WRC 6 is the second instalment of the officially licensed WRC game developed by French developer Kylotonn and published by Bigben Interactive. The last instalment, WRC 5, was a great effort by the team after previous titles developed by others were a little lacklustre. So, with that in mind, I was keen to see how this year’s release stacks up.
The game kicks off with an introduction sequence that throws you into a stage and judges your driving. The game then picks your driving difficulty and which assists to turn on based on your performance.
At first, this seemed like a clever idea for new players. However, upon reflection, after my terrible effort, I decided it was not. I don’t even think reigning four-time World Champion Sebastien Ogier would do well just being thrown into a stage cold. You need to warm up, get a feel for the car and the controls and only then attack the stages. As a result, most people’s performance wouldn’t be great, and chances are you’ll end up with “Easy” being your difficulty with all the assists turned on. You can, of course, adjust all the difficulty settings and assists in the main menu whenever you like, even mid-championship.
If you are not familiar with the series, have a quick read of my review of WRC 5 from last year, and it will give a good baseline to compare this year’s iteration. The graphics are improved from the last title; everything is just a little more realistic and there is bit more substance to the atmosphere. Lighting is especially well done, so when the sun is getting low in the sky and shines through the trees, it’s absolutely stunning.
The audio effects in the game are quite good, too, but I feel like it lacks some depth and drama. The engines sound OK from the inside, but not so much from the outside – especially the top-spec WRC cars. They just sound a bit tinny and wheezy. This complaint is similar to the one I had for the last iteration of this series, and this is something I would really love to see addressed in future releases. Since the 2017 World Rally Championship will feature more powerful and louder engines, Kylotonn need to up their game with the audio to capture the noisy drama.
So what is the driving like? Honestly, I feel there has been a definite improvement in the handling of the cars. Even with the difficulty set to easy and with stability control enabled, it is possible to set your car up for a neat slide. You have to remember that this isn’t a remote control car, so it takes time for the steering wheel to spin from lock to lock. That means you need to be counter-steering mid-corner to get a nice exit. When you get it right, it’s a great feeling. The best part was this feeling carried over to when you turn off stability control. It seems to be that the difficulty slider only affected the pace of other drivers and the amount of the damage your car takes when you hit the scenery. It didn’t seem to have any effect on the simulation of the physics.
I was excited to get the steering wheel out and see how the game feels for enthusiasts, which was easy enough to set up. There’s a good list of popular wheel setups supported out of the box and mine worked fine straight away. Although, some people report having trouble with some of the more expensive top-shelf enthusiast wheels. It’s often hard to tell the full extent of problems when it comes to PC gaming, given the platform is so incredibly varied in the hardware, operating systems and users. However, the developers have been active in responding to feedback and fixing problems so far.
Initially, I found it difficult to control the car with the default setup. Again, as with WRC 5, I felt the resistance to turning the steering wheel to be far too high at the default 100% force feedback level. If you’ve ever driven a car on gravel at speed, you’ll know that there’s very little weight in the steering. In WRC 6, when you throw your car into a bend, and it begins to yaw, you need to start counter-steering immediately and apply throttle. On the default setting, this is just too hard to do. It’s like the power steering is broken. If you are a regular viewer of the WRC telecast, you will have seen what happens to the driver when the power steering is broken. It does not lend itself to enjoying the game unless you like a good workout and sweating.
I turned the force feedback down a fair way and found it far more drivable. Furthermore, it uncovered a heap more feedback as to what your front tyres are doing. The tyres seem to follow the ruts in the road, and you feel that. When you mash the loud pedal, you can feel that your front tyres are scrabbling for grip. As you get light over a crest going around a bend (Finland, I’m looking at you), you feel that too. The feedback is great through the wheel, ironically, at lower force feedback settings.
All that driving will inevitably lead to encounters with the scenery. It is at this point where the game shows some rough edges. For starters, on Easy and Medium difficulty settings I was not able to damage my car to the point where it was undrivable, and, believe me, it should have been. You have to crank up the difficulty to Expert to even remotely feel like your car is in jeopardy, but even then you have to have a very big off to cause a noticeable effect to things such as engine power or handling. I’m not sure what happened because in last year’s game you could very quickly render your car inoperable. This isn’t an improvement in my opinion.
I’m not sure about some of the time penalties you get hit with, either. I once managed to throw my car over the Armco and into the void beyond, and I received a meagre ten second time penalty. That really should have been a rally ending crash, or at least returned my car to the road in a state that I would want to restart the stage. On another occasion, I managed to run into some spectators somehow and received 13 seconds time penalty and an instant reset.
I found the collisions with roadside objects such as Armco and fences to be less than satisfying. It takes away somewhat from the immersion when you slam into a flimsy portable fence, your car stops dead, and the spectators on the other side don’t react. At times I hit the Armco or fences at quite acute angles that should have been a glancing blow, but the car almost came to a complete halt. I feel this needs more work but at least there weren’t any situations where I hit invisible walls that destroyed my car.
That said, the overall feeling of the stages is fantastic. The stages are longer in WRC6, giving you a feeling of accomplishment and relief when you finally reach the end of a long track. One of the stand out favourites is Ouninpohja in Finland. I understand why it’s such a revered and exciting stage for real life pilots and it is one of the highlights in this game. The Harju Super Special Stage in Jyväskylä is also a lot of fun and a personal favourite. It’s exactly like the real thing and it isn’t too hard to drive, although I was disappointed they didn’t model the apparent madness of the Finnish organisers and use tractors for the final chicane. I did struggle driving the Barcelona Super Special in Spain with my steering wheel, however. It’s extremely tight, and the nature of simulated driving means you can’t see what you’re doing properly or judge distances too well. Some head tracking or VR might help a lot with situational awareness, but without those aids you will walk away frustrated.
A nice recent addition for international racers is that you can select your co-driver’s language from English, German, Spanish, Italian or French, and you can even do this mid-stage. You can also customise the detail your co-driver gives for corners, hairpins and straights. Personally, I preferred the more detailed pace notes as it gave you a good indication what you should do on the exit of the corner, such as keeping to the outside or inside to set up for the next corner. I found the detailed pace notes rich and helpful.
As with WRC5, you can compete against people around the world on leaderboards. There are two challenges to tackle at a time, and they change every few days. Other than the standard stage time contest that’s in line with the real life championship, there’s a shakedown challenge available. This mode starts with a score of one million and begins counting down as soon as you set off. You also lose points for every second you are off the track, or the goal might be to not get airborne on the stage and you get penalised for how long you are in the air. At the end of the stage, you’re left with a score that places you on the leaderboard. This mode was a refreshing take on competition because it isn’t purely about going flat out for the fastest time.
I was not able to test the online multiplayer, unfortunately. The game refused to connect to any games. Judging by how many people have put entries on the leaderboards, I suspect there aren’t too many people playing online multiplayer. I think this game is focused on single-player and those leaderboard challenges, and not too many people want to race in real time with others around the world. There is offline multiplayer, however, in the form of either “hot seat” or “split screen” which is probably more fun with your friends anyway.
WRC 6 is another solid effort from developer Kylotonn which brings with it some great improvements over the previous instalment, such as better graphics, longer stages and improved driving physics. There are fewer bugs in this release, which is great – although there is still room for improvement with some of the collision detection. I also feel the damage modelling is too lenient, even on higher difficulty settings. This is a minor step backwards from WRC 5, but in almost every other way the game has been improved with this release. I recommend WRC 6 in its own right if you love rally. If you own the previous title, the driving is improved enough that you will enjoy this game too.