Sometimes, when starting a game review it’s hard to find the witty, heart-warming tale that will prepare you, dear reader, for the dismantling ahead. Today, I have no such story, merely this; I used to watch the WRC back when Loeb wasn’t winning everything in sight, when the name Subaru wasn’t associated with 16 inch diameter exhausts and booming music. It still wasn’t as interesting as the Touring Cars.

WRC 4 concentrates on the modern era of the Rally Championship

WRC 4 concentrates on the modern era of the Rally Championship

With the domination recently of FIA driving champions called Sebastian, I recalled with fond memories, a time of Lancia and Toyota machines driven by the likes of Henri Toivonen and Caros Saintz. Sadly, WRC 4 concentrates on the modern era of the Rally Championship, with the Juniors, WRC 3 and WRC 2 as well as the full-on throttle-fest that is the WRC. That’s right folks, they’ve removed the classic cars from the roster so, with that firmly in the wing-mirrors, it’s clear that WRC 4 is less of an arcade racer and more of a season simulator than its competitors. This is slightly disappointing.

From the outset WRC 4 looks good. After a short player set up procedure, which seems to be in an odd place in the grand scheme of the game, you’re presented with an HD-slow-mo inspired menu system with some impressive car-action shots and the opportunity to launch yourself into a quick burst stage, a single rally or the full on career mode. There’s also the opportunity to challenge your friends online in multiplayer mode. Throwing yourself into a quick play stage is always a good start, just to get used to steering sensitivity and the acceleration and braking bias. Now, that might not seem important, but trust me, as you get into the career mode, it can be the difference between 1st and 6th.

Static scenery spoils the effects of the racing

Static scenery spoils the effects of the racing

The main thing I noticed as the quick stage started was that, even though the in-game graphics are crisp and well-realised, there was something wrong with the way it was presented. At the time I couldn’t quite put my finger on what it was, but as my wife pointed out, the trees don’t move, in fact the scenery is extremely static. I found myself drawing imaginary axis lines on the car and seeing that ultimately, the car itself is pretty much static on these lines and the track moves around the car. This formula hasn’t really altered since the McRae series of rally games, which were excellent at the time, but that was way back in the day.

While this is obviously a formula that works to a degree, it makes for a very dated style of gameplay. The car physics seem to suffer for this and steering sensitivity also takes a hit so hard that my Recaro armchair shook to its very foundations. You can alter the driving physics in the options, ranging from beginner to professional but I found beginner, with its auto-braking and near enough auto-steering a little too easy whereas the other settings are probably more suited to those who prefer their driving games with a wheel and pedals. The normal to pro settings were simply far too sensitive for the controller and you’ll find yourself upside-down in a ditch far more times than you would in real life. This is, of course, very frustrating, although the damage effects on the car look fairly convincing once you do this.

The co-driver is on-hand constantly giving you instructions

The co-driver is on-hand constantly giving you instructions

This damage can have a detrimental effect on your shiny runabout so it’s probably a good idea to try to stay out of the ditches and away from the rocks, and this is helped by the squawkings of your co-driver. In-game, he is often lost in the angry-wasp noise of the revving engine and the short, bronchitis like backfire of a gear change, accentuated with a small spit of flame. The co-driver will bark instructions at you regarding the upcoming track, its degree of bend and the hazards that might be hiding on the fringes, or around the corners. This is good, if a little too fast. The good news is that you can alter when this info is coming, be it delayed slightly or indeed announced more in advance. The voice acting here is ok, with the inevitable exclamation from your partner should you hit some unseen object or plough headlong into a tree. The novelty of this soon wears off however, and you’ll find yourself reaching for the ejector seat switch, now where did they put it? As well as the talkative co-driver, there is an orchestral loading soundtrack and a short introduction to the rally or stage with a voice over and some rally action animation. Thankfully though, you can alter the co-driver settings, and even the symbols that appear over your car in-race, as part of the HUD.

This HUD is fairly unobtrusive and can be quite informative, with split-times, a rev counter, gear display and speed in kph or mph, but more often than not you’ll find yourself concentrating on the road ahead. On the left of the HUD is a linear representation of the rally stage, split into time zones. Go fastest in that time zone and it will light up green, go slower and it’ll turn red. Obviously, the more green you have, the more likely it is that you’ll win the stage. Win the most stages and you’ll more than likely win the rally outright, but not always. This is where the time-split scenario gets tricky, especially as you appear to go last all the time, something that doesn’t always happen in the real WRC.

Even if you lose some sections you can still come in first!

Even if you lose some sections you can still come in first!

This means that as soon as your run is finished, the time splits and stage rankings are all revealed. This part of the career mode is a little flawed as in my first Rally, I aced the first four stages with a huge 14 second lead, then came 2nd and 3rd in the last two stages and lost the rally by .66 of a second. Not much fun with a game as unforgiving as that I can tell you. Career mode starts you off trying to earn a contract on one of the Junior teams, driving Ford Fiestas. In truth, the career mode is dated and should really have been due a spruce up by the developers, so much more could have been made of it.

WRC 4 isn’t a bad game, then. It’s left a little at the starting line, let down by a poor career mode and some corner cutting when it comes to scenery and vehicle physics. Sound-wise, the car sounds too much like a very angry wasp-hive and the co-driver’s attempts at humour or concern when crashing are repetitive. I used to play the likes of Colin McRae Rally and the subsequent Dirt series with the sole intention to enjoy gravel-drifting around sweeping corners or hand-braking into hairpins, but the fun has even been taken out of that in WRC 4, it’s all too stiff and too precise. There’s been too much emphasis on this being more of a simulation than a driving game and in the end it comes up as neither. It doesn’t matter how good the cars look when shiny and new, and they do look good, if they’re an oil-tanker to drive it saps the fun right out of it.

Review - WRC 4: FIA World Rally Championship
Joy ride
  • Nicely rendered cars
  • Good array of driving position views
  • All the current cars are available in quick play
Crash and burn
  • Normal steering controls are far too sensitive
  • Poor, dated, career mode
  • Vehicle and scenery physics feel half-finished
64%Overall Score
Reader Rating: (1 Vote)
100%

About The Author

Indie Editor

A midlander, exiled to the South Coast. I once finished Gremlin's "Lotus Esprit Turbo Challenge" & I have the certificate to prove it.