When it was first announced that WRC 5 would be developed by Kylotonn Games and BigBen Interactive, most people’s expectations were lowered to the point where as long as the game booted up and didn’t brick the system, it would be considered a success. For a company who has produced nothing of value aside from a series of virtual fitness games, it was fully understandable to be skeptical of how the final product would turn out. With DiRT Rally blasting onto the scene earlier this year after a surprise launch in the spring, and Sebastien Loeb Rally Evo now only a few months away, the only scenario in which WRC 5 could have made any sort of impact would be in an alternate dimension where the aforementioned games didn’t exist.
And now that the game is finally in our hands, the biggest challenge Kylotonn Games have thrown at us is trying to put the abysmal racing experience into words that can convey how remarkably bad this off-road racer can be. There are elements of a good game buried deep inside WRC 5’s bland menus, dated graphics, poor stages, and simplistic handling model. Unfortunately, as a complete package, WRC 5 is a game that would struggle to out-do the competition in 2003, let alone 2015.
Unlike NASCAR games, which we’ve covered previously here at PRC.net, the history of rally games is quite simple to follow. Codemasters burst onto the scene in the late 1990’s with the help of Colin McRae’s official support, and produced a stream of extremely successful multi-platform rally titles until 2005. Despite lacking the official WRC license, the games were well-built, always featured a plethora of content, and received fantastic reviews from mainstream critics. Codemasters rejuvenated the franchise in 2007 with the release of DiRT, which saw the series stray from traditional rallying in favor of a collection of many different off-road racing disciplines; each entry including more Monster Energy and Red Bull advertisements than the last. While longtime fans of the series loathed the attempts to dumb-down the rallying elements in favor of an extreme sports-like environment, the three DiRT games remain some of the best racing games available for the Playstation 3 and Xbox 360.
And just as people were under the impression that Codemasters was facing financial difficulties, they dropped a hardcore rally simulator onto Steam out of nowhere. Reception to the title has been almost unanimously positive, and many believe DiRT Rally to be the true successor to 2004’s Richard Burns Rally.
The Colin McRae series may have dominated the market, but a small developer team by the name of Evolution Studios managed to secure the WRC license. The deal produced a line of officially licensed WRC games for the Playstation 2, which were only available in Europe during the early 2000’s. Finally hitting their stride by 2005’s WRC: Rally Evolved, the team lost the license, only to be picked up by Milestone in 2010. Four completely average yearly releases later, the license changed hands once again to Kylotonn Games and BigBen Interactive.
Between DiRT 3: Complete Edition and DiRT Rally, there really isn’t much room for another rally game on the market. If you wanted a good off-road racing game, you bought the former. If you wanted more of a challenge, you bought the latter. Kylotonn needed to pull the game of the year out of their ass just to have a shot at competing against a Codemasters game from five years ago. This was something they fully intended to do, announcing beforehand that WRC 5 would go for mass-market appeal, and also become an official eSport.
WRC 5 only supports a handful of racing wheels, and doesn’t allow for multiple input devices. The list of supported wheels is woefully short, and at launch didn’t even include compatibility for common devices such as the Logitech Driving Force GT. Once support for a few more wheels had been added into the game via post-release patch, I still couldn’t use my wheel because I’m one of those special snowflakes who uses a split device setup; my wheel and pedals are connected separately through the use of a bodnar cable. The overwhelmingly negative comments on several Steam forum threads made it clear that I was probably never going to get to try this game with a wheel at any point during the game’s lifespan. The game also lacked any triple screen support, and some had pointed out that WRC 5 ran like shit, no matter what graphics settings you had selected.
Usually I’m lucky and don’t run into technical issues during gameplay, but on two separate occasions, the resolution got all sorts of fucked up. During a lap of a stage in Monte Carlo, the game randomly decided to switch to a 640 x 480 window. While configuring video settings in the options menu, additional widescreen bars were added that squished the image to comical proportions, forcing me to restart the game completely.
I worked some ATI Catalyst Control Center sorcery, and used settings that had produced phenomenal results with other games, to the point where some users have actually asked why doesn’t my rFactor 2 look like that.
The end result?
Pictures simply cannot convey how bad this game looks, and I shudder when I remember that this game is being sold for $60 on the Playstation 4 and Xbox One alongside games like Forza 6 and Project CARS.
WRC 5 is a game where you can physically spot the low-poly track mesh and actually hit it, even at speed. Ice patch textures are sharp enough to give you paper cuts. Trackside objects are sparse and are re-used over multiple locations. I had my shit cranked aside from the post-processing effects, and there were some spots that I swore the vanilla version of Richard Burns Rally looked better.
Finland in WRC 5 bares no resemblance to the infamous 1000 Lakes Rally. As for Great Britain? Some of the stages are wide and banked enough to accommodate NASCAR Sprint Cup cars racing through at full throttle. Half of Mexico took place on the side of a cliff, whereas Monte Carlo was a gentle winter romp through a mountain highway. Poland very well could have been ripped from Mobil 1 Rally Championship 2000. It’s also important to note that some of these stages are extremely short, with lap times in the 1:45 range.
Usually I tend to throw a wall of text at the reader, but in the case of WRC 5, it’s much easier to show rather than tell. Graphically, this is not a PS4 game, and you’d have a hard time convincing me it was ready for the Xbox 360. Presentation-wise, it slides comfortably in-between the first RalliSport Challenge title, and maybe Colin McRae Rally 2005.
