Rally fans were unusually spoiled for choice recently with Dirt Rally, WRC 5 and Sebastien Loeb Rally Evo all being released with the space of a few months. WRC 5 was first to hit the shelves but the review score average on Metacritic.com puts it firmly in last place. WRC is back and attempting to close the gap on Dirt Rally.
In the press release the developer has pointed out changes based on community feedback. Narrower roads, longer special stages and a new challenging head to head super special stages have been mentioned. The words “narrower roads” and “challenging” suggest an attempt to be more like Dirt Rally and less of an arcade rally experience.
As the only officially licensed WRC game, WRC 6 has all 14 rounds of the 2016 WRC season, including Rally China. Apparently this is new but I don’t keep up to date on WRC. You will also find a roster of official WRC cars and star drivers – you only have to look at the sales of FIFA compared to PES to see how much sports fans like some official licensing.
I am coming into WRC 6 as a newcomer to the series and conveniently there is a 2 stage rally introduction to welcome the player. This introduction also allows the game to suggest a suitable setup and difficulty.
The first thing I did as part of the introduction was false start. Despite the information on screen telling me to hold down the accelerator AND handbrake, I instinctively put the foot to the floor expecting the game to hold me back until it was time. In my defence, the game hasn’t actually told me what button represents the handbrake yet. The next thing I did was crash at the first bend. Again, in my defence, the next snippet of information appears to be perfectly timed to ensure you are reading the text and completely unaware of the imminent bend. Perhaps this is to show the damage model, if so, mission accomplished.
Half way through the first stage and my car has taken a battering. I shall put the damage down to the fact there are no pace notes yet. The game tells me to read the pace notes and just as I am midway through explaining that I would if there were any, they appear out of nowhere. And so does the excited co-driver. Perhaps it is my driving but he seems to shout BRAKE in a panic and declare FINISH with a hint of relief. I don’t always find him too clear and at times it sounds like he shouts “a bomb” which causes no end of panic on my side of the car.
The introduction also lets you get accustomed to road side puncture repair time penalties. My co-driver practically wet himself telling me I had a puncture. Through my own detailed research I also tested the respawn aspect that comes into play when you fly off the course in style. Happy to report it works well. At the end of the introduction the game suggests a driving style and difficulty.
Next up is the driving test where you get to throw your car round a circuit littered with road side bale obstacles. The aim is to get to the end of the course in as quick a time as possible and with as little damage as possible. The outcome is another suggestion as to the driving style and difficulty.
The single player part of the game consists of Quick Game, Career, Custom Championship and the option to go through the introduction and driving test again. Quick game is a one-off rally stage at a location of your choosing with your desired weather and time of day. The Custom Championship is the same again but consisting of a full rally with numerous stages.
The career is where the real interest for the single player lies. You start off as an unknown by signing up for a Junior WRC team. The aim is to progress through the ranks to become the WRC champion. Before you can do that you need a team and a car. There are 3 teams on offer, all with the same car but with different outlooks. The 1st team wants you to go as fast as possible regardless of the mess the car gets in. The 2nd team cannot afford the repair bills it seems and they don’t want you to hurt their precious car. And finally we have the balance between the two. Your team has a morale factor which is influenced by your performance so no pressure then.
The career follows the WRC season so there should be nothing new or surprising here for WRC veterans. Each rally consists of 3 days of rallying events; the traditional time based rally and the head to head special stages. Points are awarded based on your finish position.
The handling is where it all counts in a rally game. WRC 6 goes for the balanced approach to handling. This isn’t a simulation like Dirt Rally but at the same time you won’t be throwing your car round corners like in Sega Rally. How this affects your enjoyment of the game very much comes down to your own preference. I much prefer the balanced handling model in my road racers and as such, I prefer DriveClub to Project Cars. The opposite seems to be true when it comes to rally games though. There is no doubt WRC 6 is more accessible but personally I feel it lacks the thrill and tension of Dirt Rally. In Dirt Rally I felt I was always on the brink of losing control which adds to the tension and creates a sense of relief when crossing the line. WRC 6 just doesn’t give me these feelings. The difference in traction between surfaces is also not quite as noticeable and snow covered locations don’t hold the same fear factor. However, if the balanced model is what you are looking for that WRC 6 does it well.
The press release touched on the road width and I do feel some of the lost tension compared to Dirt Rally comes from wider roads in WRC 6. They do narrow for tight bends but in general they still seem rather generous in comparison. Some of the courses do however bring some claustrophobia with fences either side or walls running alongside the road.
I wouldn’t normally mention a pause screen but WRC 6 has some nice information on offer when you pause. You can see what sort of damage you have done to the car, check on the weather conditions and get information on the terrain but perhaps more useful than all of this is the explanation on the pace notes. I am still not sure what the “a bomb” is referring to though.
Graphically the game looks good with some nice scenic locations and good dust clouds behind the car but closer inspection lessens the initial impression. The road surface lacks a bit of detail and texture unless you look really close but there are some nice tyre tread marks on some surfaces though. On some tracks, if you look along the side of the road then you can see the foliage grow as you approach. The weather conditions are also a bit disappointing. The snowstorm is simply false advertising and the rain drops on the windscreen are static.
The cars themselves look good and you can have a closer inspection in the Showroom option. Unfortunately this is no Forzavista so you can simply float round the car and turn headlights on. I like to have nosey inside the car so it is disappointing to see this is not an option. The cockpit view when racing gives a nice sense of speed but the car interiors are certainly lacking the detail found in Forza and DriveClub. There are other little attention to detail aspects I feel are missing. For instance, crash into a barrier right on front of the spectators and there is no reaction. A minor point admittedly but they do react in Dirt Rally and if WRC wants to match or beat Dirt Rally then these little aspects also count. On the plus side, forest stages at night do look nice.
The multiplayer side of things offers a rare occurrence these days – split screen racing! Having only one controller I’ve not been able to test it sadly. The online multiplayer options feel a little sparse and not too populated at the moment. Your opponents are shown as a ghost so you are essentially racing together which I like. This also means you don’t need to worry about the Demolition Derby racers that seem to frequent online modes.
There is a challenge section which looks like it could be interesting. I have only managed to play one challenge so far and the next one isn’t due for another 6 days. The current challenge see you start with a million points and this points tally depletes as you race. In order to boost the points you need to drift but the challenge comes from the fact that your handbrake has been disabled. It is a good bit of fun and I look forward to seeing what else comes up.
And last but by no means least, there is the Course do Tour. This is proper rallying against the rest of the world. This is similar to the career mode in as much as it is just you on the track and you see how your time compares at the end. The best of the best appear to be very good.
If you are looking for a balanced rally game then I can recommend WRC 6. This is a much more accessible game than Dirt Rally but for my money, it is the lesser of the two. There is room to tweak the difficulty and setup which helps with the accessibility. I’m getting a good challenge with the semi-pro setup on medium difficulty and I can finish 1st just as easily as I can finish last. WRC 6 has a good, substantial career mode and the challenge mode looks like it could be interesting but it is perhaps lacking in the online options. This is a good rally game but I can’t ignore the fact there is a better one out there, albeit one that requires more patience.