WRC: FIA World Rally Championship Review

WRC Fia world rally championship front cover

Countless hours of varied and thrilling video game rally racing coupled with nice online modes.

Introduction

WRC: FIA World Rally Championship is the official rally championship arranged by FIA (Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile) – a highly competitive motor sport featuring extremely powerful cars with skilled drivers racing for the best times in a series of select courses throughout a number of countries world wide.

The participating drivers are facing a wealth of environmental challenges as the stages encompass both tarmac, gravel, snow and sand tracks in all kinds of variations. Which car manufacturer will boast the best performance and what rally team has got what it takes to become the famed world rally champions? The answers lie at the end of over 550 kilometers of untamed road.

The Game

WRC: FIA World Rally Championship is the official WRC game of 2010. It is the first officially licensed WRC game to be released on home consoles since 2005 when we saw World Rally Championship on the PlayStation Portable and WRC: Rally Evolved on PlayStation 2. This new iteration brings all the celebrity racers from the real world WRC sport into the world of video game racing.

In WRC: FIA World Rally Championship you take the role as a WRC rally driver, meaning that you’ll be associated with a car manufacturer and that you’ll participate in a series of races against other driver’s time records. WRC is essentially a challenge against time and the environment. Since the stages are from point A to point B rather than consisting of a number of laps around a race track it isn’t so much about learning stages by heart, but rather it is about pushing your skill to the limit and taking the most daring risks without crashing.wrc_2010_2

Content

Rallying in WRC: FIA World Rally Championship borrows much from real world laws of physics. While it doesn’t qualify as a rally simulator it does have more realistic driving than most video game racing titles. The level of realism can be adjusted and there are three different presets that basically dictate and apply settings on your game. These settings can manually be adjusted at anytime from the settings menu and include transmission preferences, braking assistance, braking help, stability help, vehicle damage and opponent difficulty level.

Breaking or accelerating while driving through curves will most certainly cause you to lose grip. Performing hand brake turns requires lots of practice and so does recovering from a nasty spin. All this is represented in the game, making for a fun and challenging racing experience.

WRC: FIA World Rally Championship has quite a few game modes. These are; Road to the WRC, Rally Academy, Single Race, Single Rally, Championship and Time Attack. There’s also Hot Seat and Online variations of Single Race, Single Rally and Championship. Most of these are self explanatory but here are some remarks about the less obvious;

The Road to the WRC game mode is a single player campaign in which you start out as a rookie driver trying to make your way to the grand WRC. Here, by winning various races, you’ll earn credits which can buy you new and better cars. Further along the road you’ll work yourself up to new classes of races and eventually make it to the WRC which is the grand final competition. The entire calendar holds 52 races and racing events of increasing difficulty level. Each race has three objectives and nailing them will earn you credits as well as unlocking new possible races in the race calendar. You can retry any race for as many times as you like, so thankfully, failing doesn’t necessarily mean the end of your career.

As you win races you earn the attention of sponsors. You can select which sponsors’ support you want and picking the best deal will earn you more price money.

The Rally Academy consists of twelve short challenges aimed to test your skill on various road conditions. The goal of each test is simply to beat a ghost car, so the academic value isn’t entirely obvious. If you’re hoping to learn the game you’re better off racing in the Time Attack mode, so the Rally Academy stands as a challenge rather than an educational tool.

Time Attack mode allows you to race any of the 78 stages. Your best time record will be saved as a ghost and each stage can save a ghost record. A ghost record allows you to play against an image of yourself. Ghost records also include markers on the road showing the traveling path of the ghost as well as where it accelerates, decelerates, breaks and uses the hand brake. This is a great tool for learning and perfecting driving performance.

The Hot Seat game mode allows up to four players to take turns while playing Single Races, Single Rallies or Championships. If you have friends to play with locally, these game modes will provide for quite a few exciting racing evenings. The Hot Seat game mode is a bit more hardcore than the single player modes, because here you aren’t allowed to replay failed races like you can do otherwise. With all faults accounted for, this is really a test who can stay focused through a whole rally event.

The game has an offline leaderboard and only the best achieved times will be recorded there regardless of difficulty setting on the CPU racers. Time records from any game mode is accounted for on one single board, which is nice and convenient. It also allows you to manually input your name, so you can have friends play and save their names on your offline leaderboard. Keep in mind though, that the game keeps track of statistics on all playing that happens on your account, so sharing your game account potentially skews your personal statistics.

