Creating the official game of a racing series must be pretty stressful for the development team, don’t you think? If you do a good job, all is well, but if you represent the sport poorly, who knows what might happen? I’m not suggesting that the devs would wake up to find an engine block in their bed, but it’s an extra level of responsibility to be sure. So, given that KT Racing have stepped up to the plate once again to bring us WRC 9, the official game of the 2020 World Rally Season, we’d best get stuck in and see what they’ve done with the license.
First off, WRC 9 looks jolly nice. The new rally cars, for me, don’t have the same amount of personality as the classics from years gone by do – compare the thrill of screaming around in a Subaru Impreza or Lancia Delta Integrale with the thought of driving a Toyota Yaris. It’s not the same is it? Still, the cars are what they are, and while they may not get my motor running (see what I did there?) the inclusion of Historic Rallies does at least allow for some proper cars to be included. The car models themselves all look very nice too, and with a gallery to play with, you can admire the vehicles at your leisure. Sound-wise it’s all great as well, with growling engines, screeching tyres and, if it’s me behind the wheel, crumpling metal and breaking glass sound effects working very well. So, a big tick go to KT Racing in terms of presentation.
It looks good and sounds good, so the big question has to be about how WRC 9 plays – that and whether there is a decent amount of content to keep you playing. The second point is covered pretty well here, with the usual suspects from every racing game ever created all making an appearance. I’ve spent the majority of my time in the career mode, where there are a host of things to manage and keep on top of. Luckily, the tutorial is pretty good at showing you where the ropes are, if not what to do with them all. Career mode is so much more than just “rock up to the start line and put the hammer down”, requiring you to almost micro-manage every aspect of the team you put together. You have to hire (and fire) crew members, read and act on emails, keep your manufacturer happy, manage the team’s morale, schedule events, including enough rest for the team, and only then can you rock up to the start line and put the hammer down.
There are several events you can choose from too, ranging from full rallies, via historic events, to manufacturer tryouts and training sessions. Also included on the single player side of things is a season mode, where you can choose exactly what rallies to take part in, and a trial mode where tweaks to the cars’ setups can be trialled. There’s enough to keep you occupied, let’s put it that way!
Things are less rosy on the multiplayer side of the coin, however. With the best will in the world, and with multiple attempts, I’ve struggled with multiplayer sessions. There are a severe lack of lobbies available to find, and those which are created remain stubbornly empty. Some of this is undoubtedly down to me initially playing the game early in its release window, but I would have expected a few to pop up online; it was not to be. Similarly, there are events that you can take part in that have an online component, comparing you to the best in the world, and these are similarly empty, with one that I took part in having only 17 entrants on the leaderboard. It may well therefore be better off sticking to the single player.
So, all the cars are here, all the actual teams and the correct liveries are in place, and the many classes of car are represented too. These range from the full-blooded WRC cars, and also the less scary vehicles from the WRC 2 championship. Real life drivers ranging from the stars at the top of their game like Sebastian Ogier, through to up-and-comers in the Junior WRC like Martins Sesks (no, I’ve not heard of him either!) are present too. And all the work that has gone into the cars and detail is mirrored in the stages that are faithfully reproduced for your driving pleasure. Ranging from the snows of Sweden to the grippy tarmac of Germany, and taking in the gravel delights of Finland and Argentina, there is almost 900kms of track reproduced here, and that’s enough for anyone, given that much of it appears to consist of a slim ribbon of road making its way up a mountain. Seriously, some of the tracks here are vertigo-inducing, especially if you drive in the front bumper view point like I do, and you’re only ever one mistimed brake or handbrake pull away from disaster. Unfortuately, it is here where I first began to struggle with the controls of WRC 9, if I’m brutally honest. Let me elaborate.
I imagine that the one thing a real-life WRC driver would prize above all else in his choice of steed would be consistency – the sure and certain knowledge that when you use the same brake and steering inputs, the car will behave in the same way; predictably and reliably. Well, the cars in WRC 9 don’t do that, sadly. Sometimes a pull of the handbrake is required to drift nicely around a hairpin, but the next hairpin you come to, the same amount of steering will see the car pivot 90 degrees and smash into the side of the road, or, if you are really unlucky, off a cliff, resulting in a crash and lost time at the very least.
You see, there is also a “perma death” mechanic that can be turned on, and if you crash too much going through a stage, the car can be totalled, resulting in you having a DNF on your record. If anything, the gravel stages are actually harder to drive than the snow ones, weirdly, as gravel seems to be much slippier than snow. The braking on gravel is very hard to judge, even with ABS turned on, and results in tip-toeing around the stages, more than a minute off the pace. Any attempts to speed up are rewarded with more slides, spins, trees and rocks than I care to remember, and I’m sure the repair team loved me when I finally limped into the service area. Now, some of the handling foibles are doubtless down to me, with my fists of ham and fingers of butter, but I never had this much trouble with DiRT Rally 2.0, so I’m going to say it isn’t all me.
In conclusion then and WRC 9 on Xbox One seems to be a faithful representation of the world of the WRC. It is punishingly hard, and tweaking of a car’s setup to find extra seconds is very much recommended. It doesn’t handle anywhere near as well as the aforementioned DiRT Rally 2.0 though, and as a result isn’t as much fun, but I’m guessing that rally driving in real life can be difficult and punishing, so that aspect appears to be bang on. The amount of single player content is very good, which goes some way towards mending the lack of multiplayer opponents who are ‘frequenting’ the online worlds. For fans of the genre, WRC 9 is a very good facsimile of what it must be like to run a WRC team, but for those of you who want their rally driving to be more enjoyable and less like being mugged, then DiRT Rally 2.0 is where the smart money goes.