Rallying has slipped out of the British public’s consciousness since the World Rally Championship fell off mainstream TV, but the WRC is still going strong and continues to represent the absolute pinnacle of off-road motorsport. The days when every discerning gamer owned a copy of Colin McRae Rally may be long gone, but French developer Kylotonn Games, at least, is keeping the virtual rallying flame burning with its officially licensed WRC games – which is good news for petrol-heads.
This year’s effort, WRC 6, is the first version of the game explicitly designed for the Xbox One and PlayStation 4, which means it’s the highest-tech rally game that money can buy. The most obvious advantage it gains by dropping support for defunct consoles is that it looks great: both cars and rally stages look startlingly realistic, with particular attention paid to road surfaces and the environment which, of course, has a massive impact on the gameplay of a rally-driving game. So downpours will swiftly turn a dusty stage into a treacherous, slippery mud-bath, while grooves will build up in gravel stages as more cars traverse them, as they do in real life.
While WRC 6 keeps things fairly simple, it contains all the modes that you could reasonably ask for. In Career mode, it initially tests your skills by throwing you into the action, then lets you build your way up to a top outfit from a junior team, over a full WRC season which picks out a judicious selection of the best special and super-special stages.
WRC 6 gives you a couple of driving tests when you fire up Career mode, but instead of giving you driver-aids like, say, a Formula One game, it revises your team’s expectations downwards according to ability – indeed, you can choose whether to start at a team that values speed highest, or your ability to bring car home in one piece. If you part company with the road, you can respawn yourself (with an accompanying time-penalty, which rises if you keep on respawning) and if, say, you pick up a puncture, you can opt to change your tyre, also accruing a time-penalty, or limp on to the end of the stage. Ploughing into spectator is possible (mercifully without any gruesome animations), but brings even heavier penalties.
Between stages, you get a brief chance to effect repairs and, while you can manually decide which parts of the car to repair, you can also let the game decide for you, which is commendable. The Career mode is pretty impressive: it builds nicely from fairly gentle beginnings although be warned: WRC 6 very much expects you to know the fundamentals of rallying, and unless you crank the difficulty level down to Easy, you’ll do well to get anywhere near the pace of the leading drivers.
WRC 6 does, however, provide a good means of learning how to become a rally driver, for the simple reason that its fundamental elements are spot-on. The feel you get from the cars is immense – somehow, even if you’re playing with a gamepad, you can detect every camber-change in the surface, or transition from dirt to tarmac. Nailing a tricky bend with an elegant, handbrake-enhanced four-wheel drift is intensely satisfying, and the game’s virtual co-drivers, with their verbal pace-notes augmented by icons at the top of the screen, never mess up. The cars sound fearsomely authentic, too.
Beyond Career mode, you can select Championship, which starts off with the Tour de Corse (the last rally on the calendar before WRC 6 launched) and gives you a proper chance to test yourself against the top drivers. Plus it feels up to date, as you work through the rallies on this year’s calendar which haven’t yet taken place, and beyond. While WRC 6 doesn’t contain exact copies of every single stage on the WRC calendar, it certainly has the most interesting ones, rendered in impressive detail. And it’s fully licensed, so it has all the drivers and cars.
"Players are most likely to be total rally nuts sitting behind expensive wheel-and-pedals setups."
There’s a Challenge mode which, for example, puts you in situations in which you must win the last stage of the season to seal the championship and, for the first time in a WRC game, split-screen two-player mode, which is loads of fun, as well as a 'hot seat' mode which lets up to four people take turns at the same stage. And then there’s full multiplayer, which lets you pit your skills against real humans. Humans, it must be said, with scary amounts of driving skill, who almost certainly own driving-wheel setups, so you’d be brave to take them on with just a gamepad.
WRC 6 does exactly what it should – in an unfussy, not overly flashy manner. It concentrates on the basics of great car and stage modelling, while offering all the modes that make sense in a rally game. Unsurprisingly, it tends towards the simulation end of the driving-game spectrum – the people who buy it are most likely to be total rally nuts sitting behind expensive wheel-and-pedals setups. But it doesn’t feel too daunting for those looking to merely sample the excitement of the WRC, either.