Having spent a bunch of time playing WRC 8, and remembering playing Codemaster’s DiRT Rally 2.0 at the start of the year, got me thinking that the sub-genre of rally racing is one of the last places you, a fan of driving games, can go for a proper single-player experience. We’re not going to get Need for Speed games like we used to, and higher-end titles like The Crew and Forza Horizon are more interested in longevity a la open-world MMOs. The name of the game is Socialism. How’s that for politics in video games?
I open with this because while WRC 8 does have a multiplayer function, it is not yet available. So for the time being, you need to be content cruising with yourself. Fortunately, the game caters to this preference and the notion that it is a simulator.
KT Racing’s World Championship Rally series has somewhat shriveled in the shadow of Codemasters and their string of hit releases. WRC 7 opened to mixed reactions and couldn’t compete with the level of driving engagement that was offered by DiRT 4. The same could be said for their successors as DiRT Rally 2.0 set a high standard, and it has been difficult to spend this week refraining from comparing WRC 8 to its competitor. Very difficult.
Logging in, my immediate reactions were of disappointment. This game doesn’t look as good as promised. Running at the highest graphical quality, it still looks like something out of the PS3 era with lines and surfaces that aren’t adequately detailed enough (to the detriment of the overall gameplay. More on that in a bit). There is a disconcerting contrast happening at the same time. The limited depth and the rigidity, especially in objects such as trees and people, are on full display as drive along in cars that don’t reflect them. The cars look great. Each model and variant is distinguishable and made better by small touches like real-life, detailed interiors. This contrast is not bad as it was in Xenon Racer, where the cars and world looked like they were taken from two different decades of gaming. But it does leave you unimpressed with the world through which you tour.
About those visuals impacting your gameplay. The lack of detail and the distinguishable difference in your road surface means that bumps and potholes are not immediately apparent. This means that one’s quick-time reactions are made according to just the generalized commands of your co-driver. The result is driving and tracks that made difficult not by their actual configuration, but by the visual shortcomings of the game itself. It’s the highway to hell. Satan has turned the potholes invisible.
There is some reprieve in the form of controllable vehicles. While the driving is hampered by the environmental problems, it is still fun and still delivers on the characteristics that define this kind of off-road travel. Rally games have always been more difficult than other disciplines, and while this game isn’t on the level of F1 2019 or DiRT Rally 2.0, it remains a fun romp. Thanks to a selection of driving aids such as ABS, the rally racing can still be enjoyable to the point that it feels less of a simulator and more of straight-up arcade outing.
What does make this feel like a simulator is the peripheral gameplay. The word to accurately describe the career mode in this game is “comprehensive”. Starting at the bottom with a WRC2-spec Ford Fiesta, I set out to amass team members each specializing in a different component. You have people on the ground predicting the weather and providing you with physical therapy. You have an agent taking all your calls and a mechanic who will work to deliver the best performance out of your tires. Tires are important. This team isn’t made up of robots though. They need downtime and thanks to a very clever event and progression system, you can enjoy rest periods between leagues. The calendar is adaptable that way. You can race, train, or rest. And this feeds into your achievements and impacts other peripheral elements.
Those elements make up the more engaging side of WRC 8. You are a rally driver who has to deal with corporate sponsors. Bills need to be paid and emails answered. You need to monitor and make sure that all stakeholders are kept happy. Spend your money wisely. I’m usually out to accumulate an impressive garage in games like this but here, it was the Fiesta or bust. Literally. There are additional objectives and goals.
At first, my heart sank at the sight of the giant skill tree that you complete to unlock benefits such as decreased turnaround times in races and bigger cash prizes, but gratefully the interface is easy to navigate and the tree is easy to interpret. It may not be the more realistic factors of rally racing and management, but’s a nice touch and makes the backend of the game far more interesting than it needs to be. Same goes for when you want to jump into a quick race. The marketing made noise about all the different drivers you could play as and here they all are, advantages and drawbacks all neatly listed.
Billed as a simulator, WRC 8 succeeds and fails in different directions. On one side of the road, you have a comprehensive package where you need to put your racing into context. The expansion of the gameplay into the management and handling of your team is good and the driving cannot be completely overlooked. But regardless, it suffers due to shortcomings in the visual and environmental elements. I could forgive lacklustre graphics if they were a standalone problem, but they’re not.
Last Updated: September 9, 2019