by Marko Susimetsä
reviewed on PC
A-rallying we will go
First things first: I must admit that I am not a rally enthusiast; I’ve only gone to see one live rally event in Jyväskylä, Finland, years ago when I got a free ticket – and I was bored within 30 minutes. My interest towards this game genre is based mainly on one factor: split-screen local multiplayer functionality.
Split-screen players have been hard-pressed to find rally games since DiRT 3 and that one suffered from crashing problems that were never patched. WRC 6 is therefore our last, best hope. And, happily, it answers where it counts, although it still has areas that could be improved.
Getting the settings right
The game starts with a surprise twist: instead of a short intro of fast cars leading you to a configuration screen, you are led almost immediately into a rally event. After playing two short events and answering a few simple questions, the game proposes gameplay settings for you (from amateur to simulation) that you can then tweak if you want to. Unfortunately, the settings are very restrictive, only allowing you to choose the main gameplay setting and then showing you the areas that it affects. Therefore, you cannot choose a full simulation (physics, damage model etc.) with semi-automatic gears – if you want the simulation, you need to go for manual gears as well. The easier the setting, the more eager the game is to respawn you back on the track with a time penalty. It is no fun when your magnificent flying arch into a ravine is cut off even before it has started, so you need to up the gameplay to at least semi-pro or pro level to give yourself a chance to get back to the track by yourself.
The settings also affect both players in split-screen events. This is a shame because giving each player different settings would be a great way to even the playing field when you are racing against your 8-year-old daughter. Asking a young child to understand how gears work – and fumble with the A and Y buttons on a controller while also focussing on driving – is a bit too much, so even an adult needs to settle for the semi-automatic.
Later on, as you begin your matches, you can further adjust your chosen car: pick soft or hard tires, adjust springs, shock absorption, anti-roll bar and ground clearance for front and back separately. Also, you can adjust transmission and brakes to your own liking and considering the forthcoming driving conditions.
Limited selection of game modes
The career mode is the main game mode in WRC 6, aimed mainly for the single-player crowd. It takes you all over the world to compete in Portugal, Australia, Finland, Germany etc. as you develop from a newbie into a master rally driver. There are some cute details here, including the way your performance as a driver may raise or lower the team morale, affecting their performance in the long run. The first two events – Portugal and Australia – require you to qualify within the Top 5 and this seemed like an easy goal to reach. However, arrival to Finland increased the difficulty quite a bit and I was hard-pressed to get into even the Top 10 at first.
Alongside the career mode, you also have other solo modes: Quick Game to access any track in the game and Custom Championship to play the countries in any order you like. Challenge and Shakedown modes allow you to drive against the best scores of other players worldwide and, of course, online rally modes allow you to drive against them in real-time, choosing a difficulty level at which you wish to play. The local multiplayer modes allow you to choose between Hot Seat (2-8 players race on their own turn) and Split Screen (the only two-player mode anyone should ever play).
The biggest drawback of WRC 6 is the lack of other cars on the tracks. Even in online multiplayer, you will only see ghostly outlines of the other players’ cars and there’s no game mode where you can get to one of the best parts of multiplayer gaming: crashing each other and trying to push each other off the track. There’s also no free ride mode or open stunt tracks to allow you to just fool around like you can in DiRT 3.
Onto the Track
I’m happy to say that driving itself is relatively fun, even if not the most realistic experience I’ve had in a rally game. The graphics are pretty and the night, drizzle and fog effects very realistic. The tracks – or at least the one I recognised for having lived in the city – are very close to their real life counterparts. And there are spectators along the track cheering you on and taking pictures to give extra liveliness to the setting. The engine sounds are a little tinny, however, and I chose to adjust the bass of my speakers to compensate.
The controls and feel of the car are slightly arcadeish and you do not get the feel for the weight and handling of the various cars as much as you do in DiRT3 – in fact, I would be hard pressed to name any difference between the cars aside from their names and models. Still, you will notice a clear difference in handling when you switch from a dirt road to pavement, or from sunny China to snowy Sweden.
Some of the tracks are wide and allow you to drive very fast while others are narrow and the sides of the roads are filled with annoying obstacles. Hitting a hay bale will stop you on your tracks and cause some damage while driving into a group of spectators will respawn you immediately and add a hefty time penalty on top (a good design choice, considering kids who might be tempted by the carnage gameplay style). Driving into a ravine will also respawn you with time penalty before you have time to crash, but driving into forests allows you – on semi-pro and above – to try to make your way back to the track, or hold down X to respawn yourself on the track with a very small time penalty.
Overall, the crash mechanics are pretty arcadeish and forgiving, but they will affect your car’s handling in various ways – take out your gears, handbrake, your radio, the windshield, your tires etc. These lead to some fun situations especially in split-screen games when you can have a laugh about it together. The tires are the only thing you can change in the midst of a race, but only if you are willing to accept a 30 second time penalty. And if you are in career mode, you can only fix any other problems between rally days (each of which consists of 2-3 tracks) – and then only what you can fix in 45 minutes, or one hour if you are again willing to accept time penalties in the next race.
The only downside in the physics are some of the obstacles that you can hit. While some of them are broken or bent as you crash into them, others – even some that look very flimsy – can be completely impregnable. See that small bush ahead? Want to drive through it rather than brake and try to pass by it? Sorry, it acts like a brick wall, stopping even a car going at 150kph.
For a single-player rally enthusiast, WRC 6 may be a little too arcadeish, but for those looking for a fun split-screen game to play with their friends or family, this is a safe, and very visually pleasing, bet. In fact, it is the only non-crashing modern rally game that you can choose if you want to play split-screen. There are areas where it could be improved – the AI challenge in the career mode took a sharp turn in the third country, different cars could actually handle differently, Free Ride / stunt driving area mode is a must-have etc. - but overall it is a fun game to play.
Split-screen fun, pretty visuals, fun damage model.
Lack of fun multiplayer game modes, cars handle the same, two players have to play with the same difficulty settings.