First and foremost, I am not going to spend the majority of this review comparing this to the Dirt series (despite the subtitle, obviously). A game should stand up on its own merits, and not always be thrown into a generic template, a la GTA/Dark Souls clone comparisons.
That being said, it’s a backhanded compliment to the Dirt series for bringing back the authentic style of rally driving back to gaming, because now that’s what every bugger aspires to. Depending on your outlook, WRC 8 is going to be exactly what you want, or some new fresh hell to bang your head against.
WRC is a game that says, “If you want arcade, go back to V Rally. This is a rally sim, right down to the micro-management of your team”, and they are not joking around. Or perhaps it’s that we’re so modernised now that we expect games to have checkpoints, or rewind points, easier difficulties and a degree of hand-holding.
So perhaps it’s both blessing and a curse that games like Dirt and this one have taken us back to a time of not necessarily hard games, but reminds of how they used to be. I actually quite like WRC 8. Well, that is to say I want to like WRC 8, I’m just not very good at it. Let’s find out why, shall we…?
Before we delve into why I’m not great at it, I will address one of first things that stuck with me: it’s not a very good looking game. Not that it’s terrible, just that in the days of pushing for graphical quality, WRC 8 has gone for a “that’ll do” option instead. I may be reviewing it on a base Xbox One, with a 4K TV, but even so it’s hardly making me feel immersed. Not that it’s original Xbox-era ugly, far from it. It’s just… alright. However, as it isn’t pushing for the highest graphical fidelity, never once did the framerate or sense of speed/immersion drop for me. Silver linings, eh?
Whilst to some I realise that that’s not the deciding factor in deciding on whether it’s worth playing, it just felt like an earlier title of this generation, rather than a showcase of the true potential in a console’s life this far along. Granted, it was never going to give Gran Turismo a run for its money, but we should be doing better than this. But, like all black sheep and ugly ducklings, as time goes on you’ll learn to appreciate the worth of WRC 8 on the whole, and not on its looks.
That being said, it is taking a hell of a lot of perseverance on my part to love this bastard of a game. Is it because I don’t solely play racing games? Maybe. Is it being rally is inherently difficult and relies on fast reflexes and pinpoint corner accuracy? Most likely. Or is down to the first proper rally being set, in of all the places ever, in snow-topped Sweden? Yes, definitely that and it’s not because I suck.
Alright, not strictly true. The game actually starts with an introductory race that determines how good/craptastic you are at it, before offering you a bevy of difficulty and driving assist options. I can’t be that bad, because the initially offered difficulty was ‘Professional’. But in the interests of my own sanity, and for the sake of getting more done to be able to review a decent chunk, I dropped it down to ‘Novice’ instead (don’t judge me). That’s more for the AI counterparts, whereas the other adjustments offered were to do with the meat of the handling: car damage levels, braking and traction assists and the like. Whilst this is all par for the track in most racing games, it’s a nice touch that it’s adjusted based on your initial playstyle. It does only scratch the surface though, as we’ll get to shortly.
Once that’s out of the way, you’re free to see what the game has in store for you, which is a fair ol’ bit. You’ve got your Solo tab, which is your career mode, single quick play options, as well as the option to test your car setup in a test area and undertake some training, if you feel you need it. Then you’ve got your multiplayer, which falls under the Competition tab. As well as standard online races, you can also take on real-life records/events in timed events, such as option to take on records held by top esports players around the world. This means you are essentially challenging the efforts, using the same setup, as the top global players recorded in esports events, if that’s your bag.
There’s also the challenges set by real world drivers to take on, too. Such as recording a longer jump than they have, or beating certain times under certain conditions. Lastly, but not least, there is also… brace for it… split screen versus! Alright, it’s not that big of a deal, but considering so many games push for online-only multiplayer, it’s a nice inclusion.
Before I start focusing on the larger part of the game, the Career mode, just gonna throw a little shout out to one of the cooler single player options available from the start: Season mode. As the title suggests, this allows you to play through any of the fourteen countries in a rally season, without the hassle of managing a crew along the way. Not as a negative, but it means you can just play through as many stages as you like without having to micro-manage your entire staff along the way.
