Publisher: Black Bean
It's a difficult thing to release a relatively low-budget racing simulator into a market saturated with hyper-realistic bodywork and robust physics engines. This year in particular has produced a wealth of triple A racing titles, with the likes of Gran Turismo 5, Forza 4 and Codemasters' DiRT3 battling it out for chart position. Still, Milestone have seen fit to throw their hat in the ring with their second attempt at an officially licensed World Rally Championship title, and it's a gritty affair.
Formula 1 has its Tifosi. MotoGP has its legion of Number 46 followers. Rally has a smattering of middle-aged anorak-wearers grumbling about the Welsh rain and the state of that 1965 Triumph motorcycle they've promised to restore one day. Perhaps that's what developer Milestone has got so right about WRC 2: it's understated; it's rough around the edges, and it positively demands your dedication.
The first noticeable improvement over last year's model is the interface. A striking neon-and-white motif cradles a much slicker menu system, which never seems overwhelmingly complex, but guides you through the wealth of customisations available to the hardcore racer, while simultaneously allowing the casual driver to jump straight into their first rally. Setting the difficulty level is similarly straightforward, with plenty of assists available to those a little less comfortable with the art of powersliding a one-and-a-half ton monster through a particularly tight chicane.
You can set up a single player race if you're looking for a quick fix before work, but those looking for a deeper experience will want to check out the 'Road to WRC', where the real meat of the game lies. It's here that you'll start your fledgling rally career with the goal of reaching the World Rally Championship itself, where you'll sign a contract with any one of the official teams. Depending on your success in the rookie championships, it shouldn't take too long for you to start racing against the big boys, and a thrilling ride it is too.
Official rally stages include the terrifying dash through some of Finland's most striking forests, where one wrong move sees your bonnet embark upon a brief but violently physical affair with the nearest tree. Mexico has you sliding along a cliff edge - the ever-present threat of a one-way ticket to Paintown guiding your nervous hands as you caress the wheel through each turn. WRC 2 absolutely nails these moments of adrenaline-pumping rally, and I found myself leaning forward in my seat on more than one occasion, frantically trying to control the back end under braking at the end of a brutally long straight.
Unfortunately, when it all inevitably ends in tears, the cracks in the cylinders begin to show. WRC 2's collision detection is shaky at best, with hundred-mph crashes often costing you little more than a rearranging of the bodywork, whilst hitting the ground after an intentional jump can cause your radiator to burst and seriously impede your progress through the rest of the stage.
Should you damage your car irreparably, Milestone have included what they call a 'Rewind Effect', which acts in much the same way as the 'Flashback' feature from Codies' DiRT and GRID games. This seems to have become a standard for modern racers, and whilst it does curb any potential frustration at stacking your vehicle metres away from the finish line, it does seem somewhat misplaced in a game that takes itself so seriously as a simulation of one of the most challenging motorsports in the world.
Graphically, WRC 2 was always going to struggle in comparison to its big-money competitors, and you shouldn't expect too much going into your first race. Track textures look flat and backdrops feel sparse at times, but it's never so noticeable as to detract from the action. The sound design is competent, but unexceptional. It is in the driving itself that Milestone excel, sticklers as they are for truly recreating the feel of 300 horsepowers sliding and skidding their way along a gravel track. DiRT veterans won't find the same kind of hyper-sensitive response from the cars as they're used to, but sticking with the weightier handling of WRC 2 pays off dividends when you finally nail that perfect Scandinavian flick.
Like any other motorsport, rally is as active behind-the-scenes as it is on the track, and WRC 2 attempts to address this with relative success. During your career, you'll be hiring, firing, and directing a number of mechanics and PR agents in an effort to engineer the perfect off-road racer and bring in the most lucrative sponsorship deals. You'll also be able to buy new liveries and paints with which to decorate your pride and joy. This micromanagement, handled between races, adds an extra layer of depth to an already satisfying game. Don't get me wrong, it's no Football Manager, but it's a valiant attempt at representing the business that drives the sport.
Multiplayer is kept simple, with drivers congregating in lobbies that take you from stage to stage on a random basis. You'll be awarded the usual experience points depending upon your finishing position, which are used to level up your driver and earn you very little besides bragging rights. There were a couple of disconnection problems during my stint online, which hampered the experience, but with a (sadly) minimal pool of other players to race against, it's unlikely that you'll afford the multiplayer component much of your time anyway.
WRC 2 isn't going to rewrite the rulebook on rally games, but it's a game I'll be returning to when I'm looking for a deep and lovingly crafted rally experience.
- Satisfylingly weighty car handling
- Comprehensive career mode
- Thrilling racing
- Erratic collision detection
- Temperamental online component
- Lack of graphical polish
Short Version: In a market saturated with loud and pompous racers, WRC 2 carves out a niche for itself with its unapologetically hardcore approach to rallying. It lacks the graphical sheen of Codemasters seminal rally franchise, but makes up for it with balls-to-the-wall racing and a much deeper career mode.