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WRC: FIA World Rally Championship Review

blake_peterson By:
GENRE Racing 
DEVELOPER Milestone 
E What do these ratings mean?

Where racing is hard, and racers are... racing is hard!

Jay Posey, Senior Narrative Designer at Redstorm Entertainment, gave a talk at GDC about the difference between authentic experiences and realistic or simulated ones. Since he has worked on the Ghost Recon series, his analogies were based in military shooters.

He talked about how a real Special Forces operative explained that his job was mostly things like waiting seventy-two hours in a marsh to photograph a truck, then going home and being told weeks later that the truck was no longer operationally important. (Glamorous, right?) However, in the gaming world the player might crawl through the mud 20 seconds (a really long time!), then watch the truck explode, have to escape in a thrilling firefight, and then learn the truck was the key to all the enemy secrets (and also character and gear upgrades, etc). The key was giving the player the flavor of reality with realistic lingo and settings, while creating the action fantasy to craft what feels authentic.

WRC: FIA World Rally Championship 3's biggest problem is that its attempts to be authentic inject realism in all the wrong places. WRC 3 is a technical driving game that specifically highlights driving precision and borrows a number of bells and whistles from Codemasters' DiRT franchise (limited-use time-rewind being the main one).

Progression in WRC's campaign called "Road to Glory" allows you to unlock races based on your accumulation of stars, which are collected for placing in the top seven, with a star for each progressive placement. There are also stars for collecting "Ability" points, independent of placement, accumulated by performing cool tricks like jumps, long drifts, and getting through sections undamaged or particularly fast. The simulation/realism/authenticity problem is with the placements.

Placing anywhere outside of last place requires an incredible amount of skill at negotiating the track; remaining on the set path, optimizing speed by manually shifting gears, and following the instructions of your copilot, to be within the incredibly tiny window of racing success that mirrors real-world racing experience. The game has no tutorial to guide you through or start you on any sort of gentle difficulty slope. You are thrown into the deep end and expected to master the game from the first race. Thankfully the controls are fairly intuitive, but starting the game without having played one of these before is tantamount to never having knit something and someone giving you knitting needles and yarn, then showing you a picture of a sweater and saying, "Make that!"

To give some context, after playing the game for five hours, I was able to move up from being in last place, 16th, to placing 13th in one of these early races. I continued to struggle against it until I found myself exhausted, and often didn't achieve that level of success again. This is a truly unforgivable difficulty curve.

Nevermind that WRC's cars handle well enough, that it's genuinely fun to drive, that the game rewards you for smashing things or rolling the car (all fun!). The fact is, without being nearly functionally perfect on the courses, to the degree that most driving games expect from you at the end of a game, you will not progress beyond the first three stages of its campaign due to the stars needed to move ahead in the races. If you can't move up in the races in the Road to Glory campaign mode, forget about the challenging "WRC Experience" where you face off against WRC stars or Multiplayer, filled with players who have already mastered gameplay.

This game seems to be made for people who already have a handle on this franchise and are accomplished racers. For anyone else it will be like bashing your head against a wall.

Graphically, WRC 3 looks a lot like other racers: Your car smashes up nicely, it has pretty trees and shrubs, and it has the same completely non-reactive crowds you see in every racing game. Dust and dirt kicks up nicely enough, if a close look at the surfaces reveals some flat texturing (which you'll never notice during the actual driving). 

The game has its good points. You can customize your car's handling to a great degree, there are car upgrades for success (if you can manage it), and the tracks are fun and challenging. However, I can't imagine anyone playing this who wasn't already invested in the series or rally racing games. It does nothing to ease anyone into the game or provide a starting point other than frustratingly trying over and over to reach a level of technical skill it in no way instructs you on how to master.

The bottom line is that I play games to have fun. While I found the handling and tracks fun, I have no desire to play a game whose difficulty curve turns it into a second job because it demands near-perfection from the outset. Chances are, if this game is for you, you've already bought it.

Copy provided by publisher. Review based on PS3 version. Also on Xbox 360, PC.
WRC: FIA World Rally Championship
  • Fun tracks
  • Cars are enjoyable to drive
  • Insane difficulty curve
  • I mean, really extremely difficult
  • No driver training
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Tags:   Namco Bandai

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