Under the helm of Kylotonn, the officially licensed WRC game series has gone from an also ran (WRC 5) to a contender (WRC 7).
It’s quite remarkable that such an underdog has been able to turn things around in the space of a few short years. Back in 2015, WRC 5 was given a pass because it was the only rally game available on PS4 and Xbox One, but it wasn’t great. WRC 6 was better, but the arrival of competitors such as DiRT Rally and Sebastien Loeb Rally Evo meant it had some stiff competition. And that competition also overshadowed WRC 7 when it was released.
With WRC 8, however, Kylotonn has stepped up its game. A near perfect rally game may already be on the market in the form of DiRT Rally 2.0, but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t room for one more.
Compared to previous years’ efforts, every aspect of WRC 8 is an improvement. Playing on Xbox One X, visually it doesn’t disappoint; textures are crisp, lighting is believable and weather effects are convincing. It doesn’t quite provide the eye candy that DiRT Rally 2.0 does, but it comes close. And though the two don’t always go hand in hand, performance has also been improved – though you might notice a tiny amount of screen tearing from time to time. Even more importantly, the handling feels better than ever. Again, it’s not quite up to DiRT Rally 2.0 standards, but that’s the benchmark for rally games right now. And it’s not a million miles away.
That’s perhaps WRC 8‘s biggest problem: mechanically, it just doesn’t stand up to Codemasters’ rally magnum opus. Everything from physics to presentation, which has also been much improved, are up to a high standard, but aren’t quite on a level to topple or even match those offered by DiRT Rally 2.0. It’s impossible not to compare the two because they both seem to be catering to the same market: the hardcore rally driving fan. A lack of rewind features, penalties for resetting your car after going off track, and realistic damage options that allow your run to be ended after just one nasty crash are all evidence of that.
WRC 8 could have perhaps made itself more attractive to a certain subset of rally fans who simply want a bit of fun razzing a car around in the dirt; it could have been something that’s fairly realistic but also a bit more lenient, and therefore a bit more fun. DiRT Rally 2.0 really is great, but not everyone has the patience or skill for it. By targeting the same audience, WRC 8 is likely to suffer as a result. It doesn’t find a niche in which to place itself. Although it does have a rather cracking career mode.
Revamped for WRC 8, Kylotonn’s new take on career mode is genuinely a pleasant surprise. It’s no longer just a soulless jaunt from one country to the next; a string of events for you to complete and tick off the list. It finally feels like you’re part of team, and that you have a life between events. It’s largely down to the fact that you now have a calendar with plenty of spots to fill. After accepting a new contract, for instance, you might want to take part in a couple of practice events to get used to your car before competing in your first rally. Then, between rallies, your agent might have wrangled you some special historical events to take part in. Or you might decide to tackle an extreme challenge in which you drive a highly damaged car in very adverse weather conditions.
Whatever you chose, your performance has an effect on your team and your relationship with it. Perform well and morale will be high and your position safe. Fail to meet objectives on a consistent basis and you might find yourself seeking a new team to race for. Every event you take part in takes its toll on your crew, too, forcing you to switch members out or take part in rest events to allow them to recuperate. Starting in either Junior WRC or WRC 2 if you’re competent enough, WRC 8‘s career mode requires you to effectively manage your crew, perform R&D and meet the needs of your team to succeed. It’s a truly gratifying experience that really does make it stand out from the crowd.
Outside of WRC 8‘s excellent career mode it’s pretty much business as usual. You have the obligatory quick race, online and split screen race options, and you can also play through a full rally season without the managements aspects of career mode. There are frequent challenges to take part in too, allowing you to gauge how your performance compares to the rest of the world. Perform well enough in the esports challenges and you might even find yourself invited to compete on a competitive level. My advice is to get a racing wheel if you’re serious; it really does give you more control.
It’s a pretty impressive rally game then, WRC 8. Sure, it doesn’t play or look quite as good as DiRT Rally 2.0, but its career mode does a lot to make up for that. There’s a real nice variety to the events that it lets you take part in, and its crew management aspects are implemented wonderfully. From the moment you start your career you’re engrossed, and the rally action is just as demanding and exciting as it should be. Even if you already have DiRT Rally 2.0 in your life you should probably consider making a little bit of room for WRC 8. And if you don’t, well, you now have two great rally games to choose from.
WRC 8 is available on PS4, Xbox One, Switch and PC. We reviewed the Xbox One version.
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