The way these leaderboards are presented is a bit inconvenient. There’s no easy way to check the top records – or even the online records – on any given stage that you’re playing.

WRC: FIA World Rally Championship features four classes of cars; WRC, S-WRC (Super 2000), P-WRC (Production WRC) and J-WRC (Junior WRC) for a total of 18 cars and 58 drivers. Any game mode can be played with any of the available classes. Sadly there are no specific leaderboards for each class of cars, which is a strange omission.

The single player and Hot Seat game modes all support auto-saving. This means that for each completed race the game will automatically save your progress as well as statistics on your performance such as win ratio, play time, distance raced etc. Furthermore, each game mode allows three individual game save slots, so you can have friends and family play on your account without having to give up your own progress or switch PlayStation accounts.

Multiplayer

The Online feature allows you to participate in races with up to 15 other drivers through the PlayStation Network. The other drivers will be shown as ghost racers so that you can see how they fare compared to you. This is optional though – you can race online without seeing the other drivers.

It’s simple to browse the available games and to create own events with your desired settings. It’s worth noting that online games can either be private or open to the public, so if you want to play with friends only, you can do that. Playing online will earn you experience points and these points will place you on a global online ranking board. This ranking board is available through the game website as well as through the game itself. The game also has an online leaderboard for best achieved stage times with the option to download and play against other people’s ghost data. In order to get your records on the online leaderboard, you must play the Online mode, meaning that your single player time records aren’t good for the online leaderboard.

It’s easy to join an event and play with random people and you don’t even have to play an entire event if you don’t want to – you can jump in and out as you see fit. It’s really accessible and enjoyable.

One of the biggest draws of this game is that there are tons of different road surfaces and environments featured. The developers certainly have put a lot of effort into making them feel unique and characteristic. You’ll feel how your grip changes as your car travels onto gravel from tarmac etc and it all feels authentic enough.

The 13 featured countries have all kinds of roads; wide gravel roads, twisting tarmac tracks, narrow icy paths, muddy slides and open sandy areas. You’ll get to race in rural areas, mountain sides, deep forests, and even urban areas. The level design is based on real world locations, so there’s certainly an authentic feel to the whole game world. Each country has six stages, but there is a lot of reused road segments among them, including reversed variants, which is a bit disappointing.

The co-driver will call out any upcoming notes and you’ll also see them appear on the screen. You can adjust the timing of this but the default setting works fine for the most part. You should be aware of that he seems to be unable to warn you about multiple consecutive turns. Also, it’s obvious how the game overuses the “hairpin” note – most of the turns called hairpins are merely long turns.

There are 51 Trophies in WRC: FIA World Rally Championship, and in order to unlock the fifth class of rally cars (encompassing Group B 1980’s manufactured cars), you must purchase a DLC item from the PlayStation Store. This is certainly a nice addition to the game, but as mentioned above, there are no specific leaderboards for the various car classes which kind of leaves them out in the dark.wrc_2010_5

Controls

You can customize controls freely and while playing a racing game with a standard controller seldom is truly enjoyable, this game goes to great lengths in allowing it to work as good as possible. Playing with a racing wheel is the preferred way to play though as it gives much better precision and makes it easier to use manual transmission and the hand brake.

As mentioned above, the racing aspect in itself is a lots of fun – the car handles realistically most of the time and there is a nice and thrilling sensation of speed in the game. There are moments when the illusion of realism breaks though – sometimes your car starts to spin uncontrollably after having being stuck in a ditch – supposedly because you tried to steer out of the ditch and accelerated at the same time. It is as if the car remembers your vain attempts to get out of the ditch and then unleashes the effects of your reckless movements when you get back on the road. But this is a minor issue and normally isn’t a problem.

You can adjust and tweak the basic racing wheel settings from the settings menu, so chances are that you’ll find a control scheme that works for you no matter how you prefer to play. It does not, however, allow our racing wheel shift-stick to be mapped in the controller settings, which is a shame because it would have been nice to have the hand brake mapped to the gearshift.

Handbrake turns are as tricky as ever to perform, but with some practice you’ll be able to do it consistently. You can also learn more advanced driving techniques such as the Scandinavian flick and counter steering.

