For many years we could only lament the fact that the masters of the craft, the British studio Codemasters, always have to take more or less unlicensed enterprises in their rally titles from the Dirt series. Probably the most valuable brand in this area, the WRC world championship, was held by the publisher Nacon, and thus by the French studio KT Racing (formerly Kylotonn).
Over time, the rather crude arcade turned into actually very solid races, motorsport fans were still looking forward to the glorious day when the brand would return to the “Codies”. Although the authors had relatively recent experience with the not-so-successful Dirt 5, fans still fondly remember the successful pair of more difficult Dirt Rallyes, and somehow it was expected that the new WRC would follow in their footsteps.
Well, things are a little more complicated. EA Sports WRC certainly does not deny the DNA of the long years of the Dirt series. It’s probably not worth walking around the hot mess unnecessarily, and I can say that the game does the most basic things just perfectly. Addictive adrenaline stemming from the semi-crazy (or maybe crazy?) driving of very powerful sports cars through curvy country or forest roads, asphalt switchbacks, snow-covered riverbeds or any combination of the mentioned elements can be injected into your veins absolutely reliably.
The driving model has undergone minor changes compared to before. First, compared to Dirt Rally 2.0, the game is noticeably more forgiving and open. Even when playing on a gamepad, every rougher pothole or baked-in turn will not send you into the bushes, and even a less experienced driver will quickly get the hang of gross rally – a kind of dance-like rhythm that you need to toss the car and its center of gravity around winding tracks.
The fact is that, as a result, the car behaves perhaps too water-wise on all surfaces. In Sweden, you don’t need such surgical precision anymore, so that you don’t spin for hours after every contact with a frozen scarp, and on the asphalt sometimes the cars behave a little erratically at full speed. At the same time, I definitely don’t think that the game is too simple and rubbery.
EA Sports WRC
EA Sports WRC
Although weaker specials will forgive a lot, even virtual physics has its limits and taming the wildest rally specials on technically very demanding tracks (typically Chile or Greece) really requires maximum concentration. This can last from about five to six minutes on the shortest special stages to almost half an hour of suffering on the new, really very long thirty-kilometer marathons. In any case, satisfying exhaustion, sweaty clothes and a breath of fresh air are guaranteed to come the moment you finally cross the finish line and take a few moments to relax before heading out into the field again.
By the way, the aforementioned long erzets are one of the symptoms of the second thing that EA Sports WRC does exceedingly well. Thanks to the licensed championship, the game is literally loaded with content. The basis is 17 businesses that will test your driving skills. Of course, there are 12 real races, to which five fictitious ones are added. You don’t have to be sad, for example, about the end of the New Zealand rally, which is being replaced by virtual Oceania. In addition, you will look, for example, in the slightly anonymous Mediterranean, the Pacific region, the asphalt hell of the Pyrenees, and for fans of Sweden there is an alternative in the form of the snowy Rally Scandia.
When I chatted with a representative of KT Racing at Gamescom a year ago while playing a test version of their very last licensed WRC title, there was a certain regret that the studio had to give the brand a wall. After all, the farewell came unfortunately just in the year when the style of racing had to be dug up due to the arrival of the hybrid era. The indications confirmed the quite logical assumption that the studio does not throw the experience and the work done into the dustbin. He can simply come up with his own series, or dust off the more arcade-branded V-Rally. That will definitely not happen this year. The studio seems to be fully focused and the urban Test Drive Unlimited Solar Crown races, which will arrive next year.
In addition, each location offers a decent palette of very well and colorfully processed erzets. Compared to the older Dirts, the tracks start to take off much later. In the design, where KT already excelled, the authors, by the way, went out of their way. Finally, the individual paths are not unified and offer significant changes in the environment. In my favorite Sardinia, you scramble up a huge hill, enjoy riding along the ridge, only to quickly descend into the valley again. In Estonia, technical passages alternate with switchbacks, where you need to safely hold the gas down to the floor. And so on.