It doesn’t drive or play a whole lot better, either.
Traditionally, I like to review games well past the release date, as it allows me to go into extreme detail regarding all of a title’s features. WRC 5 couldn’t make me give enough of a shit to play the game for more than a few hours.
Career Mode had me placed in an incredibly slow front wheel drive Citroen with a full season in front of me, and from my brief glimpse of the mode appeared to offer what you’d expect from a standard rally season. After one stage, I was done. The car was just too damn slow to retain my interest.
I then ventured to Single Player and tried stages from Finland, Great Britain, Monte Carlo, Mexico, Sweden, Argentina, and Spain. The game includes the J-WRC and WRC2 support classes, but neither of the classes offered a car that was exciting enough or fast enough to drive, so I opted to go straight for Robert Kubica’s WRC Ford Fiesta.
I was immediately surprised to find that there is no option to run a proper season as your favorite driver, as is commonplace with other racing games. You are instead given a mode similar to F1’s Custom Session, where you can hand-pick the rallies you’d like to participate in, although the full race weekend festivities don’t transfer over. There are no service stages and no equipment management aspects unless you tackle career mode, making “Quick Rally” redundant for all but the most casual of fans.
Out on the stage itself, WRC 5 is a mixed bag. At some points, the game feels surprisingly competent for something of such a low quality. At other times, it’s apparent that you’re playing something with minimal funding and resources behind it. Sliding the car around feels satisfying, especially on the tarmac stages. Anytime you jam on the emergency brake and send the car sideways, the car’s movements feel natural and predictable. The car gradually regains grip, and makes navigating some of the more technical stages in locations such as Mexico something that can genuinely be a lot of fun.
And then there are the occasions where the car is totally unpredictable.
Modern rally cars are the most nimble race cars on the planet. In WRC 5, they’re a kindergarten bus stripped of its factory parts and converted to race in the SCORE BAJA 1000. Unless you’re in a nice, controlled slide, the cars are sluggish and don’t react very well to your inputs, even after messing around with the sliders in the controller menu. I’ve landed a few jumps in Great Britain at speeds that wouldn’t be concerning in something like DiRT Rally, only for the car to hit the ground so hard I was sent flying off the side of the track. The physics engine doesn’t take kindly to the low poly track mesh either, and I’ve launched into the air just for hitting a dip or sudden bump at the wrong angle.
Then there are the glitches. On several occasions, the rear tires would straight up sink into the track mesh and pop back up for no reason at all, launching the rear end of the car into the air and confusing the shit out of me. You’ll know exactly what I mean when it happens to you. On the Sweden stages pictured above, you could venture off the path by one tire and instantly lose 50 km/h due to Forza-like sticky snow intended to fuck over cheaters. WRC 5 also had trouble consistently policing track limits. On one stage in Mexico, I put a tire onto the grass because there was a huge open area I could use as an inside rumble strip. I was instantly met with a five second penalty. A few corners later, the game had no problem with me cutting straight through a chicane by literally leaping over a ditch. Several stages later, I squared up for a hairpin corner and sent the car into a slide with the handbrake, only for the game to stop me and respawn my car a few seconds later, claiming I’d cut the track.
What does the game consider to be a track limit violation? Nailing the entry to a corner.
And then there’s the AI. I’m certain there’s a bit of sorcery going on behind the scenes, because no matter what kind of lap I’d put in, regardless of whether it was a blistering pace or a safe run, I’d always manage to beat Sebastien Ogier by a tenth of a second, sometimes less. It was like the game was using my lap as base time, examining the run to see if I’d hit anything, and if I’d made a clean pass, awarded me with the victory while a smoke and mirrors show carefully crafted the rest of the field’s times to be slower than mine. Even during stages where I’d legitimately fuck up a corner and have to turn the car around, as long as I didn’t hit anything, it would give me the win. I’ve never seen something like this before.
Two thousand words into the article, I think I’ve established that WRC 5 isn’t worth your time. I think many PRC.net readers could have predicted that when this game was first announced in early 2015. There was no way a team who’s claim to fame was three yoga games could put out a competent off-road racing title. It just wasn’t going to happen.
But I’m not going to point the finger at them. I’m going to point the finger at the FIA, and more specifically, the person who gave the thumbs up for this exclusive license deal, because we’re getting another one next year.
Video Games are not remote controlled cars, t-shirts, coffee mugs, or movies. They are no longer children’s toys or event souvenirs; objects to be mass produced by a nameless company and discarded in a few weeks by careless toddlers, discovered years later in a box alongside other trinkets from “the year that dad took you to a rally race.” In 2015, Video Games have surpassed traditional movies as the biggest entertainment medium in the world, and just as people laughed at Sylvester Stallone in Driven for it’s absurd portrayal of CART, or at Tom Cruise in Days of Thunder for trying to turn NASCAR into Top Gun on wheels, people are going to laugh at you if you have a shitty fucking video game representing your sport.
If you’re going to sit down and craft an exclusive deal that allows only one specific company to create a video game based on the World Rally Championship, you have to ensure that the end result cannot be a lackluster product like WRC 5. This is a game that would struggle to stand up to the competition in 2003, let alone in late 2015.