Thursday 15 October 2020

WRC 9 ★★★★☆

Welcome to our review of WRC 9, available on PC, PS4, Xbox One and Nintendo Switch. While Forza and Gran Turismo might be forever duking it out to become the best mainstream racing game, WRC has always been the undisputed king of rally racing. A completely different discipline, it’s just you, your car, and some of the most punishing tracks in the world, as you aim to top the time trial leaderboards. Now the nearly 20 year old franchise has released its latest entry - WRC 9. Does it clip the apex on a hairpin right, or does it veer off into a hedge? Read on to find out…

Firstly and most importantly, the cars feel really nice to drive. Each handles well, with simple controls making it easy to pick up, but difficult to master. A lot of detail has gone into making each vehicle feel unique, with differences in acceleration, handling, brakes and more making them feel authentic to their real life counterparts. You can even change things under the hood to get your car to your liking, and it’s one of the true geeky joys to tune it until it's just right. 

Once you hit the track, there’s a great level of simulation, with realistic terrain and conditions affecting the way your car handles. For example, a snowy course will offer no grip, and you’ll have to go light on the accelerator, and muddier ground can easily gum up your tyres if you’re not careful. Overall it’s difficult to manage, but hugely satisfying when you get it right. 

The career mode proves to be the chunkiest part of the game, and fortunately it’s one of its most impressive modes. In it, you act as driver and manager, hiring staff and setting up your schedule, with the aim of competing in the titular WRC tournament. Much like the driving itself, there’s an incredible depth to the management elements, and will require a lot of practise and concentration to get yourself to the top of the sport. 

Once you’re ready to race competitively, there’s plenty of multiplayer options on offer too. Coupled with the traditional online play, there’s also a rare outing for split-screen action. This makes it great for couch co-op, and local bragging rights among friends and family. If you’re feeling particularly confident, E-Sports mode allows you to take on the best of the best in a pro setting. You can even unlock exclusive cosmetics, allowing you to show off your achievements.

Looking to graphics, they’re solid but nothing too special compared to other racing games. To be fair, in motion it’s essentially photorealistic; it’s only when you pause or bring the camera in close that things look a tad dated by modern standards. Fortunately, the physical effects are much more impressive, with good impact damage response; expect plenty of nicks, scratches and buckling when the going gets rough. The only other aesthetic criticism we had is that most cars sound exactly the same. This really feels like a missed opportunity to make things feel more immersive, especially when so much effort went into making each car look and feel unique. Hopefully this is something that can be patched post-launch.

Beyond the gameplay, the menu interface is the only other major letdown. It’s still the same clunky mess that was present in the previous game, and is particularly hard to navigate on console with a controller. This, coupled with some horrendous load times, can make it a pain to get into the game, and doesn’t offer the best first impression when you boot up the game. Fortunately, once you ignite the engine, you’ll soon forget about these quality of life gripes. 

To wrap up, WRC 9 offers a high skilled racing simulation that’s deep and rewarding. Controlling each car is an absolute delight, and trying to knock seconds off your time can become massively addictive. Aside from a few predominantly aesthetic concerns, there’s plenty to enjoy for both hardcore racers and casuals alike, and we’re looking forward to booting it up with a friends in local co-op.

Tom Baker

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