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When it comes to off-roading, there are very few competitions that manage to capture the thrill and excitement of it quite like that of the World Rally Championship. When it comes to gaming however, the WRC series hasn’t quite been the best place to experience the ultimate adrenaline rush of putting some of the most powerful and fine-tuned cars on the planet through their paces. In fact, the rallying crown is often found heading in the direction of Codemasters and their DiRT franchise. Now though, it’s time once more for WRC to step back into the action and with WRC 7 providing plenty of improvements last year, we come in hope that WRC 8 can be equally as impressive. Fortunately there is no disappointment.
The WRC games may have spent several years flagging behind that of the DiRT franchise, but there is one thing that has always been present – the official rallies. DiRT may have provided the fantastic gameplay experience, however there is nothing fans of the sport want more than taking their shot at some of the WRC’s finest stages and with this series proving the only place to do so, any improvement to gameplay was always going to make it an exciting prospect.
In WRC 8, things get rather exciting from the get-go and after wasting no time and jumping straight in to the Career mode – from the various options available including Quick Play, Season and Test Area – you will be happy to find yourself greeted by some rather different options to the norm.
First off players must decide on the basics, such as what level of difficulty you wish to set, the level of damage effects you want applied as your throw your vehicle through some of the toughest rallies in the world, and most intriguing of all, whether you want perma-crash on or not. It is this which limits you to just one attempt at each stage with a crash proving the end of the event. After tailoring your options to suit, you can then either jump straight in with up to three Tryout’s to join the ranks of the WRC 2 category, or start off life within the lower ranks of the Junior WRC before progressing through, with the clear goal being to make it to the pinnacle of the WRC and to fight for the title.
Despite improving with WRC 7, it’s fair to say that the Career mode has previously been far from perfect. Sure, it was enjoyable but there is always going to be that something extra that could be done to make it better. This time we’ve got more improvements and it brings a much more engaging experience to things. From budget management which is required when repairing cars and hiring new team members, to managing your team, PR events to emails, targets and even a full Research and Development skill-tree, WRC 8 certainly has plenty to work through besides simply racing through each course in the racing calendar.
Naturally in any racing game, the racing is always going to be more important than immediate presentation and fortunately this year’s title seems to have gone above and beyond on the racing side of things. From the moment you first take to the gravel, tarmac, snow or dirt, things very quickly feel real and engaging, with a countdown timer the only thing to wait for before slamming your foot to the ground. In fact, it only takes five seconds before you will notice the vast improvement in the overall experience from last time out.
In WRC 8, rallying no longer feels quite as arcade-y as it has done in previous entries and there is a very clear focus on simulation this time out. With the slightest tweak on the steering, you can find yourself manoeuvring your car through the tightest of angles and slipping on through metal gates. Or, if you find yourself being a little preemptive or too late, you could veer into the side of a tree, but no matter just how good or bad you are, the feeling of urgency and the required concentration is apparent throughout, even if you’re utilising the semi-auto gear shifting that makes for a really tense and exciting time when trying to top the charts at the end of each sector. Sure you can lower the difficulty should you not quite have the skills of the next Ken Block or Sebastian Loeb but seeing a WRC game finally master the feel of excitement that you can only normally find when watching a real life WRC event, is certainly a series first.
That said, whilst the heavier simulation feel is great, with settings for the usual things such as assisted braking, steering, starting assists and more all present, there are various options to help even newcomers feel comfortable in being competitive, bringing about a more arcade feel again should that be how you wish to play.
Something else that helps ensure racing feels better this year is the dynamic weather system that’s in place; it can see stages change dramatically as you race. Not only do visuals change as things such as torrential rain or snow bombards a course, but so the feel of the stage changes with light affected by the weather which can effect how well you see. The most extreme form of this is found during night driving, as you rely on your headlights and the voice of your co-driver as you fight your way through horrid conditions. On top of that, racing through a level filled with water, snow or ice is certainly different to a dry and sunny day and should you go into things with the same gusto as your typical race day you’ll soon find yourself on the wrong side of a ‘schooling’ as you are forced to relearn how to handle each vehicle.
Whilst racing and handling is vastly improved, one area that feels a lot more engaging is vehicle development and by way of levelling up after each event, players can earn resource points to spend on the surprisingly vast Research and Development skill tree. Here things are split into four categories with Team, Performance, Crew and Reliability upgrades available to really cater for all the needs you could possibly have throughout your career. Want to have better relationships with manufacturers? Then the Team upgrades will suit you. Want to see less damage in certain key areas? Reliability is your thing! And with each area providing a decent amount of options, it will take some time to fully max things out.
There are some other notable differences with WRC 8 too, and this year tyre wear gets a look in. Now it may seem odd that no game in the series up to this point has introduced proper tyre wear, but when you see it in action, you’ll either love it, or wish it was never possible, especially when you try to take a fairly easy ‘left 4 over crest’ but find yourself careering down the side of a mountain due to having your tyres sat at 60% wear!
The handling is also vastly improved and this ensures that the gameplay feels and looks fantastic. In fact, the whole Career has got some impressive and much needed improvements. Yet for all the good, there are still some areas in which WRC 8 can improve.
One such area is the online mode and whilst the online experience is a solid one that you won’t really be all too disappointed in, it doesn’t quite bring that same level of excitement as the single-player content. This is mainly due to the odd bug in which race times don’t quite show accurately until a race is finished, whilst the very odd occasion would see a pause result in a black screen and force an entire game restart to fix. When mixing this with being forced to wait for every player to ready up, my irritation with things was at an all-time high, but that’s not to say when everything’s running perfectly it isn’t enjoyable.
So Career is rather brilliant, and the online could do with some work, but if neither of those tickle your fancy there is always the option of Quick Play to get straight into the action, or Season mode which allows you to jump into the major rallies without any of the crew management side of things. It’s not anything unusual for a racing game at this point in time, but it’s still nice to have.
The final mode to focus on comes from the weekly challenge. This for me is certainly something I’ll head back to frequently as it’s not a one and done event. Instead it lets players set times on the leaderboards all day should they wish, which is a nice change from the pressure of a one and done run as seen in the other rather satisfying rally game on the market.
Away from the game modes though and another area of WRC 8 on Xbox One that’s impressive is in the visuals. A third person camera viewpoint does showcase a few rough edges still, but playing from bumper cam certainly helps show off the rather spectacular lighting effects, whilst the trackside scenery stands out a mile off and really looks the part. Sure you can’t see much of the vehicles from this view point but when you’re travelling at speed down a dusty trail, who really needs to see what the rear end of their car looks like – especially when you hear the words ‘left tightens into hairpin’.
Overall and if you’re a fan of WRC, want a new racer to keep things a little exciting and fancy pushing your car through some of the finest tracks in the world, then WRC 8 is probably going to be a good buy for you. It comes with a fantastic career mode, plenty of racing to be had and some varied stages. It’s not quite the perfect rally sim out there but it is a far cry better than its predecessors – including that of the rather enjoyable WRC 7!