Fully licensed with races, drivers and vehicles in multiple classes
A rally school that actually helps
Uneven graphics with some technical issues
The driving experience on asphalt is not perfect
Weak career mode with unnecessarily complicated menus
EA and Codemasters have released their first rally game with the official WRC license and it’s a mostly successful attempt. The wonderfully challenging rally feel is there, as is most of the expected content – and some unexpected stuff. Unfortunately, some technical issues and a convoluted yet limited career mode prevent the game from reaching the highest ratings.
There are many types of racing games; from fast-paced and crash-friendly arcade racing, to realistic simulators where every detail can be customized. Rally games are also on a similar scale, except that the opposite of action-packed and forgiving rallying is pure terror on four wheels — category the spiritual Dirt Rally 2.0 sequel EA Sports WRC proudly places itself in.
Madness on wheels
Where more straightforward racing games usually take place on wide, finely paved tracks with run-off zones and protective barriers, EA Sports WRC is the exact opposite. Just like in a real rally, there are long, narrow and winding sections – with everything from trees and rocks to fences and fence-less cliffs doing their best to stop your journey to the checkered flag.
A journey on asphalt, gravel, mud, ice, and snow. Surfaces that all feel distinct and require different driving styles to master. Regardless of the surface, Codemasters has captured the feeling almost perfectly and it is a joy to drive along narrow forest roads, cozy winter villages, and gravel-filled plains with your heart in your throat and your tongue in your mouth.
The only downside is that the asphalt racing doesn’t feel as ‘right’ as the other surfaces; control isn’t quite as reliable and predictable.
Difficult, hard and fair
Getting through the race stages is challenging, but grabbing first place is far from impossible — even with a Sunday driving warning during the more difficult sections. The challenge is rather to keep a cool head and try to keep the number of mistakes down to zero.
At least at the normal level of difficulty. If it sounds boring, just increase the difficulty level, and at the same time increase the risk of nervous breakdowns due to too-high speeds on too-narrow roads.
Because regardless of the level of difficulty, it only takes a second of inattention and a small mistake to throw away the chance of a top position. Or the chance of a final position at all. Because if there are several minor crashes — or one major one — the result can be a completely wrecked car with an associated repair bill.
Rewind mistakes? Forget it. Do it again, do it right. Even if the distance to be travelled is 20 minutes long. It’s tough, but fair.
An extensive list
It’s not just on the gravel that EA Sports WRC impresses. There’s also some good things to say about the game options themselves. In the menus you’ll find the expected game modes, such as a career mode, speed races, time trials, and a helpful driving school — but also a few more exciting options.
For example, Moments offers special challenges based on fictional and real-life races and events from past WRC seasons, while Clubs provides unexpectedly sensible opportunities to create customized asynchronous online competitions. Add to that the Builder option, where it’s possible to build your very own car and determine its physical appearance, parts and colors.
No straightforward career
But despite the relatively large content list, I can’t shake a certain feeling of disappointment, mostly because of the career mode. It’s a mode that usually stands out in Codemasters racing games, not least in the F1 series.
In EA Sports WRC, Codemasters has tried to squeeze in things to do outside of driving, but somehow it feels both messy and too limited at the same time. Cars in several different rally classes must be bought and raced, while sponsors must be chased and their wishes fulfilled, staff hired and a co-driver trained. All according to budget and with a calendar that determines what can be done when, where and how.
On the surface, most of it is here, yet it fails to engage me. I never feel that what I do actually has any consequences. The career just rolls on with unnecessarily complicated menus — and really fun rallies.
With the feeling on top
Whilst I was hoping for more from Codemasters’ official WRC debut, there’s no denying that EA Sports WRC is a lot of fun and challenging. Rally really sets itself apart from other racing games with its almost horror-like experience — something that Codemasters has captured well here.
At release, EA Sports WRC had a lot of bugs, not least when it came to the graphics and flow. Thankfully, a number of patches have ironed out several problems since then, which makes me hopeful that even the remaining flaws will be resolved in the future. If you’re sensitive to a high but not perfect image update, however, it’s a good idea to wait.
EA Sports WRC is not for those who want an easy-to-digest rally race. But for anyone who wants a rally game that ranks realism and challenge a few notches higher than accessibility and flashy racing, EA Sports WRC is the best thing to happen to the genre since Dirt Rally 2.0.
This review was translated from Swedish to English and originally appeared on m3.se.