WRC 4: FIA World Rally Championship PC
Milestone has been doing well to improve their WRC games after each release since they took over the reins as the only official WRC game. Last year’s title, WRC 3, was their best yet, supplying a solid rallying experience that could be appreciated by rally fans, thanks to the development team crafting a fun career mode with Road to Glory, a feature that had you taking part in single stages or short rallies, but also had you racing against helicopters and smashing through barriers. The presentation for that mode might have been a little on the extreme sports goofy side, but it was all in the name of fun. If you wanted a proper dedicated rally championship, you also had that option as well.
WRC 4: FIA World Rally Championship is Milestone’s latest, but like a car driving full speed into a tree, it seems the progression of the series has dramatically slowed down, while at the same time stripping a lot of the modes and features I liked in WRC 3 to focus on the core nature of the sport in its current year.
Road to Glory and its extreme sports persona are long gone from WRC 4. In its place is the more serious focused Career mode. In here, you create a driver and a co-driver, then join a junior WRC team, in which you must work your way up the rankings to finally hit the big ones by joining a team in the World Rally Championship class. The junior WRC aspect of the career only features two locations, featuring six stages each. This actually helps a lot with progression, because the start of the career mode is painful slow. The junior WRC cars struggle to hit 70mph for most of the event, and this is represent with an awful sense of speed that makes the early part of the career boring. Slug your way through that and you open up the chance to join the WRC 3 or WRC 2 groups, where the sense of speed is better represented. Become successful and you’ll be able to join the WRC, where the cars feel much more aggressive as you try to become the world champion by winning the calendar year, which includes all 13 rally countries for this year’s FIA World Rally Championship.
During down time between events, you’ll be able to look around your room to select various pieces of information, similar to the Dirt and Grid games. I understand that this makes for nice presentation, but the offered information is rather barebones. The Latest News area includes a sentence about whoever won the last event in each of the WRC categories. Standings, well, it does what it says – shows what position the player currently is within the season, while Crew Information tells you the smallest detail about the current car being driven. Emails, which should be an interesting feature, are mostly just the Manager and Team Principal commenting on what position your aim is to be in for the next race, which driver is your rival and making remarks about the performance in the previous event. It’s meaningless, and it needs fleshing out more to make it relevant for the player to care to read them. In fact, a lot of the external features, like picking a manager, don’t seem to affect anything but what picture and name is displayed. It’s going for authenticity, but it feels so empty. After checking the emails a couple of times, I gave up doing that, as it was constantly reusing the same expression time and time again.
I shouldn’t get caught up in what players do away from the track, because with a genre such as rally, it’s the course design, the feel of the car and what you do on the track that makes them exciting racing games. The difference in handling doesn’t feel that dramatic compared to the jump from WRC 2 to WRC 3. The cars still feel lightweight, but at least now the friction for the surfaces of the environment feel different. Mud and snow will cause you to slide much more than driving on tarmac, which solves a problem I had with WRC 3, since the sense of driving in last year’s title didn’t feel right on specific surfaces. It’s still not fantastic in WRC 4, as it’s still less challenging than you would expect it to be in such extreme conditions, but it’s an improvement for the franchise in an area that a rally game has yet to get right.
WRC 4 sits between simulation and arcade. People who aren’t confident in their ability to drive cars fast around dangerous courses can turn on assists, such as stability and breaking help, turning down simulation damage and tuning the AI from ten difficulty settings. The amount of rewind can be adjusted as well, with the normal setting at 5 and advanced at 0. Rewind is always a nice feature in racing games, especially for people who get fed up retrying an event because of a crash. From various stories I’ve heard, we have all used the rewind function and ended up doing the exact same crash, repeating the same mistake and wasting a rewind count, so setting a number is great for that select group of gamers. For pros, this can all be turned off, allowing you to live the threat that one crash could potentially ruin your rally dreams, as simulation damage is no joke when it comes to having a collision with a wall or a deviously placed tree.
As for tracks, the entire 13 countries are represented here, with each one containing six stages, tallying for a grand total of 78. What I like about the stages covered in WRC 4 are the various lengths. Some courses will only be a couple of minutes, while others will last around five, meaning gamers have to keep attention, as the longer races means more chance for mistakes that cost valuable seconds. Weather is featured, but it’s scripted to tracks, rather than being dynamic and available on every stage, which is a shame, as this is one aspect that I feel adds replayability to the stages. New to WRC 4 is the inclusion of three time settings for all tracks – sunrise, daylight and sunset – which affect the visibility one has to deal with when driving during the morning or evening.
Leaderboards are integrated into each track, allowing easy access to see who in the world you have beat. To access this, you need to make an account and verify that with an email address. Once completed, this will also unlock the multiplayer portion of WRC 4. The online component is basic, but it gets the job done. You can pick from creating your own match or finding other players in lobbies. When online, WRC 4 has the option of creating a championship, a rally or just one stage. This being a rally game, it means that you don’t physically race the other opponents, but instead, you’re on the track racing against other players’ ghostly presence. This keeps it true to the nature of the sport, and with some tracks featuring incredibly narrow paths; it would be ridiculous to try fitting all 16 players on the track. Ghost racers also means that lag is kept to a minimum, I never once suffered any lag during my two hour online session. Winning events offers experience to level up, but this doesn’t seem to do much more than be a testament to how much online someone has played.
As mentioned, it is very disappointing that all the funky challenge events from Road to Glory don’t make a return in any form in WRC 4. I enjoyed taking part in them in last year’s game, as they added variety to the content. Another problem I have is the removal of classic rally cars, such as the Lancia Stratos HF or Audi Quattro, as driving old cars added another layer of depth to the game. It’s amazing how raw and dangerous a car can feel when it isn’t made up of computers and other technological wizardry. Sadly, WRC 4 only supplies the 2013 versions of all the rally cars.
Graphically, evidence is clearly shown that this is coming from current-generation consoles. The car models look pretty enough, and the environments can occasionally look great, but this is thanks to the advantage that the PC platform offers to improve the image quality of the game. It certainly doesn’t rival other similar titles, such as Dirt 3, but it looks good enough. One thing that spoils the track locations are the awfully modelled crowds. These are extremely low in detail, coming across as some of the worst models I’ve seen for quite some time. WRC 4 doesn’t feature many graphic options. You can change the resolution, add various strengths of anti-aliasing and enable Vsync, but that’s all you’re getting I’m afraid.
WRC 4: FIA World Rally Championship is a good, solid attempt at a rally game that feels satisfying enough to enjoy. But like last year’s title, it still isn’t hitting the stride to be called fantastic. I’m disappointed that Milestone removed the mini-game events from WRC 3 and decided to rip out the history of the sport by removing classic rally cars. But, in spite of that, WRC 4 does feel better to play, thanks to the slightly improved handling. The series isn’t quite there yet, but it’s slowly making strides to become a rally game worth playing for people who enjoy the racing genre, rather than people who appreciate the motorsport know as rally. Maybe next year will finally move the franchise into top gear?