Milestone’s latest, WRC 3, is a game in a difficult place. It’s not a bad game by any stretch of the imagination and if anything actually kept me highly entertained for a good long while. It’s just that during that long while I was constantly comparing it to that king of the rally genre, DIRT.
And sadly for WRC it’s a comparison that does it no favours.
You see, despite it being a decent arcade rally game, there’s simply no escape from the immense shadow cast by that other superior off roader. What WRC does well, DIRT does better and the things that WRC does poorly, well, DIRT managed to avoid altogether.
And sometimes it’s the littlest of things that drag this one down. For example the fact that there’s no indication of the terrain you’re driving through presenting itself upon the car kills the realism significantly. Deep spraying mud, snowdrifts, dust clouds, all the time the car looks like it’s just been turtle waxed and buffed to within an inch of its life. Not good.
That ‘not good’ feel does present itself elsewhere in WRC 3. The menus for example are poor at best, as though someone said ‘do you want a go?’ to the work experience kid and then forgot and ended up stuck with it, as are we. In fact the experience away from the winding roads, steep inclines and treacherous hairpins of the FIA World Rally circuit is decidedly amateurish and uninspiring.
But then again who cares about menus if the action on the track can get the heart pumping? I mean, I’ve never gazed in awe at the wrapping paper before tearing hell out of it to get at the goodness within and those same rules apply to my gaming, menus are for wimps anyhow!
And it’s beneath the dreary menu screens where WRC 3 comes tearing up in the rearview intent on hitting the front. Milestone have managed to deliver a thrilling, white knuckle rally experience. WRC 3 delivers a genuine feel of speed behind the wheel and the tracks are tight, tricky affairs meaning the concentration has to be focused if you’re to make any sort of dent on the leaderboards.
The differing surfaces of the tracks each announce their arrival via the feedback through the steering and control of the car, it works very well and believe me there will be times when the site of oncoming tarmac will feel like blue sky after a month of torrential rain. Every section requires you balance caution and bravery with careful precision, while the directions spoken from the passenger seat are vital to success.
Graphically the game holds its own in terms of the car models and the beautifully recreated tracks. But as I mentioned earlier they fall down on the details such as dirt on the car and there definitely isn’t anything here that will dazzle you. The different camera angles are all present and correct and the in-car experience feels good but again it’s nothing you won’t have seen before. A good performance, no doubt, but also, ultimately, a forgettable one.
The sounds throughout are pretty much exactly what you’d expect. The cars give a satisfying growl before squealing off the starting point and yeah, the cars sound like cars, result! I’ll be honest I have no idea the difference in the sonic performance between a Ford and a Citroen and I’ll be equally honest in saying my enjoyment of a racer has never hinged on the sounds coming from beneath the bonnet. So as a non-engine head it all sounds rather good, but then I thought the same about Mario Kart.
Of the modes on offer the most exciting is the all-new ‘Road to Glory’. In this the player is given the opportunity to enter the fierce world of rally driving at the foot of the ladder and work their way to the top one rung at a time.
As a mode it offers a great amount of depth and allows you to forge your own identity upon the asphalt. It’s also a mode that offers a serious challenge. I thought I was driving a blinder only to find myself in the lower half of the pack, and it felt great! Knowing you’ve a game before you that is going to test your skills and challenge you in a way many other games fail to is a refreshing thing.
To unlock each stage requires you to have achieved a certain amount of stars from previous stages, it can get a tad frustrating but in the long term makes you an infinitely better driver and equips you for the later races.
Aside from the haul of ‘Road to Glory’ Milestone have also provided the chance to dive straight in and race in the car of your choice on a number of track, take on a full rally championship or head online and take on an altogether more interesting opponent.
The online mode is great and plays exactly as you’d expect. Single stages and complete rallies are the order of the day and the feeling of coming out on top against a human driver is always a wonderful thing, or so I’m told.
Overall, WRC 3 delivers a solid rally experience that has enough modes and depth to see its engine purring well into the new year. The driving is thrilling, the tracks are well represented and the challenge is high, but, it still falls short of its nearest competitor, the DIRT series. As good as WRC is it never reaches the heights of its nemesis and unfortunately that’s a situation that will surely only hurt it.
If you’ve room for a second rally title in your life then this is a great choice, if not, then you know which one to buy. The reality is that WRC is a well-rounded package, it’s the rally fans rally game, but sadly for Milestone they’re a dwindling breed at present and gamers are notoriously difficult to please.