at the cost of visual fidelity, with the game looking markedly worse than the PC version running with High graphics settings.