Milestone is a developer specialising in motorsports who have already released two titles this year in the genre: namely SBKX and Superstars V8 Next Challenge. Though both games were perfectly playable they suffered from production values and structure lagging well behind the times. This is sadly the case with the studio's latest offering - WRC: FIA World Rally Championship. There is a decent rally game here, once you rise above the quite dated presentation and uninspired career mode, but even compared to the original DIRT from Codemasters it falls short on almost every level.
This could be due to the fact that I’ve played a few Milestone racers in my time but I have to say that the career mode on offer here feels rather similar. You obtain a number of chapters which each consist of a collection of race events. Each event lists three levels of achievements with credits being handed out according to difficulty. If you pass any of these it will unlock the next event, yet whereas a 10th place finish might earn you a handful of credits, it’s obvious that winning will earn a lot more.
Credits are required to purchase new cars across the three racing classes and also, quite bizarrely, to earn acquire new sponsors - although, unless I missed something, these sponsors don’t differ much (if at all), in terms of what they offer you. To start off with you’ll be competing in the regional championships but the object is to move up the ladder - this being the real goal - and obtain a job offer from a top class WRC team. This means, of course, you won’t start in the WRC category, for your skills are first tested in the P-WRC, S-WRC, and J-WRC sections.
I must say that WRC isn’t a very forgiving game. I play a lot of racing games yet even on the standard difficulty the opening few events are punishing in the extreme. To unlock the next chapter you’re more than likely to need to replay each event a handful of times, but things do start to click once you’re more attuned to the handling of the cars on the various surface types.
Initially, handling felt incredibly twitchy and this wasn’t helped by the fact the cars don’t exactly look the part on the track. Maybe this is an odd complaint to make, but something is off, it just doesn’t fit, whether it’s the movement of the camera, or the way the car pivots on the road surface. I have to admit that the situation improves, however, and you have to bear in mind this isn’t DIRT, and, as such, it isn’t going to be as instantly gratifying.
There are small mercies, though: the game automatically loads car set-up pre-sets for each road type, whether it’s gravel, dirt, tarmac, or other, yet it must be admitted that experts will want to get on in there and create their own settings. To give the game credit, car handling does feel suitably different when the weather changes, with snow and rain making fast driving extremely difficult.
You’ll find that WRC covers 78 tracks across 13 rallies, so there’s plenty of content to work your way through, but unless you’re really into the sport it’ll be hard to get yourself motivated. To be honest, as a modern racing game, WRC is seriously lacking the kind of glamour and spark now commonplace in the genre.
Beyond the career mode you’ll discover the expected array of game modes, which includes single stage, single rally and championship, plus the training mode Rally Academy, as well as the obligatory Time Attack and 4-player Hot Seat. And the online modes allow you to race against others while there’s a ranking system that lets you know who’s the greatest in the world!
As far as presentation is concerned it is definitely WRC’s weak point: with bland environments, muddy textures and a plethora of ugly graphical glitches. Even saying it’s few years out of date would be doing it a favour, as, truth be known, it looks more like an HD version of the PS2/Xbox era Colin McRae games. Although the voice of the co-driver does the job, I did seem to think my guy sounded kind of grumpy. And readability of text in this HD era of games has often been an issue, but the menus in WRC are frankly awful. The menu text verges on being completely incomprehensible, which is due in no small part to the chosen font, and all it does is reaffirm my general feeling that presentation wasn’t really a focal point.
Although WRC is the best racing game Milestone has released in quite some time, it is woefully lacking in terms of presentation, as we mentioned. With racing games it’s not just about an authentic driving model since you require the in-game visuals to place you in the virtual driver’s seat. When playing WRC you’ll spend more time wondering why it doesn’t appear better, than you will just enjoying the gameplay. It’s a solid effort but much more work needs to achieved if future titles are going to be anything more than niche hits.
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