In 2010 the Italian developer Milestone brought back the WRC titles to our home console(s) after 5 years since the last game. This year’s edition is the fourth instalment from Milestone, when you include the Xbox LIVE title WRC Powerslide, and is the only official video game of the 2013 FIA World Rally Championship, featuring cars and rally courses from the 2013 season including support categories also.
For a long time it seemed like every title Milestone brought out was an improvement upon the last. Better mechanics, controls, features and graphics. Each time ironing out bugs and removing those small annoyances that didn’t break a game, but could remove the fun aspect. They were on a roll but with WRC 4, it seems like Milestone have released their foot from the gas and dramatically reduced the speed. Apart from removing features like the Road to Glory feature from WRC 3, to concentrate more on the Career mode, not much else has changed… graphics included. It’s simply quite ugly and looks very outdated.
In a very focused Career mode, 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 time 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 and pushes along the progression, because the start of the career mode is painfully 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 Group 3 or WRC Group 2, where the sense of speed is better represented and competitors more challenging. 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.
Similar to titles like DiRT and GRID, you are able to look around your office during downtime and select various pieces of information. This all looks great on the surface, but the truth is there is nothing here. The information you can find is really basic and not helpful. 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 and could have been 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. Overall it all just feels meaningless, and a lot of work needs to be done to flesh this out and make it feel more important.
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 cars feel lightweight, and the friction between car and surface are clearly different based on the environment you are racing through. Mud and snow will cause you to slide much more than driving on tarmac etc etc. 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. 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.
All 13 countries that make up the World Rally Championship are represented here, with each one containing six stages, tallying for a grand total of 78. Some courses will only be a couple of minutes, while others will last around five, meaning you, the gamer, have to keep paying attention, as the longer races means more chance for mistakes that cost valuable seconds, and in Rally a fraction of a second can be all it takes to lose the championship. Weather is featured, but it’s scripted to tracks, rather than being dynamic and available on every stage. 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.
Create an account on WRC 4 and you’ll unlock the multiplayer portion of the game. 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.
Graphically, the car models look pretty enough, but the environments look shabby and rough cut. 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 and are likely to be some of the worse graphics you’ve seen in a long time.
WRC 4: FIA World Rally Championship feels like it should be a good, solid attempt at a rally game but there are a lot of problems with it and areas where it feels the developers become lazy. Because of this, it means that like last year’s title it can’t come close to being called fantastic. There are slight improvements, like the handling handling but the franchise is still along way away from reaching top gear. Maybe next year?
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