There was a time when off road racing was a genre that dominated the videogame scene. Colin McRae DiRT 2 had achieved a popularity never before seen by the genre and many competitors sprung up to attempt to take its crown. But in the years since even Codemasters have been unable to replicate that success, and the gap between their leading franchise and its rivals has shrunk far more than anyone could have predicted. One such rival is Milestone’s WRC series, now in its fourth iteration and looking every bit the contender it should be.
WRC 4 is a much more serious affair than DiRT has ever been, but it’s no less thrilling. That is, once you get past the mundane initiation of selecting everything from your name to your vehicle registration. It’s baffling why Milestone haven’t let you get behind the wheel even for a quick practice lap before forcing you to sit through the introduction – though the training video is optional – especially when such options will only be of concern when you get stuck in to the Career mode.
Prior to this however, WRC 4 serves up the options for Quick Stage and Rally Mode. Quick Stage is exactly what you are probably expecting, throwing you straight into a race with default settings for a quick one-off thrill. Rally Mode is your basic ‘arcade’ mode, offering single races, a one-off race on any of the official 2013 FIA World Rally Championship courses or a full championship. The latter of these options is an enduring challenge, but far from the depth of the Career mode of course.
A grand undertaking, the Career mode takes the player through several seasons of the FIA World Rally Championship, covering all aspects of life as a race driver. From communicating with your personal manager to joining a team, sponsorship deals, and building a reputation, players will be engaged in everything it takes to become a champion. Beginning in the role of a Junior, players need to work up the ranks by competing and placing in races, earning contracts and making a name for yourself in highly competitive leagues. All of this is presented through an office style menu, similar to the caravan of Colin McRae DiRT 2.
The final gameplay mode offered by WRC 4 is its multiplayer, both local and online. Local gameplay is limited to a ‘hot seat’ mode, wherein players take it in turns to set a time. Online gameplay features a series of rallies for up to eight players, though the customisation options are very limited. Thankfully the online gameplay is smooth and enjoyable, so while a wider set of options would have been nice there’s little else to worry about.
The handling of WRC 4 sets it apart from the competition. While the DiRT series has always maintained an ease-of-use philosophy for its vehicle control WRC 4 undoubtedly errs towards the simulation end of the spectrum. Players will need to learn the nuances of each vehicle to maximise their racing potential as there is no one-size-fits-all scheme. Luckily WRC 4 does include the now commonplace ‘flashback’ system to enable racers to have a second attempt at a failed corner or misjudged positioning.
The visual quality of WRC 4 has obviously received a great deal of attention, building significantly in the quality of WRC 3. The weather effects are nothing less than superb as climbing to the crescent of a snowy hill and catching the sun as it beats down upon the wet tarmac is never less than exhilarating. The physical damage on vehicles still needs some work (perhaps curtailed due to licensing issues?) but on the whole WRC 4 is a good looking videogame. The sound quality has also improved, though the soundtrack is less inspiring as it falls into the category of generic videogame accompaniment far too often.
While WRC 4 isn’t about to set the world of rallying on fire, it stands as a good contender to the throne. It’s closer to a simulation than an arcade presentation of rally driving, and for that it’s likely to find itself without such a significant audience as that which Codemasters’ DiRT franchise regularly achieves. However, its quality is evident throughout: this is a serious rally videogame for rally enthusiasts, and with that in its hand WRC 4 will surely develop an ardent fanbase that exceeds it’s predecessors.