The racing genre is a bit of a no go recently especially for those who can’t enjoy Forza Motorsport. Drive Club and a couple of Need for Speed titles are really all you’ve got to go with. So I openly welcomed WRC 5 hoping it would fill the racing void in my life. I’ve always enjoyed rally games with the challenging tracks and the seemingly impossible speeds at which you tackle them. Time trials also reduce the need for great AI and leave you to hone your skills to perfection and push every limit.
But rally games often go in what I consider the wrong direction heading towards NFS style cornering and sliding more than providing a sophisticated handling model for you to perfect. WRC follows the trend to a degree and where it can keeps away from anything simulation. The handling model does a pretty good job of finding a balance between the two making sure racing is fun and that you can get started quickly.
I found myself quite comfortably winning for a good while as I learned the tracks and cars before the difficulty ramped up and offered me a challenge. As it should the greatest challenge comes from the tracks and your ability to navigate them without rolling off the side in a fiery ball of death. On top of that you can continue racing your own times and improving bit by bit until you achieve your goals. The perfectionist in me was definitely encouraged by WRC giving me huge satisfaction once I could complete a stage smoothly.
I was let down somewhat by the limitations of WRC and it’s strange refusal to include anything that even approaches simulation. There’s a nice time based repair segment between races that reminded me strongly of the great Colin McRae Rally 4. It adds a much needed segment of strategy between the excitement of racing. The distraction is only brief but meaningful, simple and well designed.
Those seeking a deep career mode will be disappointed by WRC. I found that the ‘get in and play’ style imposed its limits far too much after a couple of hours of gameplay. There are no driver skills to upgrade, components to research or a team sponsor to please. WRC makes no attempt to sell itself as a simulator or racing manager but that shouldn’t mean that every single feature of a more serious racer has to be dropped.
However, both the tracks and the cars are faithful although even that also imposes its limits on WRC given the limits of the sport. There aren’t all that many cars to play around with from the world of rally and it would have been nice for them to have had more depth from an upgrading and research system. Something as simple as an arbitrary number assigned to each component that you could upgrade is better than nothing. No B class or vintage races are on offer and there aren’t even cars from recent history available.
It’s very difficult to get a sense of progression in WRC 5. Outside of the ability to get in and quickly enjoy some rally WRC has very little to offer. The tracks are there, the cars are there but there is little to no cohesive element to tie everything together. In this state WRC feels like an incomplete title that while providing exactly what it says it does takes no steps towards developing it into a fleshed out experience.
The other gapingly obvious issue with WRC is the fidelity and graphical hitches. Considering the size of the development team WRC looks very nice but sadly that doesn’t say much. Without the big budget available to most racing dev teams environments can look somewhat low resolution and repetitive. I don’t get the sense that one forest is much different from another or that the dirt tracks are made of different stuff in different regions. WRC just can’t offer that level of detail. I was surprised at how many times I lost frames too given the low fidelity on powerful current gen hardware.
The biggest problem with WRC 5 is that it feels too much like the rally segment of a full racing simulator and not enough like a full game. With no meaningful career mode or upgrade system it’s difficult to keep interested in WRC. As a racer the mechanics are solid and strike a balance between simulation and fun – although for my preference edges a little too close to arcade. It’s a shame there isn’t more content because WRC could have been a really great racer in a time when there are very few. But it misses the chance and maintains the franchise as competent but not spectacular.