Vulgar Knight

I love driving games, especially rally ones, so here’s a WRC 9 review for the PlayStation 4, out now.

At this point in time, I can confidently say that WRC 9 is the definitive rally game. My opinion of course, but following on from WRC 8 which I reviewed elsewhere many moons ago, I didn’t think it could get much better other than having dirt thrown in your face, or someone smashing in your lounge windows for effect.

Fortunately, there’ll be no glazers being called out any time soon, but based on this experience, I should be putting in for my Junior WRC licence as this feels real.

WRC 9 Review

Let’s jump straight to business: the core feature of last years game was the career mode. While it was a little daunting at first having to pick out a crew that featured a meteorologist of all things, then plan your daily schedule, it was accessible enough once you got the hang of it. It also gave the illusion that you ‘got’ this time management malarky.

WRC 9 ups it a little more and provides that marvellous autonomy of running your own rally team, and not just a simple case of jumping in the car and going all Ken Block on wildlife: this is serious.

Kylotonn Entertainment and Nacon have thought of everything, and it’s not just the cars that can be fine-tuned, but the gameplay. In the tutorials, it’s almost like a fitness test to assess your ability and aptly support any requirements you may have; starting assistance, traction control and braking are the immediate benefits on offer.

WRC 9 - Visit Wales
Visit Wales. Source: Screen capture

Personally, I couldn’t handle traction control – I drive a BMW and couldn’t live without it, but for rally driving, that’s the appeal – the unpredictableness of it all. I’ll concede that I tried out the starting assistance as I was a little premature in my starts, often incurring a 10-second penalty. Eventually, I got it.

Other tweaks include changing the difficulty, and the way the car reacts to damage. Again, I couldn’t tamper with these. While I might be tempted to go an easy route in a game based on time, or simply because I’m not very good, I don’t like to muck about with driving games and want to keep to the defaults, which are often challenging enough.

Taking The Dirt Track

The features in the game are insane and is the equivalent of say UFC 3 with its daily and weekly events, quick plays, online multiplayer and even a club mode to create a league of sorts and even be included in more than one at a time. Everything Drive Club aspired to be. I still have my club of one: me.

In this latest edition, WRC 9 has 15 classic cars that include the Lancia Stratos and Toyota Corolla 1999 (if that’s your thing), co-op play where another player is the co-driver and new courses Japan, Kenya and New Zealand. Bear in mind that this is the official WRC game, so full licensing for you fellow brand whores. 

First impressions were excellent after the slow download based on my internet connection. Still, once all the features were available, it became apparent that I needed to invest a bit of time in the game, but boy, was it an experience.

The sunny August weather outside was juxtaposed with the somewhat flash floods in some of the new courses such as Kenya, driven in the ark. Coupled with a terrain that would be better suited for rock climbers, I don’t think I’ve ever driven so erratically: safe cornering to avoid ending up on my roof, but then realising that WRC 9 is measured by time. Cruising along like a milk float won’t win races so I’d open the throttle, let go, accelerate, brake, clip a rock and so on. No race was ever the same encounter, and that’s refreshing.

Completing a race improves reputation and also morale, but finishing some of the objectives with crashes can see a manufacturer happy, but your crew losing motivation. After all, they’re the ones who’ll have to put the plasters on the wings.

I struggled with the game, but that has nothing to do with the controls or gameplay, just mindset. While I do love a good old arcade racer like Sega Rally or V-Rally, simulations can be a hell of a lot of fun if you pay attention to the mechanics.

Heavy Racing

The cars here feel significantly heavier than any other game. Sure, it’s not like jack-knifing a lorry down a one-way street, but these cars handle like they would in real life. Even the entry-level cars feel like beasts with their superb revving features.

WRC 9 - Night Vision
Night vision. Source: Screen capture

I’d say that WRC 9 is a rare example where picking the right car makes a difference, as does the adjustments to it pre-race. All the models behave differently, have a unique sound. 

A car that I could throw around the corner like a ragdoll without consequence would be totally different from another machine where the race line and time to brake impacted whether or not I’d finish the race. Spoiler: 90 mph into a tree or off a cliff face doesn’t level you up.

That’s another aspect: levelling up. The further you progress, the more experience you earn, attract new sponsorships and the best crew. There’s a lot to think about, and even if you have a good run, that doesn’t guarantee a stab at the championship.

If the career side of things is a bit too much, aside from the Quick Play option where you can race any track through customised weather patterns (snowstorms are incredible), there’s the chance to enter a two-day season, eSports calendar, online play and split-screen to name a few.

Career mode offers a few starter cars, but if you can’t wait for that, you can jump into a quick play game and race with WRC, WRC 2 and 3, Junior WRC, WRC, Legends and Bonus cars. Driving a Ford Escort MK II RS1800 or the legendary Lancia Delta HF Integrale Evoluzione on one of the new tracks in Japan, Africa or home of the Hobbits, New Zealand is simply sublime.

Where We’re Going, We Don’t Need Roads

Both the vehicles in the game and locations are impressive. Rally driving isn’t exactly a sightseeing tour, but at any rare straight, or coming to a stop at a hairpin, I would revel in the scenery – it really was something else.

As with WRC 8, there are some driving perspectives to play with. Though the third-person/chase cam looks good, my driving is significantly better in first-person as I would continuously fishtail in the former.

With that in mind, my preference would be the cam mounted on the bonnet or front bumper for full effect as the interior view with the dirt and rain would make it another thing to concentrate on – even if you have an independent wiper you can operate.

The gamer in me did attempt to take a few shortcuts, or cheese a few areas for the odd marginal gain, but it never paid off. Smashing through a sign or bollard wouldn’t be as effortless as I thought and sometimes bring me to a halt or spin out, and other times I would aim to clip the fencing to bounce back onto the track. 

WRC 9 - Mini
Replay value. Source: Screen capture

Instead, the fencing would operate as it would in real life and smash to pieces, my car with enough kinetic energy to do an impressive roll as I’d hit a tree that would have Burnout fans marvelling, but rally fans tutting and shaking their heads.

Conclusion: learn to drive.

In summary then, WRC 9 met and exceeded my expectations. I’d already concluded that WRC 8 was a great game. Still, with these new features and tracks, if you’re a rally fan, you could live in this game with the number of features, challenges and vehicle porn it offers (you can take photos of your car along with weather and time of day effects like before, and it’s wicked).

The handling does take some getting used to, and it won’t be without the odd frustration here and there – especially if you’re so close to getting a great time but missed it by a tenth of a second. That’s the nature of the sport though, not the game, and on that basis, WRC 9 captures it perfectly.

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