Yet career really is the bulk of progression, though, when it comes to WRC 8. Which, if you are into simulation racers, you’re going to be in for a treat. Crew management in racing games is nothing new, from picking co-drivers and mechanics, making sure you have the best available yet keeping within a budget. But I bet you’ve never played a racing game that allows you to have a meteorologist as part of the team, have you?
You see, in completing the “realism” aspect of WRC, a lot more attention and focus has been paid to both tire damage and the weather systems this time around. The former is important, because you’re often faced with the challenge/dilemma of soft and hard tires. In layman’s terms, softer tires are great for gripping to a course, but wear out quicker. So if you’ve only got a single race, it won’t affect much in the long run. But if you’re only halfway through a four-stage event and your tires are wearing out, you’ll be struggling through the later stages.
The latter is also aiming for a more dynamic impact on the way you race, too. Whilst it might seem obvious to you or I that racing on tarmac is a dream, with driving on snow being the equivalent of steering a trolley with four locked wheels over a patch of ice, WRC 8 wants to go that extra mile with its dynamic weather system. Alright, it’s not going to go as far as throwing the odd tornado in during a rally, but it can be just as much of a spanner in the engine. Much like the aforementioned tire degradation mid-event, sometimes the weather can be predicted to change after the first two stages (thanks to our meteorologist chummy). What this means is, again like the tires, you have to try and plan out the best setup/tires to avoid any possibility of being caught short, be it on finishing times of damage to the car if you careen off the road.
What this all endeavours to do is give WRC 8 some real variety across its 100 track variants. Whether you’re tearing it up through Sweden, Wales, Chile or Monte Carlo, and all their variants of tracks, the game intends to keep your responses crisp and not bored of doing the same thing over and over. It’s down to you and your crew to maintain the best performance for your car, whatever the weather and road conditions through at you, that really make the career mode the standout part of the WRC 8 experience.
But… and this is the personal ‘but’ for me… I know diddly squat about rallying in real life. As I mentioned in my Wreckfest review, I’m not a petrolhead. My knowledge of rally drivers goes as far as their respective gaming franchises: the late Colin McRae, Richard Burns, and at a push, Sebastien Loeb. Outside of that, I couldn’t tell you any of the current standings or former champions in the FIA World Rally Championship(s).
So this review isn’t going to me recommending it to you if you are a fan of the world of countryside car-nage. I mean, it is a recommendation, but I’m not going to compromise my ‘journalistic integrity’ by pretending I know how all the leaderboards and standings work, the who’s who or any of the behind the scenes’ work.
I am going to recommend WRC 8 on its own merits as a racing game though: it’s great. It’s a fully realised simulation of the high octane world of rallying, right down to all aspects of managing the day to day aspects of a competitive rallying team. Not only that, the amount of customisation you can tweak around with to get the best experience is staggering. You can even modify the perspective you have chosen to race in, if that suits you. Say you like driving with just the bonnet visible, but you feel it takes up too much of your field of view. Fine, head to the options and fine tune it so the bottom is lower in your on-screen field, or pan the camera back if you need a more reassuring visual respresentation of the width of your car. I’m not exaggerating, either. Any chosen camera perspective can be modified to suit you best, and what setup you’re playing with. Analogue stick and wheel sensitivities, pedal and trigger response and dead zone tweaks, the whole nine miles. It’s doing everything to say to you, “This ain’t no arcade plug and play, this is how we do it in grown up town”.
Yet as I said at the start, it comes with a price. It’s not easy to start with. It’s the difference being jumping in a plane in Saints Row to playing Flight Simulator, the Mario Karts to the F1’s. But hey, if that’s your bag and you feel like you’ve rinsed the Dirt games, or you’re looking for somewhere to start, then this would be it.
Don’t take my inability to hoon a Ford around a corner at ninety sideways as a detrimental factor of this review. In fact, go out and prove that it can be done. Smash those challenges and take on the best the world has to offer.
However, don’t come crying to me when you get stuck on the snow levels.
WRC 8 FIA World Rally Championship is out now on Xbox One (reviewed on), PS4, Nintendo Switch and PC.
Publisher: Bigben Interactive
Disclaimer: In order to complete this review, we were provided with a promotional code from the publisher. For our full review policy, please go here.
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