Black Bean – WRC: FIA World Rally Championship review

mud splattered cars, crunching gears and power-slides ahoy
Photo of Black Bean – WRC: FIA World Rally Championship

WRC is the game of the FIA World Rally Championship, where men in fireproof jumpsuits sit in bucket seats and drive overpowered cars past sheep in Welsh fields. Or indeed past stripy-top-clad spectators lining the cobbled streets of French villages, or hollering Swedes suffering the sub-zero conditions of the snow covered Scandinavian countryside. For WRC has snow driving stages, and that’s one advantage it holds over Dirt 2, which we’ve been addicted to this past year.

As you’d expect, WRC is also designed with the hardcore rally enthusiast more in mind, as timed rally stages – the driver versus the road – are the only option. There are no distractions such as circuit races with stadium trucks here: the WRC campaign is a series of straightforward rallies driven against the clock over a number of countries and stages. The usual basic trimmings of a campaign mode are here, with different cars you can purchase, sponsors to sign up, and events to choose between, from the Ford Fiesta R2 Cup to the Last of the Summer Wine Motorised Bath Downhill Challenge.

It all sounds good so far in theory, but in practice WRC doesn’t fulfil this promise. For starters, it’s clearly rough around the edges. The interface is poorly designed, glitchy and even has text missing in parts, which is unhelpful to say the least. As this review goes to press, there isn’t even a quit option present in the main menu: quite bizarrely, you have to hit Alt-F4 to exit the game (a patch will address this soon, the developer promises).

Graphically, WRC is fairly rough and ready too. It looks passable, don’t get us wrong, but even with the resolution turned up, the level of detail isn’t hugely impressive, and draw-in can be quite visible. Puddles look flat, drawn on to the road’s surface rather than having any depth to them, or any spray coming up when you drive through them. Indeed, it doesn’t seem to make any noticeable difference to your grip whether you drive through the puddles or sensibly weave to the drier bits of the road.

And this is WRC’s biggest disappointment: the handling, particularly after having come from long spells of playing Dirt 2. WRC’s handling feels too slidey, and while counter-steering works to keep you in line, the driving model just isn’t particularly convincing.

There’s not much difference between the handling of the various cars, either. The Clio has better speed and handling stats than the Citroen C2, and you can tell it’s nippier and turns slightly more readily, but the variation isn’t huge. Not when compared to Dirt 2, where every car has its own feel in terms of cornering, and even details such as the wheelbase length are factored in, and the effect that has on how a vehicle lands after a jump.

Okay, perhaps we’re harping on with the Dirt 2 comparisons a bit too much, so to get more positive for a moment, WRC does provide some interesting tracks. There are some thin country lanes with torturous cambers and nastily placed ditches which certainly give your driving skills a challenge, keeping things interesting. And the damage modelling is quite nicely done, when you do inevitably tip into one of those ditches and smash into a tree (complete with the screams of your long suffering co-driver).

After a bad bonnet pranging and resulting engine damage, the game simulates the bum notes of a struggling 1600cc beast very nicely, and the crunching gears as you change up through them. Between rally stages the player gets an allotted time to perform repairs, so it’s necessary to prioritise and often leave simple body damage unattended to. So if you whack your left side door so it flaps open and shut as you corner in the first stage, and don’t have time left to fix it before the second stage begins, it’ll still be flapping around for that section. These are pretty cool authentic touches.

However, the driving model is obviously the most critical element of a driving game, and WRC just isn’t quite up to speed here. It doesn’t help that some points of balance in the main campaign are somewhat off, with not only the cars being too similar, but also elements such as the sponsorship deals not making much of an impact on proceedings. The end result is a product which struggles to define itself beyond a very average rally game, despite some realistic nuances.

Company: Black Bean

WRC ultimately falls rather flat due to its unconvincing driving model, along with some scrappy presentation and a career campaign which needs some additional depth. The game hits some positive notes, with interesting stage design and realistic flavours in other areas, but that isn't quite enough to recommend it.