Having released just before the launch of the new consoles, the next-gen update for WRC 9 had to wait just like we did for Xbox Series X|S and PlayStation 5 to release. However, it is now here, but what does it bring to WRC 9?
Without re-treading too much ground, our initial review when the game launched back in September can be found here.
The only real changes can be found in the graphics department with a 4K upgrade now available on Xbox Series X|S. The cars themselves now look stunning; almost photorealistic. The light bounces off them at all the right angles. Most impressively though is the way the dirt sticks to the chassis. After driving through a dirt or dusty stage you can see the detritus on your back bumper exactly as you would expect it to.
You have a few options at your disposal visually. Scroll down to Rendering mode in the Gameplay settings of the menu and you can choose from the following options: Balanced mode, which gives a dynamic 4K and 60fps, or High Visual Quality which improves the general look and feel but is restricted to 30fps. For Xbox Series X owners there is also a 120Hz mode, but this drops resolution down to 1080p.
When driving, the cars and the tracks themselves are presented with the same clarity as each other. The areas surrounding them however are a bit lacking. Stop for a second to take a look and you will wish you hadn’t; everything looks underwhelming. Trees and foliage especially look last, last generation. Wind effects are also disappointing; rather than swaying in the wind, trees just wiggle to simulate the effect.
Of course, you shouldn’t be taking in too much attention when charging through tight and narrow bends, but the difference in graphical fidelity is even noticeable at high speeds and is disappointing to see.
In the months since the original release though we have seen some updates. New stages, drivers, online modes and the all-important photo mode are all present and correct in the next-gen version. If you’d ignored photo mode on the Xbox One, you have no excuse on the Xbox Series X version.
As usual, Career mode is where you will spend most of your time. From the start you have the option of choosing where to make your mark by starting in either the Junior WRC or WRC 3 division. Career mode also allows you to manage crew members, funds, the calendar and much more, right down into the granular details. But if you would rather just focus on the racing without the additional gameplay features, there is Season mode that removes all the fluff.
In Career mode you can choose when to race, train or rest. Most events contribute to several different bars that you need to monitor. There is your EXP bar which is self-explanatory, but also your Morale bar and Manufacturer Relationship. Do well in events and your morale improves, likewise for your relationships with your manufacturer. By also completing trials in other manufacturer’s cars you can improve your standings with those, and may be even offered contracts with them.
However, when taking on new contracts in higher WRC divisions, morale and relationships seem to reset. I would have expected morale to be at an all-time high when earning a promotion, likewise when sticking with the same manufacturer through divisions too.
Handling has been improved on the cars in general, but still feels a bit hit and miss. There is always this element of the unknown when approaching a corner; will the car turn as anticipated or will there be too much understeer? This seems to happen more when on gravel or asphalt, less so when on slippier surfaces such as snow or dirt.
Away from Career mode, there are plenty of other options to choose from. Another personal favourite was Challenge mode that gives you short and sharp races with three objectives to complete. The better your performance, the more points you are awarded, and these then collect to unlock more challenges. There are 50 challenges in total and range from Extreme Condition races, where you need to get as far as possible, to Maintenance challenges – in these you can only repair certain parts of the car before then taking it out for a spin.
Even in Multiplayer, you are presented with several options, letting you create or join lobbies where players can form their own rulesets or rallies, or you may choose to compete in an Online Event. There are daily and weekly events where you can earn points based on leaderboard position too. Occasionally there will also be a Special Challenge with a real-life prize such as a watch or something extra. Coming in 2021 there is also the WRC eSports League once again.
Also recently added is the Co-Driver mode, where you team up with another online player – one driver and one navigator – to compete online. This has the potential to be really good fun but – as mentioned in our initial review – online servers are disappointingly empty. Finding a partner may be tricky.
WRC 9 on Xbox Series X|S will certainly appeal to existing WRC fans. It features tricky and technical racing that may be off-putting to others, especially when you consider the likes of Dirt 5 that offer a much more accessible experience. With the free updates and Series X|S optimisations, there are several improvements over the initial launch. But the resolution and frame rate improvements only highlight the differences between the details on the cars compared to the surrounding areas. Still, there are improvements to the weaker areas of previous entries, and if you prefer time trial racing over crashing into other drivers on the same track, WRC 9 is your best bet.