The World Rally Championship has been one of the longest running rally series on Playstation. It's been going since 2001 and has been consistently one of the better Rally games, along with Colin McCray rally. The fourth in the series now has a bit more competition with titles such as Richard Burns Rally and the about-to-be released Gran Turismo 4. Does WRC deliver this time around, and how does it stack up against the other titles this year?
Richard Burns Rally focused heavily on realistic game play and driving physics and Gran Turismo is specialising in vehicle detail. World Rally Championship 4 has turned its attention to capturing the action from a comprehensive tele-visual standpoint, trying to make the game appear like televised coverage.
In terms of capturing the reality of the circuit, the game performs quite well. WRC4 has 15 main courses, each with 6 sections designed to mimic the current championship structure. You can choose from all the main teams, as well as 50 selectable drivers, vehicles and classes, including Mitsubishi, Ford, Peugeot, Subaru and Skoda. Now standard in the rally genre, each of these vehicles can be modified to suit the style of track being raced.
The game structure is comprehensive. The championship and single rally scenarios we've come to expect to be the base of a rally game have been improved, capturing a more realistic 4-day rally competition and a first day shakedown element that will please the fans of the sport. It also carries an extended challenge of a special event and a pro driver scenario, where you have to complete stages of specific racing tasks and tracks. These scenarios serve as a good extension to the game after the main racing action is completed. Another bonus is the ability to play online with up to 16 other drivers. This is a standout feature and changes the previously single player title into a group experience, which adds to the longevity of the game.
WRC4s racing game play is fast paced and easy to pick up. The title is realistic to an extent, with the control altering base vehicle damage and the track you are racing on. The level of driving skill required is quite relaxed when compared to the challenge posed by Richard Burns rally, which focuses heavily on capturing the harsh physics of rally driving. Depending on whether you want a fun fast rally game or a simulator, this can be a good or a bad thing. In terms of negotiating the tracks, you cannot go bush bashing in this game - as soon as you venture into the unknown you are zapped back onto the track. On the track you can get up some decent speed and still have the control to cut around corners, with the environmental effects always playing a part but not actively holding you back. Overall, WRC4 delivers a decent fast paced driving experience.
The graphics have been lifted to a new level with realistic driving surfaces including stones, divots and dust effects. The draw distance in WRC4 is a highlight and there is virtually no pop up at all throughout the game. According to the promo video Evolution Studios produced for the game, they concentrated on making the game environment as realistic as possible, including satellite mapping the courses and taking thousands of photos of each track featured, which were then incorporated into the game design.
While driving through the tracks we did notice that the game environment does show a high level of detail with a concentration of photo realistic elements - the background environment and mid-ground look quite impressive as you race through. But quickly the eye picks up that the trees, grass, and track markers etc - while looking good - are completely identical and when you slow down you notice that they look two-dimensional. A great example are the trackside spectators, which look like crazy arm waving cardboard cut outs and are quite similar in appearance throughout the courses. It would be very impressive to see a rally game that has realistic crowds swarming to get close to the action and narrowly being missed by the cars as they slide by ... but we still live in hope. A bit more time spent on creation of a feeling of 3D depth, variety and personalisation in the overall environment would have had a greater end result.
Not all is lost though, the vehicle detail is quite impressive. The cars all have individual engine sound effects, and display a realistic amount of damage and handling depending on how many times you've crashed. Panels fly, mufflers swing and windows smash when you roll, run into an embankment or fence barrier, all affecting your driving performance. Also, your co-driver reprimands you if you stuff up too many times, but who cares what he says?
The camera views in racing mode mainly capture the reality and televised feel of WRC4, which enables you to view the action from 3rd and 1st person perspectives along as bonnet and internal cabin views. Replay looks and feels like real TV coverage, with internal views of the driver and co-driver, helicopter view, and side of car and top of car cameras that mimic the your movement and include crackle and fuzz effects when you hit hard on a section or roll your car. This, along with the realistic photo-like environment, gives a great appearance to replays and makes them some of the best we have seen in the genre.
WRC4 does deliver a comprehensive challenge for those who are fans of the series and the genre. But details are where games make impact, and while this game covers all the tracks, cars and drivers, it misses out on moving forward in realistic game physics and environmental detail. With more and more rally games being released, the World Rally Challenge series may need to deliver more to stay in the race.