Review: WRC 2: FIA World Rally Championship
I haven’t actually properly played a rally game since V Rally, way back in the old ages of the Playstation. It’s not that I’ve actively avoided playing rally games, it’s just not a genre I’ve ever had that much interest in so I’ve never bothered to pick one up since. V Rally used to annoy the hell out of me anyway, which may be part of the reason why I never bothered trying again, but my biggest disinterest is the fact that time trials have always been a bit of a pet hate of mine and I’d rather race against other drivers who are actually on the track at the same time as me. That’s the enjoyment I get out of racing games, fighting that car in front of you for first place and barely squeezing past them on the final straight to clinch that all important victory. I just don’t get the same feeling when I’m only staring at a timer to see if I can stay ahead of an opponent’s time. It can be exciting against real people, but when you’re just playing against the AI it quickly becomes tiresome and, unfortunately, WRC 2: FIA World Rally Championship was no exception to that opinion. Even V Rally had staggered starts like real rally, and you could catch up to the drivers in front of you and have to carefully pick your way around them. There are absolutely no other cars on the track with you in WRC 2, so it feels like you’re racing against a bunch of stats and names that mean nothing to the non-rally fan. Obviously I can’t say a game is crap because I’m not a massive fan of its core activity, but there’s a lot more to this game that hammers in the repetitive nail.
I realise that menus aren’t going to be some absolutely spectacular part of the game but, by god, are the menus in this game are both dull and frustrating. For starters the music is like something you would hear when you got in a lift at your local mall (with or without zombies included), and then you half expect Louis Armstrong to wander on to the screen, give a small wave, and then start playing his saxophone. At least that would liven things up a bit! You spend a lot of time going forward and backwards, and backwards again, and backwards again because every small thing has its own little section and you have to go in deep to find it, and then try to make your way back out just to start the race. Eventually you can start the race, only to be confronted with a loading screen and then another menu before you can start the race. I understand that games need menus, but find a novel way to deal with them instead of having a cluttered system that is a pain to sift through (F1 2011 had great menu presentation, and it was all fairly simple to skim through).
I actually can’t believe the menus annoyed me enough to write an entire paragraph about them, but that music is stuck. in. my. head and I think I’m going a little crazy. Best get this over and done with before I head off to the loony bin.
Before you get into the main meat of the game it’s probably a good idea to start with the WRC Rally School, especially if – like me – your experience of rally games extends no further than the blocky V Rally. Here you can learn the basics of driving a rally car, before moving on to mastering the crucial skills of drifting and power sliding. The lessons are short and sweet and are a welcome addition, but one gripe I have is that they don’t display the controls while you’re in the game. I always appreciate it when games have the controls in the menu so I don’t have to look at the manual (which may not be around much longer anyway), but that’s not the case in this game. Instead there’s a digital manual on the main menu screen, which is a neat idea that more developers should do but I shouldn’t have to go looking around to make sure I’m aware of the controls.
Aside from the tutorial mode there’s a lot more to get your teeth stuck into. The single player mode allows you to play single race, single rally, championship or time attack. There are a vast range of cars to choose from in these modes, but if you fancy a challenge then the WRC Group B contains cars that were banned in the 1980′s due to safety concerns. These are the slavering raging beasts of rally cars and it really feels like you’re trying to tame a beast when you’re driving them, but I wouldn’t suggest you jump into this until you know what you’re doing. The main course of the game is obviously in the games career mode; ‘The Road to the WRC’.
As with F1 2011 you begin the career mode at the bottom of the rung with only a small selection of cars. The first few races are small regional races that won’t put a lot of credits in the kitty but will eventually serve to boost your reputation and get you noticed by the bigger rally’s. It also serves as another tutorial, slowly unlocking sections of that god-awful menu I mentioned and giving you a few extras such as new designs or paint for your car. Between each race you’ll want to hire engineers and PR people to do all the leg work for your team while you concentrate on the driving. Engineers will work on research and development, coming up with upgrades for your cars in areas such as brakes and aerodynamics. It will cost you credits and a few days in-game time but will provide small boosts for your car in the long run. PR people negotiate contracts with possible sponsors, which are strangely completely made up even though real companies – such as Nokia and Red Bull – are prominent on advertising boards around the tracks. Assigning a main and side sponsor before a race will give you bonuses in credits and reputation should you meet the required goals; goals which include coming at or above a certain position in the race, coming under a certain time limit, or beating another driver. Everything is slowly unlocked in a slow stream of rewards that come after races. Want to buy that new car? Unlock it first. Want to negotiate a new contract? Unlock it first. Want to put the game down and go and do something else? Thankfully you don’t have to unlock that. Aside from that last point being a little too harsh you get the picture, everything is on a set path to unlock throughout your career and you never stray from that. Sometimes you can go a few races without unlocking anything, which becomes a bit dull when there’s nothing new to play with on the horizon. Plus, the whole point of ‘The Road to the WRC’ is to build up your little team and create a reputation for yourself, only to end up with having no choice and throwing all that away when you eventually sign up to a real WRC team. Even then it all ends up being nothing more than a bunch of stats and menus that has no real personality to it.
