The Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA) World Rally Championship is a steadfast brand with millions, if not hundreds of millions, of fans worldwide. The yearly championship seeks to determine who the best rally teams are in the world. For a number of years, fans of video games could join in on the fun without the risk or severe insurance payouts. Until, of course, the official video game took a backseat in 2017. Since then, WRC fans have clamoured for a good rally simulation video game. Fortunately, excellent titles such as Dirt 2.0 have filled the void. Even so, many hardcore fans have continued to lust for an officially sanctioned title. Fortunately, 2019 will make rally game fans happy, as BigBen Interactive and Kylotonn Racing are back with WRC 8, the official FIA World Rally Championship video game counterpart.
While the release of WRC 8 is one heck of a reason to celebrate, it seems like the developers have focused a bit too much on aspects unrelated to gameplay. It pains me to say it, but WRC 8 is a flawed rally sim; the details of which I explain within this Vamers WRC 8 review.
Welcome to The Office
As with all racing simulations, WRC 8 does not really feature a “story” mode in the traditional sense. This is not the roaring 90s, where every single video game had to have a cliched narrative about some guy living the dream. Rather, it simply throws you into the everyday life of a team taking part in the FIA World Rally Championship.
Outside of choosing which category you want to play (WRC, WRC 2, and WRC Junior), the game unfolds in the exact same way. To start, you manage a huge building, complete with employees and pit staff. It is up to you to answer emails, pay the bills, hire the correct people, and keep up relations with brands and manufacturers. This is arguably the most intriguing aspect of WRC 8. As someone who adores the hardcore simulation that Dirt 2.0 offers, I have admittedly grown too complacent with things just coming my way. In WRC 8, the player is the one who ensures how things will play out. Emails have to be answered, and relationships have to be maintained. When funds run dry, you are forced to go into the next race with a damaged vehicle, or one less staff member. When manufacturers think you are a bad driver, you are stuck with the same old vehicle until you can prove them wrong. This is honestly a great aspect of the game.
The weakest part of the management aspect comes by way of the ability and perk points accrued throughout the game. As these are obtained you can unlock new perks in a weird role-playing game (RPG) tech tree. This RPG element is by no means bad, but the way it has been implemented feels out of place in a game like WRC8. Through this tree, you can unlock the means to hire, for example, a meteorologist. Weirdly enough, you cannot do so with the funds won from racing. You can only unlock the means to hire better engineers, team managers and more with skill points. It is a strange design decision, one effectively rendering the money accrued from races as moot. Instead relying on arbitrary and non-sensical skill points.
My qualms with the unnecessary gameplay mechanics aside, I must reiterate that I absolutely loved this aspect of the game. It is what happens after this point, where I feel the game starts to show its true weaknesses: racing.
Racing in WRC 8 is as straightforward as you might expect from a racing title. Before being let on the track, however, the game lets you choose from a number of racing types. These consist of training courses where you hone your skills, historic matches where you drive a sponsored vehicle down a historic venue; time trials, where you need to make it to the end, or as close to the end in as quick a manner as possible; and more. These races take up most of the time between having to manage a team and the actual championship races dotted throughout the rally season calendar. Whether you are taking part in an optional race, or actually taking part in the championship, the gameplay turns into an arcade racer. Thus effectively pushing aside the simulation elements the franchise is known for.
Hairpin into a spin
It stands to reason how ‘fan fatigue’ might have negatively impacted the franchise when the seventh iteration of WRC came around. This is why BigBen’s two-year sabbatical for the franchise turned out to be a very welcome one in the end. Not only did it rejuvenate the want for the franchise, but it also gave the developers a chance to breathe some new life into the inevitable release. As a hardcore simulation fan, however, I am struggling to see the benefits of this new life with WRC8.
In the two years that WRC fans have idly been sitting and waiting, Kylotonn crafted a rally sim that is, honestly, unlike any I have seen from the franchise. Like Dirt 3, WRC 8 takes itself very seriously in its approach toward the rally, and the world surrounding the sport. Unlike Dirt 3, there are aspects to the title that make no sense! WRC 8 is very much a simulation title – there is no question about that. The way it approaches said simulation, however, seems careless.
Do not get me wrong, I liked my time with the game from the moment I pressed the options button. From launch, WRC 8 immediately throws you into a test match, where you have to choose from three options that generalise how good of a simulation player you are. You then proceed to race down a mixed dirt/asphalt track in the hopes of making it far enough for the game to recognise your supreme talent – or lack thereof. After this, the game opens up into the profile creator, and the rest of, well, the game. From the opening moment, all the way through my countless retries on the initial test track, I was overcome with a sense of awkwardness. While I liked how the game looked, and how many options I was given to customise my cockpit experience, the vehicle felt hollow and light. Kind of like a radio-controlled car instead of a manned vehicle, complete with a heavy-duty roll cage, stripped panels, and reinforced frame.
Since its release, I have enjoyed countless hours with Dirt Rally 2.0. The game is a blast in terms of how much stimulation it offers, and how real-life translates into the video game world (and how many liberties the developers had to take in that regard). With this in mind, I have to mention that WRC 8 feels awkward in its handling. While I understand how real life will not always translate into the video gaming world (until I save enough money to get a nice steering wheel/gear peripheral combo), I also recognise when vehicle physics do not mimic real life in a satisfactory way. Vehicles in WRC 8 feel lightweight, much like micro-machines. Handling is cumbersome in this regard, with cars turning too quickly when they really should not. Worse still are how the tiny rocks jutting out of the side of the road will send cars flying off into one direction, like the car is some knock-off space rocket – which happened far too often during my play through.
