REVIEW – Rally racing attracts a unique community worldwide, its fans are extremely dedicated and the sport has a deep-rooted history. The World Rally Championship is undoubtedly the most sophisticated simulation-based racing series in a game, offering players a high level of challenge. Codemasters first came to prominence with the Colin McRae racing series and then moved on to DiRT Rally. EA SPORTS WRC, the latest creation from the studio acquired by EA, is the official video game of the FIA World Rally Championship and is backed by the award-winning team behind it. Will they keep up the series’ momentum?
Rally fans will appreciate the legendary history of the cars featured in the game. Players will be able to choose from a selection of current WRC, WRC2 and Junior WRC cars, although the number of cars is limited. The selection also includes 2023 drivers, teams and sponsors. Codemasters offers only ten modern cars, while 68 legendary cars from 60 years of the sport are available in different categories, each offering a different driving experience to enrich the virtual racing experience. The developers have also tweaked the driving model that provided the most challenging but rewarding racing experience in the previous game.
Keep your car on the track!
The advanced Dynamic Handling System offers a varied driving experience on different types of terrain, be it dirt, asphalt or snow. Players can choose to race in dry, wet or snowy conditions, and the variety of seasons creates an even more diverse racing environment. One drawback is that puddles do not appear on wet tracks, although this used to be an important feature. The cars are more stable on asphalt, while on wet and snowy surfaces the grip is reduced to find the perfect balance. Players will also be able to import driver settings.
Compared to previous games, EA SPORTS WRC has made the more powerful cars more manageable. The handling and driving experience is still rewarding, but the difficulty seems to have been reduced even without the assists. While the assists can be helpful for beginners, there are many ways to increase the difficulty level. The key to rally racing is not full throttle, but driving technique – keeping your car on track in the toughest conditions.
In EA SPORTS WRC, using the steering wheel unleashes the true potential of the game, providing a noticeably greater difference in the control experience than using the controllers. Using the controller is also effective, you’re right in the middle of the action as you balance the car and navigate the corners, but the power-assisted steering provides a deeper experience. The satisfaction of completing over 200 stages at 17 current and past WRC venues is unrivaled in any racing game. I tested the game on PS5, where the DualSense capabilities were used fairly.
Build a car from scratch!
Codemasters is adding a new feature to the world of racing games, the Builder. Players will be able to build a car from scratch and race it in career mode, although it does not appear to be available for online racing yet. They can build their cars from real parts, within a budget, and customize it with their own paint job. They can then use the car in career mode to compete in three different categories of the FIA World Rally Championship. In Career Mode, players can assemble their team of engineers and manage the team’s endurance. There are new races every week, with the option to buy more cars to take part in a variety of events, including historic ones. The goal is to keep sponsors happy and manage the team’s budget. A teammate can be recruited to expand operations.
The career mode is different, but not extremely deep. There’s a skill tree to help develop aspects of the engineers and the team, but it’s good that players don’t just complete a single championship race. Yes, the goal is to win a championship in the appropriate league, and some races take longer than others, but it’s all about strategy. Because it’s designed differently than most other racing games, there are several seasons of progression and a solid single-player experience, even if it’s not extremely deep. Outside of the career mode, players can customize or create a championship, go straight to time trials where they can compete against others, quick play solo and multiplayer modes, and photo mode.
EA SPORTS WRC Moments mode allows players to relive defining moments in rallying, whether historic or recent, to keep the experience fresh. These challenges are updated daily and offer a varied driving experience. Rally School introduces beginners to the basics of the sport through short, hands-on challenges, while Regularity Rally focuses on average speed rather than time to further develop the skills of newcomers.
Unreal graphics engine in WRC as well
Under the hood of the latest installment in the series is Unreal Engine 4, which has improved the driving physics and the level of detail on the tracks. Every location is filled with canopy, grass, rocks and trees, and the ‘drawing distance’ adds to the overall feel of the environment. EA SPORTS WRC is currently only available on current generation consoles and PC, with PC users reporting some graphical and performance issues. On the PS5, for example, I was sad to experience the phenomenon of screen tearing during testing.
Crashing into objects on the side of the track can also cause stuttering, and online races can be choppy, which may be related to the quality of your network connection. The cars look solid but a little dated, with glossy bodywork that looks like a mirror image and interiors that are detailed but still reminiscent of the previous game. Surprisingly, the game’s graphics don’t look that sophisticated, but it has performance problems. There is no ray tracing and some reflections are downright ugly. The player models are similar to other Codemasters games, with light reflections sometimes creating strange effects.
But the sound makes up for it: the sound of the rally cars is real and of high quality, with each model sounding unique and brilliant. As you change the camera view, the sound changes too, with the hood view, for example, highlighting the turbos. The sound engineering is exceptional and the racing experience is worth listening to just for the sound of each car. The game’s soundtrack includes EDM and café-style music elements, and in replays these tracks perfectly complement the visual experience.
All rooms in the online game support multiplayer through quick matchmaking and a lobby system, but their shortcomings can be frustrating. Waiting for the end of longer races is tedious as there is no way to have fun while waiting. The countdown before the start of races has stalled several times. Often you have to wait just to get into a race, and there is no guarantee that you will be able to start in the car of your choice. On one occasion, I was behind the wheel of an Impreza, but found myself in a Lancia at the start. The voice control on the PC doesn’t work perfectly, the opponent’s speech drowns out the navigator’s instructions, so it might be better to turn off the chat. The cross-platform play is a big plus, although the lag in the online part is annoying; in a room of 30 people, the number drops to 10-15 within minutes.
EA SPORTS WRC takes the series in some new directions, with less emphasis on the challenges and rewards of DiRT Rally 2. While the game offers a similar experience, it feels more like a love letter to WRC history than a hardcore racing game. The career mode is a bright spot among the typical modes, but aside from car building, it’s not very deep. “Moments keeps the game fresh with new challenges every day. The driving model still demands attention from the player, although it doesn’t feel as punishing as it used to, although I’d prefer it to be. This may be less of an issue on consoles, but on the PC version, stuttering and performance issues demand immediate attention. The game doesn’t feel like a next-gen title, despite the foliage-rich graphics. VR testing has been done with the PC version, but VR is not available at launch. It’s worth noting that the game starts at $50 without the Deluxe Edition or DLC, but there is a Rally Pass for cosmetic content.
+ Differentiated driving models
+ Authentic rally car sounds
+ Cross-platform play
– Online errors and stuttering
– Limited career mode depth
– Graphics and performance issues on both PS5 and PC
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Style: rally simulator
Release: October 31, 2023.