We met with developer Milestone last year when they were putting the finishing touched on WRC 3. This year sees the release of its sequel, which includes several tweaks to the core gameplay as well as the game’s presentation. Without a next gen version planned, does the latest entry manage to make enough of a leap forward?
On the surface, the game’s career mode immediately sticks out. Not uncomming to the racing genre these days, you start out with a young but talented driver and attempt to race your way up the ranks towards competing in the actual WRC championship. This could potentially have turned into a process of grinding your way towards the big leagues, but by making the junior leagues easier and faster to complete, Milestone has taken care of this problem.
The career mode involves more than just winning races. You select a co-pilot and manager, which is essentially an arbitrary decision since it doesn’t seem to impact gameplay much. What these choices imply does however mean that you’ll be dealing with other things than just completing rallies. You’ll be managing several aspects of your career, including your PR and how you appear in newspapers. It’s an unnecessary element if you’re strictly here for the racing, but it adds extra depth to the career mode and there’s always other modes available if you want to do without the extra hassle.
The racing engine largely feels the same as it did a year ago, and the driving model still doesn’t manage to recreate a distinct experiece when it comes to driving in snow or rainy weather. This is unfortunate, because the game provides a lot more authenticity in its car handling than, say, a game like Dirt. This becomes especially apparant when playing with a steering wheel – and the game supports a large range of them.
Subtle changes are on the surface – the game received some graphical tweaks to make the tracks look more authentic, but engine limitations result in Milestone not being able to reach the same levels of detail that we’ve seen in other games. I’d love to see what they could do with the Frostbite engine, because a lot of love has clearly gone into crafting an experience that’s as detailed as possible.
Other changes include a new audio database, with re-recorded sounds that sound deliver a more authentic experience than last year’s experience. Different conditions based on the time of day have also been added, with morning dew or the evening sunset providing extra challenges in a visual sense while adding an extra layer of realism.
You can’t help but look at WRC 4 and feel that the team has worked as hard as they can on improving a game within the limitations that they had to work with. Still, it’s those limitations that keep WRC 4 from making the leap forward to the front of the pack. The game is still enjoyable and a faithful recreation of the sport, but never manages to truly wow us. It marginally improves on WRC 3, which means it’s more interesting to newcomers than to gamer who own last year’s game.