WRC 5 Review: Dirty Rally

wrc5-headerOne of our unanticipated annual traditions on et geekera is the review of some annual sports franchises in the fall. In the next little bit, we’ll review Football Manager 2016 (the third entry we’ve reviewed in our under three years of existence) and Franchise Hockey Manager 2 will be the latest addition to the lineup of sport reviews. But the one I’ve been doing the longest between etg and The Lowdown is WRC. After a year’s hiatus, the World Rally Championship game is back. While much has changed, a lot still stays the same.

The first thing to mention about WRC 5 is that Big Ben Interactive has found a new developer for the series. Milestone is out and Kylotonn is now in charge of the World Rally Championship game. Apparently they have 25 games under their belt but I’ve never seen or heard of any of them before. They say they remade Speedball 2 (not the HD one) but I’ve never seen it and I liked Speedball 2 HD.

So the first thing you’ll note is that Kylotonn has gone back to the drawing board with the WRC license since it is their first go at developing it. One thing that I remember from the Milestone WRC games is that a lot of the special stages (the point-to-point race courses of a rally) were recycled every year. This year, the stages are all new. It’s a nice change from four iterations of the status quo. I just wish there were more than six stages per rally.

wrc5-screenshot-02On the plus side, there is some variety in the stages. There are some elevation changes. There is enough variety in the length, layout and complexity of the stages that some stages can be very challenging. We’ll get on to the revised rewind system later but I wouldn’t want to try running a rally without rewinds. There isn’t a lot of camber but there were a good variety of quick and tight turns.

The driving physics were okay. The slower the car, the more it felt like it was digging into the road. I guess that could be a power-to-weight ratio thing. In any event, the cars were a little harder to handle as the speeds increased which is what I was hoping for. The only problem is that the handling was more arcade than sim which mean that handling was never a challenge. The racing surfaces didn’t just feel different from each other but between rallies with the same surface which was a nice touch.

Kylotonn has made a few game mode additions this year. There is an eSports mode that will start in calendar 2016. I have no idea what that’s supposed to be and I’m not holding off on this review for two months to find out. On the main menu screen, there are a couple of community challenges in which you try to complete a rally stage under specific circumstances to rank a top the leaderboard. I don’t know if there are any rewards and you have to dig through the menus to find out how you did upon completion.

The key addition is the Rally School. It’s similar to the licenses in Gran Turismo. Watch the demonstration, follow the racing line and complete the lessons. It actually does help you hone your techniques and get used to the handling model on dirt and tarmac surfaces.

Unfortunately, it has a few problems. Your success in a test is rated on time to complete the course and driving precision. The latter is based on how tightly you stick to the racing line. You don’t lose points based on how far you stray from the line but the length of time you’re off the line. You might be six inches off the line in a straight line but stay off it for a half-second and you’ll fail the test. I actually had one test that I failed because I didn’t follow the angle of the line on a straight shot to the finish. Another test saw me pass despite nosing my car to a stop into a barrel but because the tail of my car was still on the line, the collision didn’t decrease my score.

wrc5-screenshot-04Speaking of new features, the now traditional rewind feature has been given an overhaul by Kylotonn. Rather than being able to back up 10 seconds or whatever the rewind usually is, you rewind to the previous checkpoint. There are four checkpoints per stage (plus the start which acts as a checkpoint for the first section of the stage). When you rewind, you go back to the last checkpoint you crossed at a standstill which means you get punished for rewinding which is unusual for the genre but not unwelcome. In the Milestone WRC games, those checkpoints let you check your time against the competition. This time, there’s no leader boards until the end of the stage which is more realistic but it also means there is no purpose to the checkpoints other than the rewind mechanic.

Apart from these, you have the standard quick stage, quick rally, career and multiplayer modes.

So let’s get into what’s gone wrong in Kylotonn’s first effort making a World Rally Championship game.

The AI and difficulty in the career mode might be completely broken. Having completed both the J-WRC and WRC-2 championships in career mode, I noticed that there were a lot of stages and rallies that I was winning overall. Yes, my little lightly modified Citroen DS3 was faster than the works top class Citroen WRC cars. So was my Super 2000 spec Ford Fiesta in WRC-2.

What made things worse is that not only was I overall fastest in a rally or stage in a support class car, other cars in support categories were faster than the top WRC driver. I’d win a stage by less than one second (and stages you win are ALWAYS won by a small margin) and the top three cars in my category and the fastest from the other support class would be faster than the fastest WRC car. It’s as if the other cars have no AI. Their times are all seem randomly generated based on your time unless it’s slower than a certain threshold at which you wouldn’t win the stage. It’s an embarrassing shortcut in the programming. This game should get a negative review based solely on that.

