World Rally Championship is back once again in WRC 9. The official game of FIA brings the wild world of rally racing to next generation consoles.
Start your engines
Are you a racing game fan? And if you are, do you dig titles the lean a little more to the arcade like the Forza series, or the more sim-like stuff like Gran Turismo?
Actually let’s go a little deeper still, because there’s another variable I’m going to throw at you – have you ever played a sim-tilted racer that was off road, rally style? I ask because there’s a huge difference in the gameplay you might be unaware of.
For me, it had been years and years since I’d played a rally title, and I honestly forgot what it was like. And I mean completely forgot. As such, I had a rude awakening with WRC 9, the latest in the highly-regarded World Rally Championship series.
That’s not necessarily a bad thing, since it certainly presented something very different for me to review. Still, it was a bit of a trial by fire, and you’ll see what I meanly that.
He’s a mudder
Like all racing games, the point in WRC 9 is to hit the finish line with the best time, or before your opponents. Win races, basically. That’s pretty straightforward genre stuff, though as mentioned above, World Rally Championship 9’s races aren’t what you might be used to. Its brand is tough, rough, and takes place in all-elements.
This is something that’s apparent from the very beginning of the game, and WRC 9 doesn’t ease players who might not be used to its mechanics (like me) into anything. Though there thankfully is a tutorial, the game throws gamers into a little of everything right from the jump.
Play goes from sorta-controlled on-track settings, to ‘extreme weather’ conditions. If you’re not getting the drift (pardon the pun), the races in the rally world don’t exactly get called on account of rain. While we’re taking about what makes this so different, know too that the rally system itself is a unique breed.
Rally events are set up over the course of several days, with events taking place in a staged manner. In between those is a chance to put your pit crew to work, fixing damage to your vehicle.
Your crew is a game unto itself, as you’ll have to manage them. That’s in addition to basically running a whole racing company, though it isn’t as daunting as that probably sounds. Still, everything from the makeup of your cars, to your sponsors and paying attention to your ever-endangered relationship with them, is in the game.
WRC 9 asks you what kind of experience you have with rally titles right at the start. You can set the difficulty, as well as the levels of damage that can happen to your cars, and how that affects gameplay.
That’s a really good thing, since again, this is pretty unique racing that does take time to adjust to. Rally racing, particularly in the rougher elements but even on more sedate courses, can be a harrowing experience.
It’s stunningly easy to careen off a hill, or spin out and find yourself facing the wrong direction (there’s an emergency respawn feature for that). Oh, and hairpin turns? Yes, lots.
Fortunately the controls in WRC 9 are quite good, they just take a little while to get used. Well, they did for me. Again, if you have a good deal of time invested in the sub-genre though, I’d imagine you’ll have no time sliding (is that another pun?) right into this one.
As you might imagine, almost everything is customizable and upgradable in WRC 9 as well. So you can tweak your car to your liking, directly affecting gameplay, as you traverse the campaign.
She’s a beaut’
One thing I thought was pretty great in WRC 9 immediately after starting it up, are the graphics. This is a pretty darn good-looking racer. As I mentioned before, one of WRC 9’s strengths are its varied locales, and the game knows how to show ’em off.
Playing on an Xbox Series X, WRC 9 both looks and sounds great. Courses are gorgeous, decked out in natural beauty. At times it’s tempting to gawk at the scenery instead of paying attention to the road (or what passes for one). If you missed the previous section, don’t make a habit of that.
But that’s not to say that the game is flawless. I noticed a decent amount of popup here and there. Kind of strange honestly, especially in contrast to the rest of the experience. It’ll be interesting, as we get further into post-launch if that’s addressed in a patch. Seems like there’d be no real reason it couldn’t be ironed out.
I want to mention the sound too, since it’s terrific. The effects are great throughout, and the co-pilot in particular is awesome. It might not sound like much, but having him call a rough layout of the course that lies ahead is really helpful.
You can never be too prepared in a rally. Or at least, that’s what I’m assuming after playing WRC 9.
So, I get the distinct feeling that how much you like WRC 9 comes down to how much experience you have with rally games. If you don’t have much, then there’s a good chance that you might get frustrated with it too soon.
If you stick with it though, I think you’ll find WRC 9 presents a nice variation on the typical racing theme. You have to get the hang of them, but the controls are solid, the game mostly looks great-to-phenomenal, and managing your team/company could easily be spun off into a sim-type game all by itself.
Start your engines, mind the false-start, and watch those corners.
Release date: September 3rd, November 2020 for Xbox Series X|S, PS5
Platforms: Xbox Series X|S (reviewed), PS5, Xbox One, PS4, PC, Switch
MSRP: $59.99 USD