A very wide and varied car park also adds to the content bomb. Of course, the eponymous discipline with the Yaris-Puma-i20 N hybrid trefoil is not missing, in addition you will also ride in the baby WRC Fiesta, variously inflated representatives of WRC2 (including the two current generations of Fabia) and a whole range of more or less historic machines. Of course, there are old Imprezas, Lancers, Xsaras, Escorts, Deltas, Fulvias, Stratos, Quattra, A110. And anyway, not only a big roach will choose at least some favorite from the offer. I have probably never seen such a wide range of rally machines in another game before.
Plus, if that wasn’t enough for you, you can build the car yourself in the heavily promoted Builder Car mode. To be honest, however, he disappointed me, i.e. I did not have high expectations from him and he still failed to live up to them. Basically, it’s just a simple editor, where you choose from several variants of appropriately ugly body parts and mix unlicensed parts under the hood, divided purely according to reliability and price. Nothing groundbreaking and I really don’t see why I should build my own hideous car when I can drive one of the beautiful Fords. But the possibility is here.
EA Sports WRC
EA Sports WRC
The career mode, which has traditionally failed to be very fun to build, somehow leads to building a car. On the contrary, the new system of weekly budgets, allocating funds for cars or their repairs and entering a whole series of championships is a bit bizarre and does not work very well. Once again, when building a team of mechanics and engineers, you feel like the composition of the garage has minimal impact on how you do things during races, and I basically had more fun playing regular championships or multiplayer races anyway. At least this time the game tries to systematically motivate you to use vintage cars. As part of your career, you compete with them in regular tournaments and they are not just an embarrassing extra like before.
A game of two faces
Codemasters’ WRC is, however, a game of two faces. While I’ve mainly praised so far, the proverbial skeleton in the closet needs to be talked about as well. The problem is that the game is embarrassingly technically outdated. On the one hand, it manifests itself in really ugly graphics. The car models are still tolerable, the track design tries to hide a lot, and sunsets in particular can conjure up quite a nice panorama. Otherwise, however, the quality of the textures is dismal, the surroundings of the tracks are sloppy, and the blocky tufts of grass in nighttime Estonia, which glow in the dark and cast obscure shadows, are truly hellish. The effects of driving through puddles and generally working with rain or snow are downright ridiculous.
Another kick in the ass is the not very satisfactory technical condition in terms of optimization. The game does not run optimally on consoles. Right after the release, the situation was worse, and the first patch package improved it considerably (after all, the next patch is due to arrive just a few hours after writing these lines, so it should be even better), but it is not a complete solution. Especially in more complex scenes, for example in villages, the game jerks uncomfortably and regularly jerks when braking into corners, which can be really annoying. More than once, my sound broke completely.
EA Sports WRC
EA Sports WRC
Unfortunately, the combination of the two paragraphs above unnecessarily detracts from otherwise excellent races. Of course, during the review process, I didn’t miss the fairly sharp criticism leveled at the game. Similar to this year’s Forzy Motorsport, I have to go against the grain. While I was stricter there, here I find average grades unnecessarily bad. Honestly, I had much more fun playing WRC. It is simply a top rally packed with possibilities. It just all looks dated and doesn’t move very well at times.
So it’s basically up to you what you actually want from EA Sports WRC. You definitely shouldn’t want a hard simulation, since Richard Burns Rally has been around for years and its constant comparison to more arcade games seems completely bizarre to me. It should be taken into account that it is a more accessible game than Rally 2.0, but at the same time it is a few steps forward in my eyes. Unfortunately, not in terms of graphics, certainly in terms of content and variety. After all, I didn’t even mention the small thing in the form of regular rallies, which probably won’t win you over, but they are a nice diversion. On the other hand, I also didn’t mention a few minor flaws, such as the too little effect of damage on the driving characteristics of the cars or the strangely unbalanced difficulty, where on the same settings sometimes you are blown away by your opponents, other times you give them tens of seconds with the same performance.
As an entry point into the world of WRC, it still works wonderfully. Until next time, Codemasters just needs to thoroughly check the technical status and get much, much, much more out of the mighty Unreal Engine 5.