Gamestyle Archive Intro: For a while Gran Turismo became very boring although some would argue it remains so. The WRC offered a refreshing alternative to tarmac action by the need for speed in new directions. Writer JJ, published November 2001.
God I hate Gran Turismo. There I’ve finally said it. While its influence on the driving genre has been immense, I long for the days of Rage Racer, the best racer on the Psone. Then you were up against the track and clock, no need to worry about realistic handling and realism in general. Racing was not a chore or task, the thrill was pure as was the speed and sensational power slides. Since those days and the advent of the GT phenomenon I’ve lost interest in racing games, why was Ridge Racer 4 so poor?
The influence of GT is why but something recently has renewed my interest in driving and that game is World Rally Championship (WRC). WRC has come as major surprise as although rally games like V-Rally and Colin MacRae were hugely popular on the Psone, I never found them captivating to warrant any long-term play. The game has reintroduced the sensation of man and machine against the track, clock and most importantly nature. Developed by Evolution Studios who are more known for their flight simulations for the PC market (as DiD) and helped by the muscle of Sony, WRC is the saviour of the driving genre – or it should have been. Games with official licenses litter the shelves of retailers all over the country and today it seems a pre-requisite for any sports based game.
WRC is no different in this respect as it offers the official license, the FIA World Rally Championship and therefore includes seven of the worlds leading car manufacturers. As this is a worldwide event, the game will take you all over the globe, experiencing every extreme condition known to man. Whether you fancy the twisting tracks of Monte Carlo, open plains of Kenya or a mud bath home coming, this has it all. The further you progress through the stages and countries the more options will become available in other modes such as time trail and single rally. In total there are 81 courses set across the world offering a variety of challenges and pitfalls for you to cross. The first thing that strikes you about WRC is the impressive front end, or to put it simply, the presentation and layout. A globe faces you on the screen and bit-by-bit you are zoomed into your next track, simple yet effective.
Due to the advantages of DVD you can even watch real footage of how the professionals do it and then try to be better. Clear and precise commentary provides useful information on the challenges that lie ahead and you can if you wish, test your settings and track surfaces using the pre-rally shakedown option. If you want depth and realism then WRC does offer this but the lower skill settings take away such reliance’s and free the player to enjoy essence of rallying. The novice skill settings is without a doubt, too easy for the serious driver and as such should be avoided if you want to experience everything that the game has to offer. Normal offers a good balance and upon completion will open up the professional settings – for those who enjoy a true challenge and only second to Sega Rally. The excellent presentation continues into the game itself, with the in-game screen containing a variety of view, helpful icons and tools if you so desire. Your co-driver is the most important of these tools and without him the game would be even harder.
The handling of the cars has come in for many criticisms from other publications and I have to disagree with their sentiments. This is a rally game for goodness sake; your car is going to require constant attention and minor taps on the stick or d-pad, even on the straights. Unlike Gran Turismo you cannot afford to relax on certain sections of a track because nature lies in wait for you. Your car will not stick to the track, you must work to keep it there and this is the essence of rallying. Its not easy or relaxing, it is an intense sport that punishes those who turn off for a split second. After the first few stages you will soon appreciate the time and effort that has gone into the handling, braking and physics. WRC is a game that is easy to dismiss at first and like any good album takes a few plays before it finally falls into place. Rallying is not a major sport and is still regarded as a niche interest but it is growing and games such as WRC are a factor in this.
The developers have captured the spirit of rallying more so than any other previous attempt but they have also sought to include some of the most satisfying graphics yet seen on any home console. The replays are some of the best delivered yet but I am also referring to the actual game. WRC is a graphic junkies ultimate dream and features photo realistic environments, first class lighting and the most dynamic sound effects that I have heard on any driving game. You can quite literally tell the condition your car is in by listening without referring to the icons on the screen or feel it through the handling. The game features realistic damage and this is not some graphical novelty as displayed by other games. If you slam into a hillside or road sign, a variety of things can suddenly happen; the steering, suspension, acceleration or temperature will be affected. It’s this that helps bring the environments alive as they may look real but with this feature they feel it as well.
More than any other game that I have played WRC forces the driver to use their senses (touch, sight, hearing) as you can immediately gauge your health by using these. As mentioned previously the game should have been the ultimate driving experience but there are problems or areas that let down the overall package. Firstly even though the game supports two players it should be regarded as a sole experience. The multiplayer element is several limited and hampered by graphical problems such as frame rate and fog that do not exist in the main mode. Loading has been a problem on the Playstation 2 and this game is the worst so far, an eternity is spent waiting for the tracks to load. Given the fact that you can only race 10 stages and your opponent appears as a ghost car it seems as this was tagged on as an afterthought.
The graphical splendour of the game is dampened by some pop-up in later stages and poor weather effects such as rain and snow – easily witnessed in the first person viewpoint. While there are bonus stages to open and as you progress more countries become available for other modes, there isn’t much here to keep the casual driver entertained. The developers have included a challenge mode in conjunction with the official website where you can obtain a rally license but once achieved its never revisited. Music included with a driving game is rarely appropriate and with WRC this is very much the case. Perhaps given the importance of sound effects, little attention was paid to the background music as it can only serve to distract the player. Whatever the reason, it is poor and easily switched off and never to return.
Given the carrot and stick approach that Gran Turismo has made the norm (win track, get car) most will race through the game once and miss the whole point of rallying. There comes a time when being first will be a foregone conclusion, you will be only against the clock and there lies the challenge. In the current climate this won’t be enough for many only concerned with winning and that is such a shame. WRC has come as a big surprise to me and brought much enjoyment in a genre that I had previously lost interest in with the exception of MSR. The best driving game on the Playstation 2 without a doubt and as a first console release from Evolution Studios an achievement they can be rightly proud of.
Gamestyle Score: 8/10