Throw your car around the corner and hope for the best.
So, rally driving. The sport of carefully negotiating the twists and turns of a given course at the highest speed possible in a car. In that respect, it’s not too different to most other driving sports. But what makes the difference is that in rally driving, the courses are not only asphalt roads, but also mud, gravel, snow and ice. Oh, and you have a passenger shouting cryptic directions at you as well.
The Italian developer Milestone have steadfastly hung on to the traditional re-creation of rally driving through their WRC games, in part due to the fact that they are officially licensed by the FIA World Rally Championship and in part because, I like to think, they are huge fans of the sport.The rally driving videogame seems to have had its day. Even the daddy of rally driving games, the Colin McRae series which we now know as DiRT, seems to be concentrating less and less on the actual sport with each release, and more on “hooning”.
But keeping with the last entries in the series, WRC 3 offers exactly what you would expect from a pure rally driving game. Being that this is an official game of the sport, the developers have kept their finger on the pulse and followed this year’s FIA World Rally Championship closely, ensuring that all of the drivers, teams and courses from this years’s competition are present and correct. That means 54 official teams and 78 stages spread across 13 different locations. Enough to make a fan rather excited.
There are a decent number of options for single-player action included in WRC 3. There is a choice of playing through single stages, complete rallies or an entire championship in one of the games many cars, should that be your thing. The selection of cars is quite impressive, with some 36 different vehicles spread across the various different classes. Racing through these particular modes is a hefty chunk of content in itself, especially when taking on a full championship, and will keep the rally enthusiast busy for a good while.
But the meat of this title, at least for the single player, is the brand new “Road to Glory” career mode. It would not be a mistake to expect a mode that gradually increases the difficulty as the player learns the ropes, from the beginning novice through to the seasoned veteran. This is how most games would deal with any form of career mode. However, in WRC 3 the player is expected to hit the ground running. As it happens, the player takes on the role of a new driver and works their way to become the best. This is achieved by earning stars for not only placing high in the rally itself, but also for their performance on the track. Earn enough stars and the next event becomes available.
It is not the most exciting layout, but it works. In this situation it would not be unusual to go back to earlier rallies and earn a few more stars to progress, using their growing experience and the knowledge of the track. But in WRC 3 the progression is stunted by the unusually high difficulty level so early in the game. As I said, the player is expected to hit the ground running and have prior experience of rally driving. Obviously for the new gamer, this makes the game an uphill battle that will involve repeatedly running through the same stages over and over. But even for the seasoned pro, the difficulty level is high and will offer a challenge right from the start.
Milestone have included a rewind function, as is fashionable in driving games these days. The rewind is a handy tool in a game this difficult, especially when one stupid mistake can push you from first to last. But I found that the function was not implemented as well as in other driving games. It felt more of a hindrance and, to be honest, I forgot it was there most of the time.
Another aspect increasing the games difficulty is the handling. Driving games live and die by their handling and WRC 3 hasn’t quite got it right. This is not the only driving game where I will be complaining about the cars feeling too light over the next week or so, but for rally driving it is much more of a problem. The cars feel very flighty, something which is amplified on the looser road surfaces, which by the way have been recreated very well. But the cars feel too easy to tip, too easy to lose on a corner and too easy to spin out. It’s not something that cannot be adjusted to, but it adds to the already steep learning curve.
Visually, there is not much to say. The game looks good, it just feels a little bit bland. I don’t think this is a problem with the game itself, but the subject matter – generally speaking, there is not much going on in a rally game. Of course, the tracks themselves look authentic and have a feel of the country in which they are based. The cars too look nice, not that the player will be paying much attention to them. I will admit that the crowds of spectators look a bit one dimensional, but if you are watching the crowds rather than the track…
To fill out the package, there are also plenty of multiplayer options to keep the more competitive rally drivers busy. Individual races, rallies or even championships can be played with others, and the super special stages are a lot of fun with a friend. Whilst the layout in multiplayer remains more or less the same as single player, competing against friends feels like a much more satisfying experience due to the level playing field – everyone has to deal with the same difficulty.
WRC 3 is a bare-bones, rally driving experience that has more in common with the early rally games than its current competitors. It is all about precision driving under extreme conditions and, while this is a good thing for the hardcore fans of the sport, the more casual driving gamers will find the game unforgiving. If you are serious about your rally sports, then WRC 3 will let you compete with the best, at least in a virtual world.