When it comes to video games, the rally racing genre is a strange beast. Far more people appear to take part in the digital version of the sport than would ever be caught watching an event live or on TV and this has led to rally games almost being a staple of each new generation.
Codemasters recently brought their take on the sport back to consoles with the universally (and deservedly) acclaimed DIRT Rally, while Milestone carried on their work in the genre after losing the official WRC licence, releasing the passable but unremarkable Sebastien Loeb Rally Evo. The beneficiaries of Milestone’s loss were French developer Kylotonn Games, who grabbed that official licence and released WRC 5 last year.
With this year’s attempt – WRC 6 – they’ve added some improvements to the mix that bring the game closer to the real deal than you’d expect. At times, there’s an incredibly satisfying feeling that you’re truly battling with the course and fighting against the conditions. Some sections seem much narrower than before, meaning that you’ll need to take genuine care over your approach, taking into account the sort of surface that you’re racing on, your car’s setup, and how much damage you’ve already taken on in the stage or are carrying through from a previous one.
Damage limitation is, as it always was, a key to success in the game’s career mode. There’s added depth this year, as you start at the bottom of the pile as a Junior WRC driver, with the goal being to make your way up to WRC 2 and then to the big show itself. The slower pace of the Junior and WRC 2 vehicles means that you can learn the nuances of the game’s handling before jumping into the seriously powerful cars, though taking things even slower than that is advised in the early exchanges.
You might be running away with a rally after the first day, but suffering a crunching crash in the first special stage of the second day could be enough to put paid to your chances of success. Just as in real life, you can only repair damage at the start of each day, so if you wreck that steering at 9am, you’ll still be fighting against it when the final stage starts in the evening.
While care is required when navigating the tighter tracks, WRC 6’s handling model does often feel as if it tends more toward arcade-style play than simulation. You can get away with an awful lot more than you’d expect from a simulation and should you really misjudge that line into a corner, it’s never the end of the world. It’s often easy to flick into a quick corrective drift with a single button press, even at incredibly low speeds. This often feels fun and as if you’ve really mastered the Scandinavian Flick, but the reality is that the game is doing a lot of the work for you.
Recovering the car if you go off-road is one of the main indicators of the arcade feeling, as there are too many times where you should be absolutely stuck and waiting for someone to come and give you a tow, yet you’re able to just jam the accelerator down and power up and away over rocks and signs and all manner of other obstacles as if you’re driving a monster truck.
The game’s over-generous tendencies are welcome when you consider how poor your co-driver is at doing his job. It feels as if WRC 6 relies on track-based checkpoints to trigger chains of navigation commands, as opposed to judging your speed and how far away you are from an obstacle to decide when to issue an instruction. This means that if you’re taking things carefully (or are damaged and not going at full speed), you’ll hear the co-driver call something like “Left six, tightens, right three, BRAKE! DANGER!” and then pause for four seconds before saying “Hairpin left.” By the time he gets to the last part, you’re already halfway around that hairpin and are waiting for the next instruction.
There are options to change the level of detail of the co-driver’s calls and also to tweak the timing to be earlier or later, but no combination really solves the problem, given that 90% of the instructions are absolutely fine. Pauses in the instructions are often the difference between getting your driving line right or messing it up completely, especially on stages that take place at night. The fact that the guy who’s apparently there to help you often shouts things such as “don’t cut” on corners that you can cut without danger and “keep out” when there’s an obstacle on the outside of the track doesn’t really help things, either.
Visually, WRC 6 comes close to being absolutely stunning at times. The rolling hills and beautiful backdrops of the ADAC Rallye Deutschland’s stages are a sight to behold, with some convincingly detailed weather effects also coming into play. Some nice little touches have been thrown in for good measure, such as your actual name and flag being printed on the sides of the car. It’s a very small thing, but one that other rally games seem to overlook. These good looks and little niceties do cause a problem with the framerate at times, though, it must be said. It shouldn’t really be the case that a game that aims for 30fps manages to come up short, but it unfortunately is here. In order to get as close as it does, WRC 6 features a fair amount of pop-in and a few late-drawn lighting effects, which are especially noticeable when careening down a longer stretch of track.
If you can handle the downsides to the visuals and get around the dodgy navigator – some sort of in-race map would have done the job, but it isn’t to be – then WRC 6 can be very enjoyable. The variation in the handling on the different surfaces is nicely believable and will lead to some players developing specialties that they can exploit so they can really put the pedal to the metal to claw back a handful of seconds when the conditions suit their style. It’s in these moments that the game comes very close to the likes of the older Colin McRae titles in terms of playability and enjoyment – and that’s no small feat.
This review is based on the Xbox One version of the game, which we were provided with.
WRC 6 is a great step forward for the franchise and can be good fun at times, though the faults it contains mean that it doesn’t really put in a serious challenge to DIRT Rally for the console rallying crown. Nonetheless, there's enough enjoyment on offer to make it a decent alternative for those who are looking for something a bit less hardcore.