Even as a spectator, rally driving appears to be more difficult than any other racing sport. I mean, you go extremely fast in F1, NASCAR is just driving in a big circle very fast, but neither of these have big huge rocks on the side of the road, or hazardous 50 foot drops inches to the right. Lets see how Lewis Hamilton deals with that in next year’s F1 championship!
But how does the latest official licensed game of the World Rally Championship fare against the current bunch of racing games available. I mean, it’s got Forza 7, F1 2017 and GT Sport to name but three to compete against.
WRC7 is published by Bigben Interactive and developed by Kylotonn Racing Games, who have both been in custody of WRC gaming since 2015, with WRC5 being their first game in the series. Both this and the following WRC6 received good reviews but it’s fair to say neither were up there with the Forzas of this world. The WRC games however appear to be squarely aimed at the rally enthusiast rather than some of its competition that offer rally-type levels.
Straight from the go WRC7 throws you in at the deep end with a level that rates your competence as a rally driver. My performance was so bad that, unsurprisingly, the game rated me as a novice and set the game difficulty as Easy. I was expecting to be told that I wasn’t skilled enough to continue and that the game would take me back to the Xbox dashboard. I was incredibly poor but was unsure whether it was my skill or whether WRC7 was a poor game with unresponsive controls. I’m not the most skilled gamer in the world but driving games is where I can compete quite strongly with my peer set, definitely against the rest of the TiX team anyway, so to be this poor was surprising.
After this opener WRC7 gives you a few different choices in both Solo and Multiplayer. Solo gives you Quick game, Career, Custom Championship or a return to the initial driving test. As this is an officially licensed game, all the teams, courses and drivers are here. The 2017 championship features the likes of Toyota, Citroen, Hyundai, Ford and Mini and it’s great that all of these are present in this game. Career is where I started, and as a rookie driver you have to pick your first team within the Junior WRC. Different teams will have different objectives for the forthcoming season, such as avoiding car damage and placing requirements. Perform well and you will make your way up to the higher tiers. It really is as simple as that. After or before each race you’ll get messages from your team or other drivers but these don’t really seem to have any affect than just text sentences for your entertainment.
The other modes are self-explanatory, giving you the chance to try different levels or to set up your own type of championship. But, given this game is purely aimed at the rally enthusiast, Career is probably where players will spend their time. Multiplayer gives you the choice of an online rally (which suffered from a lack of players to compete against) or the challenge mode, which sees you compete against real-life players to gain the most points on a CPU picked track and car. Although not strictly multiplayer this doesn’t rely on the real-life player base all being present at the same time.
Graphically WRC7 looks pretty darn good. Each course is a faithfully replication of the real courses, and whether you’re racing by vineyards or down mountainsides the backgrounds and features look good. Kylotonn have also added particle effects and it adds to the realism to see gravel flying up from the back of the car as you’re racing along. The weather effects are also impressive with fog and rain making your drive more perilous. I usually race from the “behind the car” view, but the rain effects make the cockpit view just like real life! Night racing is probably the most terrifying racing I have ever had to do, especially on some of the tighter courses, and, much like real life, means you have to take things a lot slower and careful.
I can’t be as nice about the sound design, with the highly powered rally cars sounding a lot like ordinary cars. They just don’t feel meaty and beefy enough for my liking. But, audio-wise, the most different thing about a rally game, and the thing that takes the most getting used to, is your co-driver. There is no mini-map on the screen, instead you have to rely on his narration to prepare you for what’s next. As a seasoned racing game player but not on rally games, this takes a lot of practice before it feels natural, and after 10+ hours I am still not sure that it does. I would like an option to have a mini-map and turn off the co-driver, but I guess this would tone down the realism. A vertical bar on the left side of the screen gives you a visual representation of your position on the course but there never really seems to be a way to know how you’re performing against your competitors. You have to wait until you’re finished before you know how you’ve done, so theres no real incentive to push harder during a race.
Let’s return to my initial problem, that of being horrifically bad at the opening level. I wasn’t sure whether it was me or the game, and after a good few hours I have decided it’s a bit of both. Too many racing games have you flying along at top speed before slamming on the brakes to slow down ready to take the upcoming corner. Do that here and you won’t stop for the corner, ploughing off the track into spectators and gaining a nine second penalty. Instead, WRC7 needs you to take it nice and steady, almost feeling like you are too slow. Corners are handled a lot easier and you’ll find yourself winning races. However, I have a big complaint about the collision detection as far too often you’ll clip the edge of a small rock and find yourself upside down and off the track, gaining that time penalty in the process. It really doesn’t feel fair at times and you will compromise on your speed as a result.
WRC7 feels almost too much of a simulation of rally driving, but that’s not to say I didn’t have fun. Once you get used to the handling of the cars it is a fun game to play, but it never reaches the enjoyment levels of its competitors. It’s hard to put into words but you can’t throw the cars around the track like you can on other games. As a result, the Forza’s and Dirt’s of this world will always feel more fun to play. But as a simulation of rally – which it is – then it’s hardcore fans will probably get more enjoyment out of it than I did.
The career mode also just feels like a few screens of text that acts as a conduit from one race to the next and never goes anywhere. There are no upgrades or car repairs to be done, WRC7 treats you as a driver and nothing more. Slightly refreshing when a lot of simple driving games focus more on complex skill-trees but a complete lack of anything makes WRC7’s career mode feel empty.
Thanks to BigBen Games and Xbox for supporting TiX