A solid rally experience that’s satisfying to master
Game review: WRC 5
Platform: Xbox One (reviewed) / Playstation 4 / Xbox 360 / Playstation 3 / Vita / PC
THE World Rally Championship series may not have ever enjoyed the profile of the Colin McRae games, but over the years it has won the respect of rally enthusiasts for its carefully judged driving physics. Although Codemasters released Dirt Rally earlier this year, it has only made to PC so far, meaning that console-owning rally fans have little to sate their appetite. WRC will likely satisfy that market, though it may not have much else to attract casual driving game fans.
With Milestone, the developers of the past five games in the franchise, currently at work on a separate rally series for Bandai Namco, the first instalment in which is due out next year, WRC 5 sees the debut of Kylotonn Games, a firm best known for its Bet On Soldier series of PC FPS titles. It may seem an unlikely choice, but the French company does a good job of capturing the unique feel of rally racing.
Corners routinely end in crashes until you learn how to brake
This is an unforgiving game, especially for novices. Failing to take a corner at the right speed or accelerating into a bend will nearly always end in calamity and judging when to brake or hit the gas is a discipline that takes time to learn, let alone master. The curve, however, is a fair one and as you appreciate when to switch between the brake and the handbrake in order to drift around corners without losing speed, the mechanics prove themselves to be sound.
Yet the overall feel of racing is underwhelming in other ways. The cars feel dislocated from the tracks, with little in the way of mud or spray coming up from the back wheels even when you are hitting the revs. Granted, vehicles respond differently to each surface, it’s just that they don’t appear to when looking at the screen. The circuits, themselves based on real life WRC routes, are challenging, but for the most part lack verticality, meaning thrilling jumps - surely one of the most distinctive highlights of rallying compared to other forms of racing - are kept to a minimum.
Career mode offers a good representation of the real life rally season
Graphically, the game does a decent job of capturing the experience, with impressive changeable weather effects. Overall though, it is unfortunate to hit store shelves so soon after Forza Motorsport 6, a game that stands alone visually thanks to its rich and diverse environments. The sound effects in WRC 5 are very good, however, especially the crackling and pops of exhausts as you put your vehicles through its paces.
The majority of your time with WRC will be spent in career mode which, if you are intent on replicating the 13 rallies - each with five stages - of a real life season, offers a good challenge. One of the most enjoyable aspects is deciding how to configure your car and, as will often be the case, choosing how to allocate your limited time to carry out repair work. This can be done automatically if you wish, but ceding control from the CPU gives the game something different - get the tuning work spot on and you will gain a competitive edge.
The long-term appeal is in self improvement
Out on the trails, meanwhile, the appeal is not just in coming top of the leaderboard, but self-improvement. After a few hours, we found ourselves replaying stages to master every turn, corner and hump, whittling down our time a few seconds each turn. Memorising the courses is fundamental to this; useful though your navigator may be, it soon becomes clear they have a very limited phrasebook which soon grates.
WRC 5 also has an online multiplayer mode - a local option is available too - but unfortunately when we tried to enter lobbies, the game crashed, forcing us to reload it from the dashboard. Hopefully Kylotonn can iron out these bugs sooner rather than later. In the meantime, the game is much like its predecessors - a satisfying if unremarkable fusion of rally simulation and arcade handling.
TIPS AND TRICKS:
The game will prompt you several times at the outset to visit rally school. It is worth doing. This is the best place to get a grip on basic handling and driving techniques.
Try and use your handbrake to take turns as often as possible. With the right timing and pressure, you can ease around corners and maintain momentum.
As well as changing button configurations, you can fine tune the sensitivity of the controller. This is worth experimenting with to find the best setting for braking and accelerating.