Rallying used to be king of the racers in gaming, but just like real rallying, it's seen its audience dwindle to a fraction of the glory days. A fact not helped by Codemasters bastardising their own franchise by unleashing Ken Block's show-ponying over actual racing.
The second wave of WRC titles (Sony had a WRC series on PS2) performed admirably last-gen though, despite always being in the shade of Dirt 2. Milestone were a bit cheeky though, recycling some tracks in their annual release and stripping down the career mode to its bare bones.
This year though, for the series' (and indeed the genre's) next-gen debut, we have Kylotonn Games taking over, a studio whose only other racing title was the critically mauled Motorcycle Club, a game currently rocking a 26 on Metacritic. The good the news is that WRC 5 is much better, the bad news though is that this isn't the new-gen rally game you've been waiting for.
Sure, we have a host of official names, cars, and tracks inspired by locations from the official WRC tour. But the overall experience lacks any love or genuine understanding of the sport. But let's get to that later.
The track design is pretty damn good with an incredible amount of corners even on courses that look deceptively straight on the overview map. Events rarely feel 'fast' though, there were only a few lengthy straights in each country, meaning you'll rarely get the car flying flat out.
Handling feels tuned slightly more towards arcade rather than simulation. Once you get away from the horribly slippery ice roads of Monte Carlo you'll enjoy guiding the car around the courses on gravel, dirt, sand and tarmac. The handbrake isn't as useful as previous games as it's far too strong and causes more stops than U-turn friendly drifts.
There are some oddities in the options you'll need to tweak. Steering sensitivity can be a bit twitchy until you get used to it, so I'd recommend turning it down a little at first. For some reason, there are sensitivity options for acceleration and braking. You'll want to fire those right up, braking especially as you'll then be able to pile into those corners with later braking points.
So far, so familiar with recent WRC entries, right? Well, here's where things get weird. The flashbacks/rewind systems we've come to enjoy in racing games over the last few years have been reworked. Now, if you mess up and smash into the forest or knacker your engine by shunting into a cottage, you can opt to reload the last rally checkpoint. This could be over a minute back and for some reason you'll resume from a standing start. Short version? Kylotonn haven't made a rewind system, it's a literal checkpoint system that we have in non-racing games. I don't know if it's a budget thing, where they didn't have time to develop a familiar system, but this is no good. It's so off-putting; you rarely want to risk anything on a corner.
None of this matters though really as WRC 5 is obsessed with letting you win. I like to think I'm quite good at rally games (it's my favourite of the racing genres), but I rarely play on 'hard' settings. I played multiple events on easy, normal and hard to find that I won every event by strictly one or two seconds.
Sensing something suspicious, I even pulled over for a good ten seconds halfway through one event and still managed to race to the front by the end of the stage. In the career, you start in the J-WRC, with weaker cars, yet I found half of my field were beating the times set by the simultaneously-competing WRC big boys. Just, utter nonsense.
Whacking the difficulty up to the final setting doesn't make much more difference either. If, by chance, you're not winning a stage, you won't know until the end as the stage split checkpoints don't tell you how far ahead/behind you are. The coloured split chunks at the side of the screen don't even go red if you've slipped behind.
So, let's see, that's the difficulty options, the split-bar and car categories that are all simply-painted-on features that have no impact on the game whatsoever. That's fucking atrocious in my book. Oh, and picking a team contract in the career mode to 'match your racing style' makes no difference to anything.
I thought Sébastien Loeb's rally game wasn't out until next year, but this seems like a fitting recreation of his enormous talents. Essentially, you'll win every time, get depressingly bored of victory and retire in your prime.
Occasionally, the game fights back, remembering it's meant to be competing against you, albeit in the form of glitch-like behaviour. On one stage I'd raced multiple times I cut the same regular u-turn corner with my left wheels only to be slapped with a huge 30 second penalty. In another event, despite absolutely crushing a stage with no crashes and a fast pace throughout, I was shocked to see my stage time some 45 seconds behind the leader, despite winning by the standard two second margin for the previous twenty stages. The following twenty stages resumed this pattern too.
Most elements of the sound design seem hell-bent on destroying your sanity too. On all settings the co-driver fires directions at you at such speed it all becomes a blur and there's no need to have three pending corner icons on the screen. It's just too cluttered for quick reference and many of the gentler corers really don't warrant a mention.
If you opt for a follow-cam viewpoint, the racket from the exhaust is like a fireworks show in the middle of a round of Call of Duty. Enjoy the guy saying 'Wow' on loop at the start line with all the enthusiasm of a flat tyre too.
Online options are very limited and force you into driving without aids and damage turned onto 'full' settings. You race against ghost vehicles, which at least give you some perspective on your standing. Lo and behold, the stage split meter even works in this mode with arrows, colour changes and even time differences. So where the hell are they in single-player?
Online longevity is knackered by bugs though, such as even more frequent random 30-second penalties and your co-driver going mute not long after having a nervous brake down following numerous panicked exclamations on quiet straights. What a mess.
- Stage design is decent
- Handling is adequate
- WRC 1-4 are really cheap now
- Would have looked average on last-gen consoles
- Hollow victories
- So many broken features
The Short Version: WRC 5 patronises gamers with hollow victories amidst a game full of painted-on features. It's a shame, as the track design is suitably stuffed with tight corners surrounded by car-shredding traps. Car handling is up to the task, if a little lacking in speed and excitement. You're better waiting for 2016's rally games.
Platforms: PS4 (reviewed) | PS3 | Vita | X360 | XO | PC
Developers: Kylotonn Games
Publishers: Big Ben Interactive