WRC 5: FIA World Rally Championship PC Review
The past few years has offered off-road racing fans a limited amount of games to get excited for, especially when looking for the adrenaline excitement that comes with driving fast through muddy lanes, dusty fields and icy roads, a selection of ground types usually associated with rallysport. The official FIA World Rally Championship games have been decent attempts to bring the motorsport to our consoles, but they often fall short of greatness that people who adored Colin McRae Rally or Richard Burns Rally expect to see in a rally game. The series took a break last year, as the original developers of the first four previous generation games, Milestone S.r.l., passed the reigns onto new developer, Kylotonn Games, a studio that doesn’t exactly have a curriculum vitae for developing great racing games. With the looming shadow of Dirt: Rally, a game from Codemasters that finally puts that series’ focus back to rallying, and a new game (Sébastien Loeb Rally Evo) from the original developers of WRC, can WRC5 bring the fuel to spark up a battle with those games? Or is Kylotonn’s attempt just going to be another decent, but forgettable, rally game?
First thing to note is that even though this is the official World Rally Championship game, this racer does not go for the simulation experience. It splashes itself in all the licences that come from being the official game, such as the current drivers, cars and their liveries, and stages, but getting to the grips with the handling will be easy for most. The grip of the tyres do enough to offer the traction difference between driving on tarmac and powering around corners on dust – you can jerk the car hard on tarmac and feel it stuck to the ground, while dusty roads will cause the car to lose a little traction – but it never feels challenging. This is a very approachable, close to becoming more of an arcade racer than a sim, video game. Even turning off the assists doesn’t alter much of the handling, apart from meaning that you have to control the braking and acceleration properly. It’s not often I play a racer with all the assists off, but I was confident in driving a car in WRC5 to do that, which is weird to say, when the harsh environments and the speed that you travel down these imperfect roads should make this very hard to do.
All 13 countries are represented in the game, starting from the beginning of the WRC season with the mountainous asphalt roads of Monte Carlo, jumping into the mid-season Poland rally that consists of hard gravel roads and finishing up at the end of the year with the wet and wonderful Rally GB in Wales, a track that is often beat down from the rain, transforming it into a muddy, slippery messy that no car will escape the race clean. Including the entire season makes for a nice variety of environments and track conditions, but the entire tracks from the season are not in the game, rather, the developers have created five stages from each rally, instead of the full 15-19 often featured, which I assume is to keep the campaign snappy with quick country changes – I can imagine some people would complain being stuck in the same country for 18 races.
I am glad the developers have offered to include tracks that take around five minutes to finish, as I’m not a huge fan of having only short tracks (around two minutes). This is a problem I had with some of the Dirt games. Longer tracks, those five to six minute track endurances where you fight against nature to keep on the road, give a more similar experience to what it must be like trying to not damage a car while going fast down dangerous roads. We are probably never going to see a rally game include 10+ minute stages, but at least having track designs that require attention for a length of time is still nice to have. In all, the tracks featured, while not the officially designs used in real life, are built with plenty of jumps, twists and nasty turns that a rally stage should feature.
Taking on the campaign is where the bulk of the single player content lives. You can also jump into a quick rally or a quick stage, but the career is where you begin your life as a WRC driver by picking up a contract from one of the teams and driving them and yourself to victory. The career begins in the J-WRC category, then makes it way up through WRC-2 and then to the big boys of the WRC. It’s a rather barebones way of implementing career growth, as the contracts don’t really matter much – I just picked the one with the best looking car, got the win, then jumped to the next category. J-WRC and WRC-2 is an exercise for the WRC, as the latter is the only way to experience all 13 countries in the season, as the lower categories reduce the length of the season to seven and use less powerful cars.
The sense of speed from driving a rally car looks crazy when you see it on the TV, but the game’s portrayal of speed is a slight problem, as it never feels fast enough for the pace you are blistering at. Initially, I thought it was because the J-WRC cars are slower, but even getting to the WRC, the cars never feel quite fast enough to give the correct sense of speed. The co-driver seems to think otherwise, as he/she throws pace notes at the you like a kid jacked up on caffeine – they don’t shut up, and it can throw you off course when you have lost which corner is due. Changing from the default external camera to the front camera does offer a better representation of speed, but this is a game that never quite gets the feeling right when pushing the car to its limits.
WRC5 seems to keep its focus on the rallying, as there isn’t much to do outside of that in the career. Before a rally, you can alter the car’s setup, and after the day is over, any damage sustained can be repaired if it fits within the 45 minute limit given to teams to get the most vital fixes in before it is time to move on. Damage is very much the determining factor in costing you a top position, especially so if you turn on full damage, where the slightest knock will incur harm, clearly displayed on a diagram that pops on screen when part of the car has changed status.
