Rallying is one of those love it or hate it forms of motorsport. Many people, me included, love the excitement and on-the-edge style of driving at unbelievable speed along a variety of surfaces in varying weather conditions. The driving displayed by WRC drivers is nothing short of mind boggling, and yet other people don’t see the point at all, suggesting that racing against the clock isn’t all that interesting and racing isn’t true racing without other cars to overtake. It’s an understandable viewpoint for those who enjoy the likes of BTCC and F1, and it would seem Black Bean’s WRC title will be splitting opinion in exactly the same way.
Many years ago, Codemasters blew everyone away with a series of Colin McRae rallying games that were a huge challenge but hugely fun. Their recent efforts have been more consumer-friendly and have become very Americanised leaving true rallying fans frustrated by the lack of true A to B timed racing. Step up Black Bean, who after showing promising success in their latest SBK game took hold of the official WRC license and pushed it onto the latest generation of platforms. And for the most part it does a very good job, but there are some key problems which might just make you think twice.
The most obvious part of any game is how good it looks – it’s the first thing you notice, and gives that all important first impression of what’s to come. Sadly, this is WRC’s biggest shortfall. This just doesn’t look like a game released in 2010. The suggestions elsewhere that these are no better than PS2 graphics are harsh, and that’s not the case at all, but car models and environments are nowhere near as pretty as we’ve come to expect. Even the menus can be difficult to read, and with Gran Turismo round the corner with its WRC license and crystal clear graphics it would be all too easy to dismiss this title and wait. But get into a game, and all of a sudden things start to look up.
WRC gives you the full 13 rally, 78 stage season to play through in a range of game modes. You can do a single stage time trial, run an entire rally on its won, play through a full championship or make a start on the Road to the WRC career mode. Done in a style similar to previous Black Bean racers, this is a set of challenges and objectives which earn you credits to spend on new cars, paint jobs and (eventually) the offer from a WRC team. You’ll be starting off with low powered cars, working your way up through P-WRC, S-WRC and J-WRC before stepping into the high powered WRC beats, and each style of car offers its own set of challenges. They all handle slightly differently, and learning how best to drive each car will be key to your success.
The racing itself feels great, and where the game really comes into its own. The different surfaces give a noticably different levels of grip, and the feeling of speed is kept high from start to finish. Having to concentrate for 4 or 5 minutes of constant corners, jumps and other hazards is a tough task, but one that feels totally satisfying when you get to the end half a second ahead of your nearest rival with your car coated in a fresh layer of mud and gravel. The car handling feels pretty good as you work your way through winding narrow roads inches from a sheer drop, and you never feel like you’ve come off the road become of bad handling – if you end up in a tree, chances are it was your fault. But despite this, the game caters pretty well for beginners and experts alike. A sliding scale of competitor ability and braking help means that those who want to forget about braking and get their lines right can do exactly that, but should you want to switch of all the driving aids and go it alone then that’s an option. Don’t expect a walk in the park though. Online racing offers single stage, rally or championships against up to 15 competitors, and the option to turn ghost images of other racers on or off means you can have it as realistic as you wish. I personally sound it less off-putting without the ghosts visible, but if you wanted to see exactly where everyone else is then just turn the option on. In terms of levels of fun, there’s plenty of good-quality racing to be had both online and offline.
There are a few key things missing that do detract slightly from the realism. No matter how fast you drive into a rock, tree, ditch or other hazard you’ll never totally trash your car. It’ll start to look quite broken, and it’ll start making some horrific sounds when you try to change gear… it’ll even become harder to drive and lose speed but you’ll never rip a wheel off or terminally damage the engine as you could on the Colin McRae games. Fans of those older games might also be disappointed by the lack of evening racing on offer, so if you’re hoping to drive by your headlights alone through the darkness then you should prepare yourself to be a bit let down.
The sound too is a mixed bag. Engine sounds rumble and growl quite nicely especially through a set of good headphones, but the sound when you catch a wall, rock, ditch and so on is not only identical no matter what you’re grating against but also just happens to be one of the most awful sounds heard in a modern game. Maybe that’s their way of making you learn to stick to the intended route, because after the first few times you hear it you’ll want to avoid it at all cost. The co-drivers (of which there is a male and a female on offer) do a decent job, barking instructions at you in plenty of time for the corner ahead, but start to sound a little robotic and overreat slightly when you do get into a bit of trouble.
It does sound like there’s a lot wrong with WRC, and depending on how important these things are will obviously impact on how much you enjoy the game. On a personal level, I’ve been waiting a long time for a decent rallying game on the PS3, and while there are some key issues which will make people turn away you can’t argue with the fun that can be had. If you enjoy the idea of rallying, want to feel the buzz of getting from start to finish in the least amount of time possible while going sideways round muddy corners at over 100mph and can look past the ropey visuals and missed opportunities then you’ll find a highly enjoyable experience. The core ideas in the game are spot on, so for those of you who look at enjoyment and playability before visuals and polish you’re in the right place.