Rally fans have been graced with the recent release of WRC 9, the latest rally game to hit our screens. But what’s it like? How does it stack up to its competitors?
We take a closer look.
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WRC 9 follows the trend of its predecessors, as a game that satisfies your regular console gamer, however, for many rally fans who are more critical of games on their chosen sport, it leaves a bit to be desired.
I tested the game in a range of cars and locations on my Logitech G29 racing wheel, fiddling around with set-up and making changes to try to improve the gameplay. Here’s what I found.
The set-up of WRC 9 is impressive. The home menus are set out with multiple tabs, making it easy to sort your gameplay, change your settings, and move through the possibilities. Options such as quick play, championship, career mode, test track, and other game modes are easily found and can be navigated well.
In specific game modes, there is a narrator who gives info on how to play, advice on your style, and other helpful tips.
The narrator is voiced by Becs Williams, who many would know from WRC All Live coverage. This is a cool feature of the game, as it gives the user a closer insight into the actual WRC, and for avid WRC fans, the recognisable voice definitely gets the tick of approval.
Another strong point of the game is the graphics of the scenery and stages on the game. When the car is stationary, objects in view, such as trees, signs, mountains and the actual road surface give an impressive resemblance to what you would see in real life.
However, once the car starts moving and is actually in stage, I found the graphics get a little grainy, which can be expected when the car is moving at fast speeds.
Further, one of the worst parts of the game is when you’re driving on gravel.
When you are driving in 'in-car' view, dust slowly builds up on the windscreen, and it gets thicker and thicker the further the stage goes on. Eventually, it gets to the stage where you cannot see anything through the windscreen, and the only way to remove this is to press the windscreen wipers button, which wipes away the dust.
I'm not sure in what rally car has dust ever gathered on the windscreen to the point where you can’t see through it? Surely the wind blows off the dust – especially in a car driving at these speeds?
I found the handling of the cars on the game wasn't up to the standard of some other rally games. The physics of the handling seem to be all out of whack, with the car not responding to driver inputs as you would expect in real life.
The cars roll too easily. A small bank on the inside of a corner is enough to put the car onto its roof, where you would expect the suspension to be able to soak up the bump. Then, when into a roll, the whole situation seems to run in slow motion,
The steering inputs needed to get the car turned could be improved. The base settings were almost impossible to use, but after some setting changes I was able to make it better, but still not great.
Further on steering, when you have the wheel turned and are driving over a rough surface, the force feedback sent through the steering wheel by the game is like a small earthquake in your lounge room. I think the developers have overdone the force feedback, as a real car would absorb a lot of the wheel shudder.
The cars represented in the game are about as you'd expect. Having World Rally Cars in a video game is a luxury, as competing rally games, such as the Dirt Rally series by Codemasters, do not have current spec World Rally Cars to drive.
The World Rally Cars look the part too. They have been carefully designed to exactly match their real life model.
Other car classes include the R5 class, R2 class, a ‘Legends’ category, which features classics like the Ford Escort and Lancia 037, among other cars. The final category is a ‘bonus’ category, which includes the Citroen C3 WRC, a Porsche 911 GT3, and the Proton Iriz R5.
One downfall of the cars is that the handling of them is quite similar. The WRC car and the R5 both handle similarly, despite the acceleration speed, which is not accurate. Drivers who have driven both cars in real life say there is a clear difference in the handling and skills needed to drive.
Sounds go hand in hand with the actual car in a video game. The sound a car makes in real life is sometimes what helps it gain its following.
In WRC 9, the sounds made by cars is easy to describe - VERY POOR.
I wonder how the developers got the sound so wrong? The cars lack the resemblance to the sound they make in real life, and even the difference in cars on the game is minimal, so it is tough to tell the car purely on the sound it makes.
On Dirt Rally 2.0, for example, when you're driving a Subaru Legacy or a Subaru Impreza WRX, they really do sound like the real cars, particularly when driving via the in-car view. That Subaru rumble is unmistakable, as is the scream of the BDA Escort, or the Seat Ibiza Kit Car. Not so on WRC 9.
I think this is a big point of improvement for the next version of the game. The engine sounds are a vital part of any rally game, and having them inaccurate is going to drive any normally sane car enthusiast up the wall.
Another sound fail is the sound a car makes when it starts to ‘drift’. As soon as the car starts to slide, the tyres make a grippy sound on the gravel, which is not needed. You would not be able to hear the noise in an actual car over the noise of the engine, so why is it used on the game?
While not wanting to refer back to Dirt Rally 2.0 all the time, the co-driver's voice is far and away better than in WRC 9. Rather than Phil Mills' clear, concise pacenotes, WRC9 gives you an almost computer generated co-driver who sounds like he's calling the notes from in the boot. It's a big turn off.
The pace notes used on the stages get a passing mark. They are consistent, yet I found that for my personal preference, the timing of them is slightly off. You can change the timing, but I found that if I made them earlier, some were called too early, and if I made them later to combat that, some where called dangerously late and caused crashes.
My single favourite part of the game is the test track. The test track features hundreds of kilometres of roads in basically a free roam feature, so you can drive wherever you want for as long as you want.
The testing area features different road surfaces which match roads from different countries, so you can test in all areas with ease.
The test track reminds me of early era WRC games on PlayStation One and PlayStation 2, which I spent hours driving the test tracks on.
WRC 9 features stages in every country that was going to be used in the 2020 championship (pre-COVID-19).
With 6-8 stages in 14 locations, the developers have done well to capture the differences of the range of countries and landscapes that the championship travels to.
Tarmac events such as Japan and Germany feature vastly different stages, which accurately represents the different countries.
On rallies such as New Zealand and Finland, you can clearly recognise the landscapes, as they are unique to their part of the world.
Another cool part of the game is that they have designed some stages which are identical to the stages in real life, so you can drive on the stages and be familiar with the road you are driving on.
On a whole, I think WRC 9 is an okay game for the everyday video game user. The game provides an easy to use system where settings are adjustable to suit personal preference.
The cars and the stages provide a semi realistic display of how a rally works, and gives arcade type gameplay – which most would be satisfied with.
However, for the small percentage who are more passionate and critical rally fans, WRC 9 does not fill the void. Too much of the game, particularly the handling, is not accurate and will frustrate drivers who are attempting to push the limits.
A great game for amateurs, but for the serious rally fan and sim racers, I’d be looking at alternative options for your rally fix, such as DirtRally 2.0.
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