Too much damage can cause some serious frustrations, as gearboxes go, leaving you stuck in a gear, brakes can bust, meaning only engine braking or the handbrake are the means to slow down, steering can buckle and even the radio can go, so pace notes from the co-driver are no longer spoken, leaving you to the visibility of the track to determine the next corner coming. I even had my engine go at one point, after a clip with a tree viciously spun me out of control, causing me the option to either pass up on the stage or restart it. Full damage is certainly the way to go if you need to add caution to the racing, but if it’s too much, taking it down to medium or low makes it much easier for people who want to recklessly throw themselves into corners.
As with many racers nowadays, a flashback feature is in place to correct mistakes. Depending on the difficulty setting will determine how many are available – five on normal, one on hard and none on expert. These are slightly different than the typical rewind mechanic. In those, you can pick where about you want to restart and continue on as if nothing happened. The developers have instead made this a flashback where you are spawned at the last checkpoint passed. Not exactly as friendly as a rewind, but the flashback makes more sense in rally, where time and mistakes are what costs positions. The flashback feels included as a lifesaver, helping if anything drastically happens to the car, such as a gearbox failure that can really mess up a run.
In actually fact, and this is where WRC5 falls flat compared to the previous games, is that you can only really lose if you perform extremely badly, either because you damaged the car or stopped a few times. This is because WRC5 commits a huge sin – a bigger sin than rubber AI – as this game has some sort of implementation to make opponent times appear close to yours. I often found myself winning most events by one to two seconds, very peculiar, even more so when I had hit a couple of trees that stopped me in my tracks, yet I still came first. Even on hard, unless you really cock up badly, you will win – changing the difficulty did not change the outcome. This is such a weird concept to utilize, because the game has thrown away the challenge of being the best driver, and now, you pretty much win as long as you get to the finish line without crashing much. Split times at checkpoints are not shown, so there is no way to dig deeper into this to see what the system is doing, but it’s clear that the game is programmed to keep opponents close to you and only let them win if you screw up. This spoils the career mode, the bulk of the single player, so now the game has become dependent on the challenge from downloading ghosts from the online leaderboards and trying to beat them – such a disappointment. Who thought this was a good idea? I do not know…
Multiplayer also suffers from minimal features. The PC version does not include any split-screen local multiplayer, rather it implements local support for up to eight players in a “pass the pad” mode, where each player takes turns to do their stage before moving on to the next. There is no issue with doing the multiplayer like this, since the game is based around times, but having two people doing their stages at once surely wouldn’t harm that. Online is lobby-based, in which the host picks the stage and all race it. The option to create a rally or a season does not exist, and it seems that the game forces no aids and full damage for its online gameplay, which in fairness is the best way to play. Online is pick a track and race it. Again, fine, but the developers are not going out of their way to bring features that have appeared in other racing games.
Challenges make up the last area of content, which change every few days. They force you to use a specific car on a specific track, but sometimes they will throw in a spanner, such as no co-pilot. Winners of these challenges will often receive a freebie of some kind, like a tshirt from the publishers. Interestingly, there is a countdown for ESports that begins in 2016. Starting when the 2016 season of WRC begins, players will be able to compete at the same time as the real event is going on in virtual tournaments. There aren’t many details about this, but it has potential to be something that could come into other games in the future if done well.
Being on the PC offers WRC5 the chance to present itself in the best possible way with its limited graphical details. This is a game that does not offer groundbreaking graphics, most likely due to the last generation consoles getting a version of the game as well, but with the high resolution and 60fps that is offered on PC (I was running at 2560×1440), the game is sharp and clear of any aliasing that spoils image quality. Shadows, texture, vegetation and terrain can be changed to get the performance needed, and even the crowd density can be set, which on the highest setting the crowd remains non-existent, lifeless, just frozen there looking into the abyss. While the track layouts are designed well, and look decent in motion, the lack of background animations and happenings leave their personality flat. Audio is the standard stuff, with pop, bangs and revs making up most of the sounds, albeit coming across manufactured, tinny, not quite capturing the real noise of the turbocharged cars.
WRC 5: FIA World Rally Championship is a fairly standard rally game that brings a forgiving version of the motorsport. Kylotonn Games has built themselves a starting block to construct improvements in the undoubtedly upcoming 2016 sequel, but as it stands, WRC 5: FIA World Rally Championship is lacking quality and includes some damning design choices, such as the awful career rubber banding times and bare bone features. There is still fun to be had driving a car around smartly designed tracks, and WRC 5: FIA World Rally Championship might just do enough to occupy your time for a few days, but feeling rough around the edges, this is one game that might end up in the dust once its 2016 rivals arrive.