So we’re six paragraphs in and I’m yet to talk about how racing WRC 2′s rally cars actually feels. I had a lot of problems racing the F1 cars in F1 2011, but that wasn’t because the handling was bad but rather that it had a steep learning curve. I never felt like that playing WRC 2, instead feeling like I could take any corner with ease relatively early on. All it requires is careful touches to the analog stick after hitting the brakes and you can drift round most corners with ease, your car usually providing the stability to swiftly correct your course should you make a mistake. Obviously the more powerful the car the harder it is to keep control, but by the time these come along you’ll be so used to how to take a corners that a little more power doesn’t make much of a difference. I never felt overly thrilled taking most corners, but I must admit that there’s a lot of pleasure in engaging the handbrake correctly and taking a hairpin perfectly. When you’re changing from dirt to gravel to concrete you can really feel the difference in the handling, and it’s the same with whatever you car you’re driving. Some cars will have a throaty growl as you gun the engine while other cars will hum and feel lighter as they almost float across the track. The handling isn’t bad at all, it’s just not really challenging like a rally game should be. I played the game on intermediate settings and never once came below 1st place, and while everyone loves winning it’s extremely dull when it keeps happening and you don’t feel like your skills are being tested. If worst comes to worst and you end up crashing there’s always the rewind feature, which will take you up to a few seconds before you crashed so you can avoid making the same mistake. You only get a limited amount, and if you feel like this makes the game too unrealistic then there’s always the option to turn it off.
Visually things could be better, a lot better. With stunning looking games like Forza 4 available these days it’s disappointing to stare at something visually unappetising. The whole game looks like it’s been put through the ‘smudge filter’ and then tossed around a few dozen times. Scenery is made up by the low textures that populated early Xbox 360 games, the dirt looking like someone has just thrown up and then hilariously slipped in it, and again… and again. The cars are more detailed, with the damage model being the best thing about the visuals. Parts will hang off, dents and scratches will appear and cracks in the windscreen will realistically reduce visibility if you’re playing in the in-car view. Your car will also be covered with dirt at the end of the race, which carries over to the following race should there be one on the same day. Aside from the cars the lighting is admirable, but it’s still nothing compared to the competitors in WRC 2′s field, and while I played most of the game in the in-car view its interior is severely lacking in detail – apart from the neat touch of the windscreen wipers engaging whenever you fly through water. On the upside the drop in graphical fidelity means that the game has no pop-up regardless of how fast you’re racing through the track, but the framerate takes a noticeable drop whenever you have a career shattering crash.
If you feel like doing a bit of rallying with your mates then you have a few options to choose from. Obviously there’s Xbox Live; with single stage, super special stage, single rally and online championship to show off your skills (or lack of) to the denizens of the Internet. However, if you prefer to go the local multiplayer route you’re sadly out of luck for the most part. This is a case of yet another driving game having no split-screen mode, which seems odd when we’re not dealing with the most gorgeous graphic engine on the market. The only local mode available is the Hot Seat mode, which is a party mode that allows you and your friends to take it on turns to set the best time on a track. With only two or three people this can be fun, but if you start with a large group of people you’ll probably end up getting bored while you wait around for your turn.
My first proper gaming rally experience since V Rally turned out to be quite a disappointment. Obviously I can’t compare it to V Rally as games have come in leaps and bounds since then, but I expected more considering how games like DIRT are praised so much. I felt like I spent the majority of my time with the game sitting in boring menus, followed by a quick race and then another few loading screens and menus before I’m on to the next. When I actually did get to drive I never felt like it challenged me enough, which is saying a lot because anyone who knows my gaming habits will tell you that I’m not exactly amazing at racing games. It just all felt very… mediocre. I can’t pretend to know what rally fans will think of such a game – there are realistic qualities to it and like F1 2011 there is enough scope to tinker with the insides of your car if you know about that kind of thing – and maybe they’ll think I don’t know what I’m talking about. I know that a rally game can be exciting, and with a few changes this could have been great fun, but if you want to get the thrill of realistic racing then there are far better games out there that provide that. I heard Dirt 3 is quite good.
Review: WRC 2: FIA World Rally Championship Results
What we liked:
Quite a few modes to choose from, Super Special Stages and Group B being particularly fun.
Cars handle and respond well.
Tutorial mode is extensive and is a must for newcomers.
What we disliked:
The graphics are poor compared to the standard set by other racing games.
Too many menus are no quick way to navigate through the extensive options. Everything feels slow and cumbersome.
Huge chunks of 'The Road to WRC' are extremely samey and it starts to feel like your going through the motions. It's also not challenging enough.