I’ll be honest: I didn’t have high expectations for WRC 5. I’m a huge fan of rallying, and I love rally games. I cut my teeth with Colin McRae Rally on the PlayStation, and, over years, I continued to look for games that offer the best rally experience. The peak of rally simulation realism, for me, came in 2004 with the release of Richard Burns Rally. It was so good that it is still considered by enthusiasts as one of the best rally games ever released, and many still play it. There’s even a group of developers that continue to modify the game and add updated content to it.
By 2010, Richard Burns Rally was looking a bit dated, so when I heard that there would be an officially licensed WRC game released for the PC I had high hopes for a modern, updated rally simulation. The flashy marketing promised much, but the game delivered very little. The graphics were dated, with poor textures. The sounds were very limp. The physics were terrible: you could just about go around every bend, including “hairpins,” in high gears regardless of what call the co-driver made. It was so bad that I didn’t bother with any of the subsequent games by studio Milestone S.r.l. Thankfully, though, there has been a change in hands with Paris-based developer, Kylotonn Games taking the wheel.
The game has a simple menu layout that’s quick and easy to navigate, which includes the menus you’ll find in-stage and in the rally school. You’ll find the usual features of a rally game, such as options to quickly start a single stage, a single rally, a campaign mode or multiplayer. I was not able to test online multiplayer. I’m not sure if the matchmaking was broken, or whether no one on the PC was playing online multiplayer at the time. There is, however, a neat “couch multiplayer” mode where up to eight players take turns driving each stage on the same machine.
There is also a useful Rally School included. It is handy to get to know how the game handles, be it with the controller or a wheel. You get to practice all the basic rally manoeuvres in FWD and AWD machinery on gravel, tarmac and snow, covering the major surfaces.
I have to say I did struggle a bit with the in-car view on some of the more complex challenges. The reason for this is because you have to keep your car on a relatively narrow track that is indicated by glowing arrows on the road surface. I feel that the line is too narrow and any deviation is quickly punished by a rapidly dropping “drive quality percentage.” The in-car view makes it very difficult to place the car on the narrow target path.
One feature of the Rally School I have to call out to is that it makes it easy to cancel and retry a lesson when you realise you’ve failed without making you finish the lesson or burdening you with long load times. I only wish it would remember which camera angle you chose because it kept selecting chase camera at every retry.
So how does WRC 5 look? The graphics, in the PC version, at least, are very nice and shiny with heaps of great lighting and shadows; provided you run the game in DX11 (the default selection) on the PC. Piloting a rally car at speed through a dim forested stage with the setting sun shining through the trees is a beautiful sight to behold, so be careful not to crash when admiring the sights. Look too closely, though, and you’ll see some rough looking textures and models in places. However, with that said, if this compromise afforded plenty of frame rate performance and the brilliant lighting and shadow effects, I feel it was balanced well by the developers. You won’t notice it when you’re flying down the road at top speed.
WRC 5 has spectacular, crisp, authentic sounds, unlike the original WRC game that featured limp, wheezy and uninspiring sounds. In WRC 5, the lower level JWRC and WRC 2 machines, in particular, have meaty and engaging engine and exhaust sounds. Although, I felt as if they didn’t quite capture the raw nature of top-spec WRC machines. There’s a little room for improvement, otherwise. The sound is one of the key aspects that attracts people to rally cars.
Onto the driving, and this is perhaps the most disappointing part of the game for me. It’s certainly not terrible like with WRC 5’s forebears, but there’re a few things that stick out.
Firstly, although the game supports all the top steering wheels, the force feedback through my Logitech G27 was a bit amiss. When you slide the back end of your car out it should be light and easy to counter-steer, but I found quite a bit of resistance. I had to set the force feedback setting quite low to make the steering feel as loose as you’d expect from a car on gravel.
I can’t make my mind up about the damage modelling. As you bash your car through the scenery, it duly sustains damage, and a neat graphic flashes up to let you know what you just broke. I only really noticed the car being affected by damage to the engine, gearbox and electrics. I didn’t get any punctures and damage to the dampers didn’t seem to do much.
This brings me to a very weird thing that happened to me. I managed to bash my car really hard into a small cottage after a misheard pace note and my co-driver let out a yell, as you might expect, then asked if I was OK. I reversed the car back onto the road and continued on. The thing is, while I was driving along neatly not hitting anything else, the car continued to sustain damage. With each new bit of damage sustained, my co-driver would yell out the following three phrases: “that was dodgy”, “ow” and “are you ok?”. This went on for a while until my car was almost undrivable. I was able to reproduce this behaviour a few times. It feels very artificial, and I can’t figure out how they managed this. I hope it’s something they fix in a patch!
Furthermore, I was I able to win a Portuguese stage by half a second in my WRC 2 campaign with no brakes, while stuck in 3rd gear and with no pace notes. Then on another stage in the same campaign I raced tidily with a great rhythm, sliding my car neatly between bends but still only managed to win by half a second. This was very odd and really destroyed the feeling of accomplishment from winning a stage. I was racing on the default “Medium” difficulty with all assists off. While this is a decent introduction to the game, if you are a seasoned veteran of rally games, I suggest you set the difficulty higher.
If you play on Expert, you best bring your A-game. It is expectedly tough, and you have to drive each stage somewhat close to perfect to be towards the front of the field. This is good preparation if you want to try one of the many online challenges. These allow you to compete against other players around the world on single stage events that are available for a limited time, usually a few days.
You will probably spend quite a bit of time trying to improve your stage times in the online challenges, tweaking your setup, and wondering how the top ten or twenty drivers did it. The thing is, you’ll never know. There’s no option to save your replay or to watch another driver’s replay to see how they cut their stage times down so much.
A nice touch, however, is that you can win real world prizes for being in the top five. There is also the interesting proposition of a full e-Sports challenge running concurrently with the actual 2016 FIA World Rally Championship. This means that WRC 5 should offer heaps of replayability going forward.
WRC 5 a solid effort from developer Kylotonn and a promising entry in the rally genre. If you’re looking for a super realistic hardcore rally simulation, this isn’t it, but the driving feels pretty good nonetheless. I get the feeling the officially licensed FIA WRC games will focus on broad appeal rather than cater to hardcore rally enthusiasts. As one of those enthusiasts, however, I still found this game to be challenging enough despite the few issues I had. Overall, the driving is a lot of fun, and there’s a decent set of real-world campaigns (JWRC, WRC2 and WRC) spanning all the official rounds of the FIA World Rally Championship. The stages are long enough to be representative of the conditions encountered by real-life crews and demand your concentration, while short enough so as not to be laborious. WRC 5 is a fun, challenging rally simulation with great visuals and sounds, as well as a potentially interesting eSports future.