With the release of DiRT Rally still a few months out, the current market for a proper rally simulator is thin.
It’s no exaggeration to say that the WRC games are the closest thing we’re currently able to get to real off-road rally driving on console. That said, if you come into WRC 5 expecting a real driving simulator, then you’ll probably leave disappointed. This is a game which caters far more closely to the arcade market than anything else, but this isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
WRC 5, if you haven’t already guessed, is the fifth game in the series since it was restarted in 2010. This year’s entry, however, comes from the Paris-based development team, Kylotonn, who have a somewhat patchy history with racing games. Initial fears aside, WRC 5 offers possibly the best iteration of the franchise yet, injecting some much-needed fun into the formula set in motion by the previous developers at Milestone.
WRC 5, however, is still far from being a great game. There are, rather unfortunately, niggling problems throughout. Be it the ugly vehicles, poor textures, or horribly irritating menu voiceover, the game’s visual and audible presentation leaves a lot to be desired. Engines sound suspiciously more like Dyson vacuum cleaners than they do racing cars, and the co-driver’s directions are often inaccurate and supplied far too late to be of any benefit. Invisible objects are known to send the car flying off course, and those that do show up seem to have a much larger physical footprint than they ought to have. I’ve hit a stone no bigger than an apple and watched my car fly directly into the air, picking up speed as it soared upward. Needless to say, the game’s physics are a little off.
These physics can also be felt in the general driving, too. While there’s a clearly felt delineation between terrains, they don’t all seem right to drive on. Tarmac, for example, has far too much grip. I wish tarmac had this much grip in reality, because I’m certain we would have fewer road accidents if it were. Thankfully, other terrains feel better, and the contrast between them is apparent, requiring quick changes of tact in order to adjust to the given circumstances. The hilarity somewhat dissipates the quirks of its bugs and glitches, and the games non-serious driving style seems to somehow unintentionally complement its silly moments. It’s pretty fun, too, and this is something apparent right from the outset. Unlike previous entries which felt stale, WRC 5 feels like something you can have fun with right from the start. It doesn’t really matter that the co-driver’s incompetent because the game is a forgiving drive anyway, and you quickly learn of your compatriot’s irrelevance once you realize that the game isn’t really all that challenging.
For all its small, niggling problems, the game’s standout feature is its gameplay. Somewhat surprisingly, Kylotonn seems to have inserted the fun back into the series that appears to have been missing in recent years, and it’s a far more streamlined experience than we’ve come to witness from the series so far. Career mode is now almost entirely about the driving, with contracts and management taking a backseat in its place. You still sign up for a team of your choice and gradually work your way up the tiers, but this is more of a quick exposition than an element of the game in and of itself. Almost all of the cars handle the same way, so there’s little to differentiate between the teams in this regard. The career mode wants the player’s focus set firmly on the driving, and this is noticeable in the amount of effort that has been put into its gameplay. The only real management of note are the repairs that are sometimes required between stages, but even this has been made as streamlined as possible, and they serve as moments of much-needed respite from the road than a handicap on fun.
It seems apparent that the new development team cares far more about the genre than the license, which is something that perhaps couldn’t be said about prior entries. Where the series has previously felt more like an obligation to contractual needs, WRC 5 feels like a step in the right direction. The budget, however, just doesn’t seem to match up with the ambition. Whilst the game is fully licensed, complete with all 13 countries from the 2015/16 rally season, and with five fictional stages in each country, there’s plenty more track to be covered. But the variation between stages, at times, is negligible, and it’s sometimes hard to tell one course from another within a given country. Thankfully each of the different countries carry their own unique characteristics, and having the complete collection of official teams and drivers means there’s plenty of authenticity and satisfaction to be had for followers of the motor sport.
WRC 5 is a somewhat surprisingly competent rally game, and it’s not a bad option to tide things over until the console release of DiRT Rally in April. The game has its issues, but the playfulness of its presentation and gameplay work to somewhat hide its issues and make them appear less of a hindrance than they might be in a more serious title. It’s a surprisingly fun game to play, and the new developers certainly seem to be moving in the right direction. Given time and a heftier budget, the World Rally Championship might be on the console comeback.