The odd physics aside, WRC 8 does feel good to drive. Cars pick up speed quickly, and turning on asphalt feels quick and zippy, but asphalt is not what rally is all about. As soon as asphalt roads turn to dirt, or as soon as hard gravel becomes a tiny bit too wet, the game devolves into a Need for Speed clone from the glory days of 90s gaming.
As a simulation enthusiast, I want to have a hard time handling the vehicle. Not because of artificial numbers skyrocketing when rains start to fall, but because of how the tyres manage to hold onto the road or path, and how well the dirt on the said path is melded to the road. I want to see my tyres squealing in the heat, or chipping as I drive over course gravel. Instead, what WRC 8 gives me is the exact same handling, whether on asphalt or gravel, and the same experience whether said road is wet or dry. It offers a strange arcade-like experience and then expects me to drive like I am still playing a simulation game. This is especially an issue when my co-pilot tells me that I should not cut, and hold a straight line, and the game decides how the tiniest piece of debris in the road, will turn my vehicle into a rocket ship. I wish I had footage of this, but it was comical, to say the least.
Issues like the odd physics are prevalent all the way through every track as well. Tiny rocks will have your vehicle stop dead, while huge boulders will somehow always puncture your tyres. Getting to grips with the handling of the game would be easy enough if it did not randomly just become more difficult to handle the moment a drop hit the windscreen.
Pace notes are what make or break it for any rally team, be they virtual or otherwise. Dirt 2.0 introduced me to proper pace notes in a way I had only briefly been accustomed to before (via old WRC titles, no less). However, something happened between WRC 5 (yes I know) and WRC 8. The pace notes, or perhaps the voice actor and his direction, are all-wrong! It happened more often than I could count, where my co-pilot would tell me that there is a right hairpin ahead when in reality, it is nothing more than a short right turn with the tightness of ‘1’. Alternatively, my co-pilot would yell out about a “square turn right” coming up, which would actually be a normal right turn with the tightness of ‘3’.
I have no idea why WRC 8 uses this unconventional method of keeping pace notes, but this is how the game functions. To its credit you can customise how often and how fast the pace notes are delivered into your earpiece. Unfortunately, there do not appear to be any options for adjusting Pace notes nor is there any machine learning to better influence how they might influence gameplay. Perhaps the developers changed the conventions sometime between past games and WRC 8, and I am just too old to keep up. Whatever the case may be, I did not enjoy the way Pace notes have been handled in the game.
WRC 8 may not be the best there is when it comes to racing gameplay, but it does stand up to the best of them when it comes to visuals. The game is gorgeous.
With that in mind, I am not a fan of the way the team seemingly ran out of graphical assets midway through copying over the officially licensed and sanctioned tracks. Signage is used repetitively throughout the game, and the same roadblocks are evident around every second race track.
Despite the prevalence of tiny graphical hitches keeping me from immersing myself completely in the game, there is a lot that kept it fun. Tracks, especially, are crafted phenomenally. Forests are lush and dense, and dry mountain paths are exactly as they should be. I also particularly liked how non-playable characters (NPCs) seemed to have some life to them.
Somehow Kylotonn managed to make all tracks come alive with incredible detail. Perhaps this is why the pathing on said tracks is as wonky as it is? I will not pretend like I know how to develop, but I suspect that the immense amount of detail does not translate too well into smooth gameplay, especially when you have to take into account good tyres and their grip in certain situations.
I also have to commend the developers on how smooth the game runs at pretty much all times. Loading is always quick and the gameplay itself is a smooth experience. I also appreciate how loading does not interrupt the current song that is playing in the menus – a welcome addition, considering how much I actually like the soundtrack!
On the topic of sound, I will say that vehicles all sounded unique and different, depending on their setups and tweaks. This is an especially welcome aspect of the game since so many motorcycle titles tend to use the same output for any and all motorcycles. Then again, it probably has something to do with the very few licensed teams that WRC 8 actually supports.
Good base for the inevitable better sequel
Now that Codemaster is back with the absolutely stellar title that is Dirt 2.0, the WRC franchise has a lot of catching up to do. WRC 8 is the first game to be released in the World Rally Championship brand since 2017, and you know what? I cannot fault them for what has been released. It is a good rally simulation with a lot of good things going for it, but it is not the best rally title currently available.
WRC 8 has a strong career mode with an incredible focus on team management, unlike what I have seen in simulation titles before. Vehicles also look beautiful and are complemented by the absolutely stellar looking tracks. It is just a shame how they handle like an arcade racer – one whose heyday has long since past.
WRC 8 is great for what it does, but it leaves a lot to be desired. Fortunately, Kylotonn is known to learn and adapt to best their competition. While WRC 8 will fill the void for any hardcore fan, there are better alternatives out there for the person who just wants a good rally sim. I have no doubts that WRC 9, whenever it inevitably releases, will be the best rally simulation game out there. WRC 8, however, just ain’t it.
|Time Played||10+ Hours|
|Acquisition||Review code courtesy of BigBen Interactive|