Speaking of the difficulty, I’m not sure if there is any purpose to the difficulty setting other than to limit the number of rewinds you have available. I never went on easy but medium allowed five rewinds and restarts per stage, hard allowed one and extreme had none. I like the inclusion of limiting restarts. In the Milestone games, if I ever ran out of rewinds, I could just restart the stage. Kylotonn have outsmarted a lot of gamers with that one.

I don’t like that the number of rewinds and restarts are geared to difficulty. I would love to push myself with the extreme difficulty but keep my one rewind. Granted, my anecdotal evidence says that difficulty doesn’t matter but it would be nice to be able to push myself as hard as I could with a little margin for error to see if difficulty matters. I seem to recall most other games with rewinds have a default number but allow you to customize separately from difficulty.

wrc5-screenshot-01The damage model is interesting for lack of a better turn. You’ll ruin your suspension if you go on two wheels which seems weird. I had one rally where I spent at least the final third of a stage stuck in 3rd gear. Not only did I win the stage but I didn’t seem to have any adverse side effects from being stuck in third gear! I’ve also managed to ruin my suspension and bodywork by running over seemingly normal. And the “that was dodgey” co-driver dialogue has played during seemingly normal driving but not when I’ve run into a rock or sideswiped a telephone pole.

One annoying little glitch I encountered in a J-WRC rally nearly derailed my season. My power bar failed in the middle of the second stage of a rally. I rebooted to find myself in stone dead last on the start of Day Two. Under Super 2000 rules, I was given a time for each stage that was one minute slower than the slowest time for that stage. That included the first stage which I completed and won. It’s good to know that Kylotonn has such faith in the stability of their game that an unexpected event is punished by deleting your times from the first day. If I wasn’t reviewing the game, I probably would have given up right then and there.

If I’m going over weird programming, they didn’t quite get the rules for WRC-2 right. In WRC-2, drivers competing for the championship have to enter at least seven rounds (two of which must be outside Europe) with the top six results counting for points. The team championship only allows for the top finishing driver for a multi-car team to earn points. In the game, some of that is thrown out. Drivers will only compete in a maximum of seven WRC-2 events with all rallies counting in drivers points and all results counting in team points.

Let’s move on to graphics. They’re better than in previous year with Milestone but I wouldn’t call them good yet. The textures are okay. The trackside objects and foliage also look okay. Fans are virtually nonexistant even on the highest crown density. Nothing looks photo realistic but it doesn’t look terrible. That being said, I thought that Ride looked better than what WRC’s new devs came up with.

wrc5-screenshot-03The colour saturation is pretty low as was the case in WRC 4. Kind of like what you’d expect watching on TV. It’s most apparent in low light or foggy situations in dirt rallies. The brown of the dirt blends in with the dark green of the nearby grass and foliage. Combine that with the fog that looks okay but tanks your framerate and doesn’t have any graphics options to turn down and you have a nightmare of a drive. There are plenty of ways to make a game difficult. Inhibiting vision at 100+ mph is not one of those ways.

There were some weird graphics glitches besides that. There were times when you were just off the side of the road where the car wouldn’t seem to bump so much as judder. It looked like the car was jumping around like it didn’t have shocks or springs. The backfire effect from the exhaust will light up your rear spoiler but it’s logically not one of those things that I think would actually happen. It’s a neat effect but kind of needless.

The car engine sounds are unspectacular. They’re more of a buzzing or humming sound than the combination of throaty racing engine with the high-pitched whine of a turbocharger. You don’t really hear the sound of the gravel as you cut through it. It’s so disappointing because you want to feel like you’re turning wheels in anger but the sound doesn’t really backup the driving.

And before you do anything in WRC 5, move the pace notes to “ahead.” Once multiple turns are strung together, normal pace notes will fall behind. When more than four turns are strung together, the ahead pace notes fall behind to the point where some get skipped. You rely on your pace notes not to crash to them not being up to snuff is a big point against.

Conclusion

wrc5-screenshot-05I know I had quite a few issues with WRC 5 but I’ve always been a massive racing game fan so if there’s one genre that will get picked apart harder than the rest, it’s racing games. Don’t get me wrong. WRC 5 is a perfectly competent racing game. But that’s all that it is. It doesn’t reach a higher plane than that.

While the addition of new game modes is nice, I still can’t get over the AI difficulty programming or lack thereof. WRC 5 should get a better rating than WRC 4 but the difficulty menu absolutely destroys any chance that the game has of getting a higher score. For a form of motorsport where drivers compete against the clock, it’s an irony that other racers are its downfall.

Rating: 6.0/10

WRC 5: FIA World Rally Championship was played on Windows PC but is also available for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 and PlayStation Vita. Code for this game was provided by Big Ben Interactive. Your impressions of the game may change depending on platform played on, PC specs and whether AI in racing games is actually important to you.

Cross-posted from et geekera. For more from et geekera, follow us on FacebookTwitterGoogle+Tumblr, Steam and RSS.

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