WRC9 is the latest yearly edition of the popular rally game and this year developer Kylotonn have again delivered a realistic rally simulator. This series of games are by no means arcade racers, so be warned, as playing this game will make you feel both elated and frustrated all at the same time!
WRC9 is still the only official licensed rally game of the FIA World Rally Championship and as you would expect contains all the cars, tracks and everything else you would expect. Ford, Hyundai and Toyota cars are all beautifully rendered, along with rally stages in Monte Carlo, Argentina, Portugal and the obligatory snowy tracks of Sweden. New for WRC9 are stages in Japan, Kenya and New Zealand. There are a huge amount of single player game modes, from the main event of the career mode, to seasons, single races, training and test areas. There is also an online multiplayer mode and – refreshingly – a Split Screen multiplayer mode. The levels and the scenery all look great at a fast speed, not that you can look in great detail as you will need to concentrate fully on the road ahead, and the obligatory co-pilots instructions. I’m sure if you look in detail there will be a few iffy textures – I have to mention the men that stand around near the start line – all of them with the same red-faced features!
Most WRC9 players – and rally fans – will probably be heading straight for the career mode, which first of all starts you out in the Junior WRC, where all teams have identical cars which are limited in speed – think of this as an introduction to the rally circuit. You will have control of your calendar where you choose which events to enter, which consist of full rally weekends, historic races, manufacturer try-outs and training. I personally enjoyed the smaller events, such as the try-outs, as these place you in a rally with a specific objective, for example to reach a certain point on the course with extreme weather conditions and a damaged car. The full rally weekends consist of four different events, with aggregated times determining your final position. This is where the full rally experience is recreated, as you will have to choose the correct car set-up for the conditions and deal with damage, choosing to repair certain parts of the car between sessions, whilst keeping within your budget.
The back-end of the career mode is incredibly detailed. There is an RPG-esque skill tree, where you develop the team and car with the skill point awarded in the events. There is also a section on crew management, where you can recruit staff for your team, from mechanics to meteorologists (a good one of these will accurately predict weather and therefore enable you to choose the right tyres). However, this felt quite buggy, as I had unlocked and recruited a said meteorologist only to find a few events later that they had gone and I was told that I hadn’t unlocked that profession. Maybe this was caused by some of the game crashing bugs (more on that later). I know this has happened as I have taken game screenshots for this review and have one screenshot from my early time with the game that shows them unlocked whilst another screenshot taken whilst writing this review shows it not unlocked – so something strange is occuring! Some of the crew also need to rest – including the agent and the weather dude, meaning you needed to recruit replacements. Really? I wished the crew element of the career mode could be turned off as I found it all rather dull and annoying. I appreciate the amount of detail the developers went into on all the bells and whistles in career mode – but it felt a bit overkill to me. The rewards for completing a race are confusing as well. Whatever I seemed to do – for example completing 82% of a manufacturer try-out versus a target of 50% – saw my morale go down?
However, where WRC9 will succeed is in the actual car racing stuff, and I am pleased to say that it really does this well. It is a great rally game – but as I mentioned earlier, don’t expect Forza levels of car control and speed. This is more of a simulator than an arcade racer. If you drive like you do in other games you will crash and get immensely frustrated. The aim of the game here is to balance speed and control in order to get the fastest time possible. This is where I feel like I am in a quandary about how I feel about the game. The main problem I have with WRC 9 is that it is just too true to real life. If you clip the verge of a rally track at 80mph then you are going to crash, and it is just too easy to do that here, especially on some of the more narrower courses. Crashing will give you a time penalty, so one small mistake in a 6 minute race will see you finish well behind the leader. It’s also incredibly frustrating to feel like you are doing well, only to reach a checkpoint and be told that you are already five seconds off the pace. From that point you try to go faster only to crash again. On a full rally weekend it feels absolutely impossible to gain this time back. On the flip-side I have also reached a checkpoint and been five seconds ahead, and not really sure how I have managed it! WRC9 really is a game that will reward practice and experience, but for a gamer – like me – who is more into arcade racing, it did feel a little too brutal and unforgiving at times. It is crying out for some driving assistance, like a driving line to help players like myself. I know that WRC9 is a rally simulation, but it would increase the appeal to newcomers to the series.
I have also been on the receiving end of a number of the other type of crashes, the ones where the Xbox One turns off. One of these happened mid-race, of the fourth race of a rally event, and when I reloaded I had been awarded no points for the entire event. Which is quite unforgivable, along with the incredibly long load times when returning to the career garage. Perhaps the crashes were the reason for the issues with the crew management I spoke about earlier?
Overall, WRC9 is probably the best rally game available now, and for players who are willing to give it time and practice, it will be a rewarding experience. At times however, it can feel too difficult and unpredictable, which does lead to a lot of frustration.