WRC 3: FIA World Rally Championship PC Review
I have always enjoyed seeing cars being thrashed around unconventional tracks in the world of rally. I find the sport to be exhilarating to watch, but I also relish video games that are based on the motorsport. There is something appealing to me about driving a car 100MPH through dirt, rain and snow, over jumps, and sliding around corners on a track that is full of twists and turns. I have played many video games that try to capture the essence of the sport, all in their own unique ways, be it simulation or arcade. Who remembers great games like Colin McRae Rally 2, Rallisport Challenge 2, Richard Burns Rally and the extremely fun Sega Rally? Each game was a fantastic and different take on the sport. Now we have the third instalment of Milestone’s official World Rally Championship (WRC) series, which has been improving with each version. So, as the saying goes, is the third time the charm?
There is no doubt that WRC3 is the best attempt by Milestone to date. It improves on a lot of areas, such as presentation, graphics, handling and sound, making the other two games before it feel lacklustre in comparison. One of the biggest changes is the removal of Road to the WRC, a mode that was in WRC2, which offered the player an opportunity to begin as a rookie and move up the ranks to a full WRC race driver, while sorting out staff, sponsorship and research to improve the car. In its place is the Road to Glory, a mode that is covered in cool, hip presentation that would not be out of place in an extreme sports title, like SSX for example. Blending this with the dubstep soundtrack that plays in the menus, I feel the developers are targeting the wrong people who will enjoy this game. There is nothing wrong with trying to get new people to play your video game, but doing it through dubstep or trying to look cool is the wrong way to go about it when you have a racing game that wants to be a simulation of the sport.
The concept is simple for Road to Glory: take your named driver and participate in events to beat the rival stars and become the ultimate rally driver. Seven groups of challenges are present in this mode, each one featuring a set of events that cover one or two rally locations. This includes single stages and short rallies that part over three courses, but on top of that, you also unlock special events that require you to smash signs, stay in front of a helicopter in a race, or go through the correct gate barriers. Every event has a limit on what car class can be used, covering recent cars that are featured in the WRC today, to old cars that were around in the 70s and 80s. The variety in cars is a nice plus, and reminds me of my problem I had with F1 2012 and its lack of historic representation. Players must beat stages to be rewarded stars based how well they do. Hitting specific star amounts will unlock more cars, upgrades and events, until you have enough to defeat the boss racer and move onto the next group of challenges. I feel that the Road to Glory mode is the place to go if you want to sample everything that WRC3 has to offer. Players are always changing cars, upgrading them and rapidly changing locations, due to the fast nature of the unlocks. It’s the most gamey and fun section out of the three main modes.
WRC Experience is the other single-player mode. In here, you can set up a single race, a rally session or a full championship, which allows you to customise the order the countries should appear in. Looking around this mode shows how much content was pushed into this game. We are talking 83 rally tracks, 37 cars that cover a wide generation of motors, and around 50 drivers that feature in the WRC. If you are a fan of the sport then all this will be a fantastic inclusion for you.
Online multiplayer supports up to 16 players, but to get online you must have a GameSpy account, which is easy to sign up for. Since this is a rally game, you will only see the ghosts of the other racers as you set out to be the fastest driver around the chosen stage. Online even allows you to set up a championship with people; everything in the WRC Experience section is also featured in the multiplayer component of the game.
For me, the tracks are the shining star of the game. Based on real rally courses, the 83 tracks are exciting, thrilling, dangerous, but in all, a pleasure to drive around. This is a game that takes its representation seriously, with some tracks lasting five minutes from start to finish, which is abnormal to find in rally games at the moment. My only problem with the environment is that it often feels lifeless – there are no animals roaming or animations that make it look like it is a living world. Occasionally, you will have a train pass by or a plane fly over, but that is about it. I also wish the weather for the tracks were not scripted to that stage. It would be brilliant if there was some randomness, or that any track could be set to different weather conditions. Anyone playing needs to listen to the co-driver and have their eyes peeled at all times. There is no doubt you will crash, but thankfully, if you desire, you can use one of five rewinds that allow you to turn back the clock and respawn, changing the outcome of a corner. It is a mechanic that is built into most modern racers nowadays, thanks to Codemasters’ ingenious implementation of it in GRID.
As a title that is trying its best to simulate the experience of driving a rally car in the WRC, the handling needs to be replicated closely to the real thing. Cars can be altered by modifying their suspension springs and dampers, gear ratio, differential, steering lock, handbrake strength, and brake bias. I normally left them as recommend, but having a mess with the settings in a single race did seem to affect the control of the car, so people who have more in-depth knowledge should be able to find suitable settings to their liking. If people are not confident in their driving skills, then there are options to make it easier to drive the cars.
The handling is improved from WRC2, but there is still a lightweight feeling to the cars that does not feel quite right. The friction the car has on some of the surfaces of the environment – mostly in the grit, snow and mud sections – feels slightly off, like a floating sensation rather than bits of grit sliding underneath tires or the snow crumpling under the weight of the car. It’s not awful; it just needs adjusting to make it feel like you are driving on these diverse ground conditions. I do hope Milestone keeps improving on the handling physics, as controls are getting better with each version of the game; it is just not quite there right now.
Improvements have been made with the graphics, especially the vehicles, looking much better than last year’s models, but they are still not on par with some of the other racing games on the market today. The environments are passable and do occasionally look nice when the sun is gleaming down, but the game is not going to win any awards for best graphics or textures. Sound is also better, showcasing the power in these engines as you hear every exhaust fire under acceleration; although they do seem a little similar between each vehicle.
WRC 3: FIA World Rally Championship is not going to set the fire alight in the world of racing games, but it does what it set out to do – supply fans of rally games with a solid rallying experience that is entertaining. WRC3 is only spoilt by the handling and less-than-impressive presentation. Overall though, if anyone is looking for some fun with a rally game, then this is your best bet this year. If you are like me, then you will find driving fast through the soggy forests of Wales more amusing than it should be. I look forward to next year’s sequel to see if the franchise keeps on improving and corrects any problems I had with this one. If they do, then we have a great rally game to look forward to.