Rally. Isn’t it just sensational?
With drivers slamming their foot to the floor through thick forests, dusty, winding mountain roads, and the deepest Welsh valleys, you could be forgiven for thinking that these men and women are the superhumans of the racing world. Putting the same thrill and realism into a game can be a challenging prospect for any developer, and with Codemasters pretty much perfecting the whole rally scene with DiRT Rally, trying to find another game to give a fresher, but equally realistic experience, is something we now hope for with every racer to grace our consoles.
If anyone stood a chance then surely it would be Kylotonn Racing Games, and after a dismal start to 2017 with the let-down of FlatOut 4: Total Insanity, could their yearly rally franchise be the one to bring out their best form?
One thing running in favour of Kylotonn is the power of the licensing that comes with developing the official WRC titles each year. With thirteen countries, fifty-two Special Stages and the complete lineup of official drivers, teams and cars from the Junior WRC, through WRC 2 and all the way to the real deal with the big boys in WRC, there is already a sense of realism that many other games aren’t allowed to provide. Fortunately, it’s been put to good use, with WRC 7 providing some of the most luscious and beautifully detailed stages we’ve seen in a racer, all of which come from the real-world locations of the famous yearly rallies.
From the dusty fumes of the sharp and winding corners within the Mexican Guanajuato Rally’s mountain roads, to the sudden slip on the loose stones found along the roadside of the Neste Rally Finland, each of the thirteen rallies within the game have been designed with incredible detail that make them a true joy to race through. As you’d expect from an officially licensed racer, the cars have also received meticulous attention to detail, with every car looking right at home within WRC 7. The authentic roar of the engines as you feather the throttle through each and every corner and into those daring hairpins is great as well.
Before we go any further though, let’s get one thing straight. WRC 7 is not the game to come to if you’re looking for a true simulation experience. Whilst the WRC licensing provides the base for realism in an official sense, the driving is a different story.
One thing that becomes very apparent from the first moments within Driving Test tutorial stage, is the arcade feel that’s found within WRC 7. This is true within the gameplay and the general look of the game. I mentioned the impressive level of detail that can be found within each of the rally environments, but there is an arcade feel to how each one looks. That means that even though WRC 7 may be the official game by name, the general look feels much more akin to SEGA Rally than the realism found in DiRT Rally.
This isn’t helped by the handling that accompanies each of the cars. There is an extensive amount of work that can be done to each vehicle to help set the feel of the car for each rally, but the handling allows for almost too many mistakes, with players able to slide all over the road without much in the way of slipping off the track. Even when taking into account the varying road surfaces found within WRC 7 and the different feel they bring to the car, the driving still feels very much like an arcade experience. Damage doesn’t help either, and it seems to be nothing more notable than visual damage at most – other than the odd flat tire here and there. And that is despite the in-game loading screens saying otherwise. Of course, for anyone other than the hardcore racing fans, this isn’t something that would pose much issue, however with an official license behind the game, it would have been nice to see more of a realistic experience on the track.
That said, if you’re happy to accept the arcade way of life, the driving certainly isn’t all too shabby; it’s just a little simple. Of course, those that want to try things a little harder can turn off the few assists that accompany the game – those things such as braking, steering and transmission. Although with so little assists available, there isn’t really much of a change in difficulty. The arcade handling model does allow for some rather photogenic drifts around corners mind.
Whilst I would have preferred a more simulated feel to the driving side of things, the simplicity of the menu system is certainly something I like to see. Instead of several drop-down menus or having to weave through options with the bumpers, everything is placed into the same area. From the menu screen players can access each of the game modes available – Solo, Multiplayer and Championship – separating the Single Player, Online and eSports type offerings as well as the Drivercard, a one stop shop to see overall statistics, and the Leaderboards, which have a separate table for every stage.
As far as game modes go, these are also fairly straightforward. Solo contains the quick game option for those looking to practice their skills, or try a one-off stage. Custom Championship lets players mix and match the stages of their choice into one championship, and the Career Mode – which is the meat and drink of WRC – gives players the chance to take part in multiple seasons, starting off with the Junior WRC before working up to ultimately become the WRC champion.
Although I can sometimes be partial to a multiplayer offering within certain games, it’s usually the single player stuff that I like to get stuck into and spend the most time with, and for those like me, Career Mode is fantastic. With an incredible number of stages and multiple seasons of the full WRC calendar to race through, Career Mode isn’t something you’ll find yourself blasting through in just one afternoon. Unfortunately, there was the disappointment which sees incorrect names displayed next to each of the vehicles seen within the contract offer at the start of each season, and generated news articles often turn in with a number of mistakes. But other than those few niggles, Career Mode is certainly a lot of fun to play.
That’s a godsend too, as those hoping to get stuck in to the online multiplayer side of things may well have already missed the boat. Even just a few days out, the community seems to have up and left, never to be seen again. After spending a good twenty to thirty minutes at a time spamming the search option for games, I was only able to get involved with two or three online races before everyone had left and there were no lobbies left to join. Fortunately, there is a Split Screen option for those that have a friend handy for some same screen racing, as well as a Hot Seat mode for up to eight players with racers taking it in turns to pass the controller.
The Championship Mode on the other hand is an exciting way to keep things fresh, and invites players in to its weekly challenge with a new rally each week in which players must compete for the fastest time. Doing so earns points, with rank increases granted after earning enough points. Whilst first attempts earns the most, additional points can be awarded based on performance.
If you find yourself as an avid fan of arcade rally however, or simply find the game much more enjoyable than I have made it sound, there is the option of hunting down each of the ninety-five accomplishments within the game. Doing so will require a hell of a lot of dedication, with some accomplishments not unlocked until you’ve won 400 stages or driven more than 500km in the snow, it’ll be a tough ask. Hunting down all of the achievements is currently not something you’ll be able to do though, as it seems many are bugged and unwilling to unlock no matter how many times you complete the task.
Generally, WRC 7 isn’t a bad experience, but rather one that seems unjustified of the official license. Even then, there are a few issues that cause minor irritation.
The first one is the awkward controls in regards to gear changing. For those that like to take the manual option in their racers, you’ll know just how important it is to have a comfortable configuration, and with gear changes preset to the Y and A buttons, I can only question the decision to ditch the usual bumper setup and opt for a much more uncomfortable scheme. Luckily the pause menu does have an option to change the controls and I was able to swap things round to my own preference easily enough.
The other issue that I found a little more concerning was with the sound of the brakes on many of the cars. No matter whether you’re creeping into a corner or hitting a sharp ‘left 2’ after a jump, slamming on the brakes brings things more in line to that of a roller coaster rather than a several-hundred thousand pounds rally car. This isn’t something that affects the game as a whole, but it would have been nice to see a little more realism in all aspects of the game.
Overall and WRC 7 isn’t a bad game, but there is still a lot of work to be done to make it a memorable experience worthy of the WRC license. With a lack of realism during gameplay, WRC 7 struggles to feel like a step forward for the franchise. The already dying online player base and an all-round better experience found in a title now several years older, ensures that WRC 7 isn’t the revolutionary step in the right direction this potentially great franchise deserves.
If you’re looking for a casual racer, the experience may be just what you’re looking for, but those hardcore racers out there may be left disappointed.