Video Game Review: WRC 2 (FIA World Rally Championship)

There was a short period of time when the Speed Channel would air one-hour recaps of each World Rally Championship event. These shows would show highlights and results of most rally stages and would have interviews and technical features. I always thought these guys were sort of nuts to try to thread the needle of a 300 HP race car on a dirt/snow/poorly paved road that’s maybe a car-width and a half wide with trees or a cliff or a large drop on either side of the road. Fortunately, my dreams of being a rally driving lunatic can be fulfilled virtually in WRC 2. But how good is this game at recreating the rally experience? I review the game after the jump.

Gameplay

Rally is a fairly unique form of motorsports in that drivers don’t compete on track at the same time. They run one and a time through the stage with the fastest time winning. Rallies consist of several stages and the driver with the fastest cumulative time over the event wins the rally. Not surprisingly, racing in WRC 2 follows this format.

In single and multiplayer, you can race single rally stages, full rally events, partial rally events and multiple rallies over a championship. There are custom rallies and championships available as well. The interesting multiplayer mode is “hot seat” in which you can have multiple people play on the same console one-at-a-time like a real rally. Also in single player mode, there is a training  mode called WRC Academy where you learn how to best take a car around corners sideways.

The heart of the game is the Road To WRC mode. It’s the closest equivalent to a single player dynasty mode. In it, you build your own rally team from a team running small rallies in JWRC until you reach the WRC. You have to buy cars using money earned from sponsors found by the PR team you hired and upgrade your cars using the mechanics you select. It’s a much more in-depth team management experience than last season which didn’t have an engineering team and sponsors were unlocked by reaching goals. This year’s Road To WRC mode is much more fulfilling than last year’s because of that extra work you have to do to reach the top and the more real setup of a rally team’s personnel.

Realism

Why separate gameplay from realism? Game modes are one thing. Actually getting in the car and running the rallies are very different. Also, the press materials also suggest that the crew at Black Bean are treating the racing as more of a simulation (rewind feature not withstanding).

All 13 WRC events are available in the game. However, the rallies aren’t recreations of their real life brethren. Where as F1 and NASCAR games go to painstaking detail to allow you to recreate a full-distance, full-length racing season. However, WRC 2 doesn’t let you participate in rallies with 18 to 23 stages per event but 6 to 7 stages. Service is available after every rally instead of after after a few stages. Stage length is anywhere between two and five minutes rather than the up to 20 minutes for a typical WRC stage.

That abbreviated creation of the WRC season would be my biggest problem with WRC 2. It’s a blessing and a curse. While I don’t expect Black Bean to accurately recreate all WRC stages, I would have thought that they would watch tape from last season’s events and seen planned routes for this season’s rallies to be able to attempt to recreate stages. When other games give you a full-length racing event and season, you have to make an effort to try to recreate the rally season. WRC 2 rallies take from three to four hours of stages to complete. It would be nice if we had a length scaling option like in other racing games for number of stages. I don’t think we need 20 minute stages but number of stages is something that needs to be looked at for WRC 2012.

A minor gripe with the set up of these rallies is that you never see another car except on Super Special stages (where two cars run on parallel tracks but not on the same track and the same time). Cars are given a staggered launch so several cars will be on a stage at any given time. However, you never actually see another car. Because you know the times of everyone ahead of you in a stage, logically, you’re the last car on a stage. If you’re very much faster than the rest, you should happen across at least one car on your travels but you never do. Changing your starting position and seeing other cars on the stage is something DiRT 3 does but hasn’t been added to WRC 2. Maybe we can get is for next year.

As for the actual driving, the cars and classes all handle differently. There’s a change in how the cars drive depending on the road surface/covering. However, the handling doesn’t always feel intuitive. There is a definite learning curve. For example, I drive a Ford Fiesta and drive during Canadian winters. However, the Fiesta R2 in the game doesn’t seem to handle quite the same as mine. It’s a minor gripe but it takes you out of the game when you have to think about driving rather than just driving.

Graphics

When the most notable thing about the graphics of a game is a change in the menu’s colour palette, you know you’re not knocking anyone’s socks off. The menus have gone from predominantly black to predominantly white. Okay, I suppose the faded colour palette the game is using is also noteworthy. There isn’t much in the way of vibrant colours being used. I would think this was done mostly to make this seem like you were watching on TV rather than having the traditionally cliché overly vibrant colours we traditionally get from video games.

Apart from that, the graphics definitely aren’t worth writing home about. DiRT 3 came out in May 2011 and has superior graphics to October’s WRC 2. It’s likely that the development team spent more time working on gameplay over the last year while the DiRT 3 crew has enough of a gap between 2 and 3 that they worked on everything. The graphics in this game can get up to the standard of this generation’s racing games but they need to put the effort in to get there. For now, it’s lagging behind pretty much everything in the genre.

Sound

Sounds might be where this game falls apart the most. If you’ve ever watched WRC coverage, the cars have a sound completely unique to everything else. There’s an overwhelming sound of turbo whine and the wastegate chirping on shifts with intermittent backfire and the sound of the car slicing through dirt and snow.

The JWRC cars sound like they’re straight out of the 16-bit video game era. The rest of the cars sound alright but the turbos on the WRC cars just doesn’t match what you see on TV. There seems to be only two sounds for the car hitting a barrier: a light hit and a full-on crash.

The music selection is limited as well. You’re definitely not going to confuse the soundtrack for the Dirt series or even F1 2011. You’ve got some weird techno song on the opening video which was a huge downgrade from last year’s use of Pendulum. It also seems as though there is one menu song. A great big video game and it ships with two songs. I really preferred NASCAR Racing 2003 Season by Papyrus in terms of soundtrack and it didn’t even have one!

Overall

This game seems to suffer because it wants to have its cake and eat it too. It wants to be a simulator of the 2011 WRC season but it also wants to be an accessible video game. The problem is that an accessible rally game would be DiRT 3 which is an arcade (rather than simulation) rally game. It’s the same thing with the old NASCAR games. There were arcade games (EA Sports’ NASCAR Thunder series) and there were simulations (Papyrus’ NASCAR Racing series). This game feels like it wants to appeal to both hardcore rally fans and casual racing game fans. If that’s the case, make it like Papyrus games and have two different handling models to choose between.

For now, though, this is the closest you can get to driving the actual cars and rallies of the WRC and its feeder categories. But if you’re looking for a fun rally game, you’re still better off going with DiRT 3.

Ratings
Gameplay: 7/10
Realism: 7/10
Graphics: 5/10
Sound: 5/10

Overall: 6.5/10

The PC version of this game was reviewed but it can also be played on PS3 and XBox 360.

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