French publisher Nacon recently ventured into the world of bikes with the slightly undercooked RiMS Racing, which we also reviewed on this very website. Fortunately, their experience on 4-wheels has generally been more positive, with one of the highlights being last year’s officially licensed rally game, WRC 9. Its sequel is in our hands, and we tried it on Xbox Series X|S: it’s time to spin the wheels!
200m, sharp left, jump, into next-gen
Last year’s WRC 9 was one of the earliest next-gen ready games. Launching in September, it preceded Xbox Series X|S and PlayStation 5 launches by immediately offering the last-gen version of the game, with upgrade paths available once the new hardware dropped later in the year. Now that the new consoles are out, even though they are mighty difficult to find in stock anywhere, WRC 10 can immediately launch on both generations of consoles simultaneously, though the technical upgrade compared to WRC 9 is negligible.
Much like last year’s effort by Nacon, I would not call this year’s official WRC game a looker. The car models are detailed, accurate, and shiny, but the in-game characters, scenarios and track objects are far from technically advanced, with models often resembling late Xbox 360 or early Xbox One games. On the flip side, this allows the developers to support up to 120 frames per second on Series X, with generally high resolutions and smooth performance on any condition, including harsh weather. To speak of that, it’s also where the game’s technical side manages to excel most: convincing light effects, reflections, and particles, such as snow and dirt improve the track’s look, making them seem more lively than they would otherwise be.
Find your path
It wouldn’t be a racing game without some sort of career mode. In this case, Nacon further evolves last year’s formula, allowing players not only to customize the entire team, from the car and its chassis, all the way to crew members and sponsorships but also letting them choose their career path as intended. Players in fact can choose to start all the way down in Junior WRC or starting from the highest category alongside the sports’ greatest.
Similarly, the calendar system allows players to decide what sort of events and preparations they want to hold on each date. Competing in more races and sponsor events can increase morale and income, but the crew also demands (very fairly so) to take some time off here and there. Therefore, not scheduling some days off for the team can even end up in some of our crew members leaving towards a rival team! Similarly, the difficulty defines the potential gains of each event, which can vary between season races, classic rallies, tryouts for classic manufacturers, and so on.
Pedal to the metal, then to the dirt
WRC 9 already had a convincing driving model, one offering the golden path between physics, damage and wear simulation, and a more accessible arcade game, with the usual completely tweakable individual settings. This year’s installment brought further improvements to the table, with the car feeling more reactive in tight turns and a more satisfying sliding feel, whether you’re on a gamepad or a racing wheel. This would already be enough on its own to recommend the game: sitting in a car and chasing the fastest time on treacherous tracks feels great, and as such, we don’t mind closing an eye on some of the shortcomings.
For example, the damage model feels inconsistent. The rather hardcore permadeath mode makes a welcome comeback this year, allowing players not only to permanently destroy a car or compromise their career but even to die in a particularly vicious crash. This, of course, doesn’t happen often, in fact, the game’s damage model seems more forgiving than it should be. Cuts over bumps nudges on walls or even riding on a guardrail to maintain momentum in a slow turn often result in very minimal damage or non-existent damage, even with the car’s fragility set to the absolute maximum. This is probably a good thing for players wanting to play with less pressure on them, but it can make high-level events a bit easy to cheese for a favourable result.
History in the making
As exciting as WRC maybe, I don’t think anyone would disagree that, back in the day, things were more exciting. Not just because of nostalgia, but there were times of practically unregulated developments creating incredibly fast cars, many more manufacturers were involved, and so on. Nacon looks back with teary eyes at that time period, and in fact, WRC 10 offers several cars, events, and even a specific campaign that goes through some of the most legendary liveries and locations in the sport’s lengthy history. The unforgettable Lancia Stratos, Loeb’s title-winning Citroen Xsara WRC 2004, all the way to iconic events such a 1974’s Rallye Sanremo or the 1987 Acropolis Rally.
Fans of the new age of rally shouldn’t despair either, as the game has the full license of practically everything surrounding the world of WRC. All the stages are there, and most importantly all the vehicles, all the way from Ford Fiesta Rally4 in Junior WRC, to the Hyundai, Ford, and Toyota vehicles of the highest class, with even WRC2 and 3 in-between. Likewise, opting to play in quick races or the Anniversary campaign, we get to play in the shoes of the best drivers of our age and the past, with their co-pilots sitting next to them.
Nacon? More like, Na-t-enough-con-tent
French publisher Nacon is bringing more and more racing games to the table, trying to establish themselves as the alternative to Milestone’s incredibly vast portfolio of racers both on four and two wheels. A common criticism between most of their titles, however, seems to be a lack of depth and variety, and WRC 10 only partially overcomes this issue. While the list of cars and licenses is very impressive, the actual areas of the world where players get to race aren’t many, with a limited variety of stages in-between.
There’s also a new livery editor, allowing players to customize any car in the game, but there’s only a handful of macro-areas to paint with predetermined colours and a limited amount of stickers to apply. It’s something that ticks off that feature on a checklist, but it’s absolutely nowhere near the levels of customization seen in Forza Horizon or Need For Speed games. Similarly, while we were not able to test out the online functions to the lack of players before launch, the multiplayer seems limited to very basic options, without even a ranked mode to compete against drivers our level. There’s a fun little open-world test area and a few short challenge tracks, but there’s little reason to pass more than a couple of minutes on each.
Are we there yet?
In short, Nacon’s WRC 10 improves on the already solid rallying formula of last year’s game, delivering a fun and exciting driving model, many cars and events across decades of the sport, and a very open-ended career mode. The general presentation remains fairly dated, however, and the lack of depth and event variety don’t allow it to compete with titles such as the DIRT franchise, which offers even derivates of rally such as rallycross or gymkhana. It’s a fun and respectful title that deserves to hold the WRC license, but there are still things to iron out.
WRC 10 is available from September 2, 2021, on the Xbox One and Xbox Series families of consoles. Our review was started on the PC version, but we later managed to test out the Xbox Series X version too, which we used to capture the clips you can see in our video review.