Thursday, September 28, 2023
EA Sports WRC represents something of a homecoming for the official FIA World Rally Championship license, new custodian Codemasters counting members of original, now-defunct developer Evolution Studios among its ranks. Since 2015's WRC 5, French developer Kylotonn has been churning out reliably decent rally sims on an almost yearly basis, but with EA and Codies taking the reins, we could be in for one of the most authentic doses of off-road racing in a long while. At least since DiRT Rally 2.0 in 2019, anyway.
Speaking of which, EA Sports WRC uses an enhanced version of what Senior Producer Ross Gowing refers to as DiRT Rally 2.0's “best-in-class” handling model, because, frankly, why wouldn't you start with an already remarkably accomplished rally game as a foundation? Combined with the grunt of Unreal Engine 5, WRC is looking mighty impressive, its real-world rally routes mapped out using satellite and terrain data, its ten official modern-era hybrid rally cars accurately rendered right down to the smallest nut and bolt. Make no mistake, this is what Codemasters refers to as its “serious leaning” DiRT, rather than the more “fun leaning” ones, like DiRT 5.
This is purely about “the best drivers, co-drivers, and rally cars taking on unforgiving terrain,” according to Codies' mantra for WRC, taking in surfaces like snow, gravel, and tarmac, presumably giving no quarter, if it's at all like DiRT Rally 2.0. Shown a short section from the Sardinia stage, we get to see how rapidly pace notes are thrown at you as the scenery zips by. Stages like these can run from anything between four and sixteen sectors, some up to 30km long. And while you can choose simplified pace notes, the level of challenge promises to put you through the wringer.
Unlike DiRT Rally 2.0, WRC has a Rally School where you can cut your teeth and sharpen your driving skills, preparing you for the more than 600km of track Codies has crammed into the game. The aim is to “flatten the learning curve”, enabling you to get a handle on the basics in ten lessons across all surface types. No Rally School will prepare you for the finer points of WRC, however, be it the level of surface degradation you might have to contend with, should you find yourself down the latter half of the running order. There's a complex damage model, too, albeit one with a few limits, as dictated by certain manufacturers who don't want to see their cars getting too messed up.
There'll be no shortage of modes on offer to delve into, once you've graduated from Rally School, with Career mode allowing you to create a team from scratch, then choose to start in the Junior WRC, WRC2, or jump right into the full-blooded WRC experience. You'll then proceed to hire a crew of mechanics, a fictional co-driver, and then set about realistically managing your garage and budget, all for your team's financial benefactor. Clubs offers asynchronous multiplayer using Racenet, and there's Quick Play Multiplayer for up to 32 players.
Time Trial, Solo Quickplay with 24 events to choose from or randomly generate, Championship mode, and a glut of customisation options round things out, but perhaps the most interesting new thing that Codemasters has cooked up is the 'Builder'. While a livery editor is normally part and parcel for most racing games (and, naturally, you'll find one here), the Builder enables you to assemble your own modern rally car from scratch, picking its bodywork; chassis; engine components; interior bits, like the dashboard, displays, steering wheel, and seats; exterior parts, including bumpers, spoilers, wing mirrors, and so on.
Once you've built your bespoke car, you can then take it for a test drive, so you can get to grips with its handling and traits, perhaps determining aspects of it you can tweak or tinker with, in an effort to make it the perfect rallying monster. Ten official present day 4WD Rally1 cars rub shoulders with 68 iconic rally legends from more than 60 years of rallying, covering Group B, Group A, F2 Kit cars, S2000, and a plethora of other historic rally icons, including Colin McRae's world-beating Subaru Impreza. So, if the Builder sounds like too much effort, you'll still have plenty of off-road rides to choose from.
If all that's not enough, then 'Moments' present daily and weekly challenges to take on (each preceded by a short video for context), and although WRC will be a “live and connected” game, these moments will stay in the game indefinitely. With all eighteen official FIA World Rally Championship locations accounted for (changing with the four seasons), and a free post-launch update set to add the Central Europe Rally, there's little room for doubt when Gowing claims that EA Sports WRC is its “biggest ever rally game”. On the basis of what we've seen of EA Sports WRC so far, it might also end up being its best.
EA Sports WRC launches for PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X|S, and PC on 3rd November.