Recently, I ran into a bit of luck and won a copy of World Rally Championship 4 for PS3 from Hot Radio. So, cheers for that Hot Radio!
World Rally Championship 4 is a bit of an anomaly, because very few games exist twice. The first time a WRC 4 saw the light of day was in the PS2 era, when Evolution studios were the developers behind the franchise. Now it belongs to developer Milestone and Big Ben Interactive and they’ve added FIA World Championship to its official title. Now I never really played the original series – unless a few old OPM demos count – or this new series, but WRC 4 has enough about it to make it a fascinating but flawed introduction to the series.
The game is geared towards the main career mode, which sees you as a plucky upstart in the WRC ranks (and really when have you ever started as anything but a plucky upstart) and forcing your way through to the rank of ultimate WRC-er /World Champion. It’s the standard sort of simulation career mode and despite a few token elements in the presentation to liven it up – you can customise your driver and co-driver! You get e-mails and rivals! – it never feels as immersive as it wants to be, until the racing starts.
A lot of that is down to the way the car’s handle. Cars are responsive without ever feeling like they will spin out of control any second and the pleasure of nailing a quick succession of handbrake corners doesn’t get old. Similarly WRC 4 is at its best when you start reaching the higher speeds and even the slightest miscalculation can mean careening of the dirt track. The small moments of bliss when you manage to get through a few sharp turns is one of WRC 4’s moments of achievements. The fact that WRC 4 tends to nail the feeling of racing makes its frequent missteps less frustrating.
Disappointment comes in the form of some of the graphical detail of the environments you’ll race in. WRC 4 features all thirteen legs of this year’s championship, with each one broken down into six stages, but very few are memorable when rendered virtually. There is just little personality to the areas – barring the different racing surfaces – and the game’s crowd graphics only add to the problem, where models are re-used and wouldn’t look out of date in a PS2 era crowd. Fortunately, the cars and roads do look much better than the environments they’re set in. Car models have plenty of detail and a decent damage model as well, while the roads kick up sort of particles. Gran Turismo it most certainly isn’t, but in motion it gets the job done.
But by sticking so rigidly to the WRC programme in career mode, fatigue can quickly set in, as rallies are recycled throughout the career mode to the point where even the weather doesn’t change. So why did I slog all the way through career mode? Outside of a slightly OCD need I’ve developed to finish games, mainly it’s because when it works, you can’t help but be sucked into just one more stage. It’ll test your patience and the lack of any real acknowledgment of winning the WRC grates, but it’s fun despite its often glaring flaws. There’s also a token online multiplayer, but between a lack of players online and just a time-trial race, it’s unlikely it’ll attract your attention outside of trophy hunting.
But WRC 4 gets the most important thing right. When the racing works, it’s satisfying and helps to gloss over some of the game’s slightly scruffier elements and lack of polish, such as when the signs for what corners are coming up don’t always come up or the recycled environments. Add on a few features that have come from other games – a rewind function and an in-game camera – but still work, there’s enough here for simulation fans. While this doesn’t make WRC 4 a game that you should rush out to get, at the right price it has enough about it to keep you entertained.
Want to see how I managed to waste a lot of time playing WRC4? Check out all the images I took in the game!