Before any race begins you can tweak the settings of your car. There are some preset options for various kinds of road conditions, and you can manually tweak each setting. Racing enthusiasts will be able to spend hours testing and tweaking these settings while casual drivers may find that the default settings are good enough. The game certainly has enough depth to allow for these settings to be represented in the actual vehicle performance, so it’s totally worth your time if you’re into this kind of thing.

Rally racing on difficult terrain will eventually make you lose control and send your car towards the nearest tree. You car can be severely damaged from a crash, and the damage will eventually take its toll on the vehicle performance. At worst your car can break to a point where it barely moves.

The game does not allow you to leave the track very far and instantly teleports you back on the road if you do. The issue with this feature is that it seems a bit random in how it works. Sometimes, it will not save you from crashing, other times it will pick you up because it thinks that you are too far away from the track. This isn’t such a big deal though – if you stay on track there’s no problem. It can also save you from damaging your car, so it is a kind of double-edged sword.

The game supports playing from five different camera views; from behind the car, from behind the car (with a closer zoom), inside the cockpit, inside the cockpit (with a focus on the windshield) and a hood-view. Sadly, playing from the inside cockpit view isn’t optimal because it only shows you the road from a distance, which is pretty blurry in this game because of how the game handles viewing distance. The hood-view gives the best experience, and also seems to be the one view where the camera shakes and bumps along with the track most effectively.

Graphics

WRC: FIA World Rally Championship is by no means the best looking PlayStation 3 racing game. The frame rate is steady, but notably low, probably below 30. The game uses a blur effect a lot, which makes all environments look blurry when you are in motion. This looks natural most of the time, but occasionally it just looks tacked on and it certainly doesn’t compensate well for the low frame rate. It’s sometimes hard to see where the road goes because of how the graphics are drawn in the distance. There’s also some minor graphical glitches as you can see shadows and trees flicker on rare occasions.

Racing in gravel produces a cloud of dirt behind the car which looks somewhat convincing, but it would have been nice to see more detailed dirt and dust effects, because WRC is a pretty gritty and dirty sport.

Other than the above mentioned issues, which are mostly cosmetic, the game has some really atmospheric environments and the cars all look extremely crisp. It’s nice to see the contrast of a colorful rally car sticking out of a cloud of dirt. Snow, sand and mud does collect on the car, and vehicle damages look good. It’s not ground breaking super realistic stuff, but it gives a nice effect none the less.

Sound

The rally car engine sounds are sampled from real life cars, but somehow fails to sound like the bestial WRC cars that we hear in real life. The various cars all have their own sounds though and when the car gets damaged, it will start making strange noises.

There’s some nice crashing sounds when you hit an obstacle, but it seems that every hit, even if it is a very minor collision, makes a glass-shattering noise. The other sound effects consist of various noises coming from the road – the gravel will grumble under your wheels and you’ll hear the wet mud splash around etc. These may be simple effects but they’re carefully put in place and make for a wonderful impression. The co-driver also gives you status updates and comments on your performance during events and it sounds just about right.

The soundtrack is a total blast. During menus there’s an ambient track playing which isn’t too exciting, but during replays there’s really solid music. It features awesome heavy metal along with some electronic and techno beats. The brilliant hit song Witchcraft by Pendulum is featured in the game and is a genius choice of song for this game. The soundtrack uplifts the game by a lot and it goes perfectly with intense WRC racing.

Summary

WRC: FIA World Rally Championship is absolutely a worthy successor to WRC: Rally Evolved, even if it doesn’t take any major leaps of advancement. The racing is perfectly enjoyable and the replay value is good. If you’re into racing games at all you’ll find this game addicting and something to keep coming back to. Being able to easily play an official WRC game online is certainly a big and important selling point and so is the great selection of stages available and the semi-realistic driving.
Certainly this game has its flaws – the graphics do not meet the expectations, the physics isn’t anywhere near perfect and the S-WRC, P-WRC and J-WRC cars seem like an afterthought.

Developed By: Milestone S.r.l.
Published By: Black Bean
Version Reviewed: PlayStation 3
Genre: Racing / Rally
Players: 1-16
Also Available On: Windows PC, Xbox 360
Released: 2010-10-08
Website: http://www.wrcthegame.com

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