STAFF REVIEW of WRC 9 FIA World Rally Championship (Xbox One)

Friday, December 4, 2020.
by Kirby Yablonski

WRC 9 FIA World Rally Championship Box art Rally racing is a sport that requires nerves of steel, insane driving skills and is usually not something the ‘average’ person thinks of as a popular racing sport. Codemasters and their DiRT series is widely known as the place to go for video game versions of this off-road racing game. There is another developer though that has the official World Rally Championship license, and that developer is KT Racing who have been working on the series since WRC 5. WRC 9 was released in early September 2020; however, since then Microsoft launched the Xbox Series X and Series S and KT Racing, along with its publisher Nacon, recently released an upgrade to the game allowing it to take advantage of new hardware and features.

I want to preface this review with the fact that I did not play WRC 9 when it first released. I received a press release a short while ago with details about the “next-gen” upgrades to the game, and I thought it would be good to cover the game as a whole on the Series X. I have dabbled in past WRC games, especially those that have been included in Xbox’s Game with Gold monthly downloads; however, not this most recent one, so, this review will cover gameplay and features.

WRC 9 is not an arcade-based racing game, think of it as more of a simulation, being that there is a lot of micromanagement in the career mode and that the driving is unforgiving. Luckily, there is a difficulty slider; however, it will not make the game a cakewalk, as you still will need to make sure you keep your rally car on the road, in bounds and pointed straight ahead. If you don’t there is an ability to restart the stage, and thank goodness for the SSD on the Xbox Series X, as the restarts are instant. If you are looking for a more casual experience, then there are other options available.

The meat of WRC 9 is found in the career mode where you can start in the Junior WRC class. It is also here that you will be in control of all aspects of your racing life. This includes, but not limited to, R&D, hiring new team staff (e.g. mechanics, engineers, agent, meteorologists, financial advisors and more), choosing your events, reading emails, paying bills, etc. It is a deeper mode than most will be accustomed to, but it really does allow you to feel like you are managing every aspect of your career. I enjoyed the fact that when going through the career mode, you get to make the choices that matter, from which event you participate in to hiring more skilled and more reliable staff. In terms of the latter, team members will not last all career, and recruiting and hiring replacements is a key task for you to manage.

What really surprised me was the depth of the game’s skill tree, which is the R&D of your career. It is here that you spend your XP points (levelling up one level equates to one point). There are four areas and they are crew, team, performance and reliability. The tree’s perks include such things as being able to increase your XP gains, having your agent find you more team tryouts, boosting morale, unlocking more team staff and of course gains for your vehicles in various areas. Be prepared to spend a lot of time picking the right perk on the right branch as it will cost you $25K to refresh your skill tree and start again.

If you are looking for something a bit lighter but with the scope of a long-term event, you can choose to race in season mode. In this mode, you choose the number of events and the locations you wish, and then challenge the AI to a ‘season’ of racing. Call it career lite should you wish, as it is a great way to do something meaty but without the depth and commitment of the career mode. You will also find the ability to do single races should you want to check out a certain track in a certain locale.

In addition, there is also a stand-alone challenge mode, which is a series of 50 challenges where you must beat each challenge and earn enough points to open subsequent challenges. They are wide and varied in their tasks, from beating certain times on specific rally stages, driving in specific weather conditions (extreme conditions) to completing various training to name a few. It is a nice ‘distraction’ that allows players step away from the depth of career or season mode and it is something you can do when you only have a small amount of time.

Something that has kept me away from the WRC series as a whole has been the actual driving/control of the vehicles, which frustrated me. Thankfully, that has changed. As I started to play my career, and check out tracks in single race mode, I started to feel how much the driving physics have improved. I was not all over the track as I was in the past WRC games that I tried. Don’t get me wrong, you still have to drive well, but I seemed more in control at times; and of course out of control when taking a chance to cut a second or two off my time. The cars feel different from one another too. A front wheel drive vehicle feels and reacts very different from a rear wheel drive one, and the advantages of an all wheel drive in the higher WRC classes is very evident.

Speaking of cars, as this game has the official WRC license; all the cars that are in the 2020 World Rally Championship are here, with all their current liveries and drivers. There are more than 50 teams including the WRC, WRC2, WRC 3 and Junior WRC classes. For those looking for some nostalgia, there are also a number of historic races, which includes rally cars of the past in including those from Ford, Lancia, Citroen, Volkswagen and more.

WRC 9 also offers up a nice selection of both multiplayer and social modes. One of the bigger additions in this area is the ‘clubs’ mode. It is here that you or anyone of your friends can create a customized championship and then put it out there for challengers to accept. You can keep your club private or open it up to the public for a more varied and larger audience. While I did not have the time to do this myself, the fact that this addition is there, and available for all, is pretty cool and can make for some highly competitive contests for you and any of your WRC 9 owning friends.

In terms of the traditional multiplayer modes, you will find quick matches as well as daily and weekly challenges. I went online to check out some multiplayer action; however, there were no players to be found whenever I tried. I cannot say why this is the case, but regardless, I was a bit disappointed to find no one. There is also an option for local split screen racing. I did not race too much in this mode, but the quick race or two that I did was impressive for split screen and the experience was competitive, especially racing against someone else who just happened to be in the same room.

The overall presentation of WRC 9 on the Xbox Series X was pretty much a winner; however, there were a few notable hiccups. The visual improvements on the Series X makes the game look very much like a high-resolution PC game with sharp lines and bright colors. Overall, each one of the 16 environments that you will race in are highly detailed and very different from one another. Racing on the snowy tracks of Sweden while trees blow back and forth to racing on the sandy, and at times forested, sections of Italy, you will get to race on very different rally courses. Lighting is very detailed as you see sunbeams cutting through forest canopies, the sun slightly blinding you as you come over the crest of a hill, to the shadows and lit areas resulting from your vehicles headlights when racing at night, all of it is extremely impressive and occurs without any stutter in framerate.

Another visual highlight are the rally cars found in the game. From the Ford Fiestas and Ford Focuses to more legendary cars like the Lancia Stratos, Audi Quattro A2 (1984) or the Citroen Xsara WRC 2005, all the car models are highly detailed. The available views for racing in these 4-wheeled beasts are varied, from the outside the car views (x2), in-car views (x2), bumper view and bonnet (hood) view. Seeing the inside of the cars rally-stripped details while racing, and watching your hands go through the gears or cranking on the e-brake was impressive. I tended to use the bonnet view the most as I love the view from this perspective.

If I had any complaints in the visuals, I can think of only a few areas. The first one is that some of the scenery can be a pixelated, like the aforementioned trees in Sweden or the trackside bushes in New Zealand. It was even more prevalent when watching a replay of a race in dynamic camera, as you would find your view stuck behind pixelated leaves of a dense forest. The second thing I noticed is that some of the environment can draw or pop up in the distance. They are not huge sections of the rally stage, it is not too disconcerting, and it does not happen all the time, but you can notice it when it occurs. The final area that I noted, and it is somewhat a nitpicky observation, is the fans that line various sections of the course. They are stiffly animated (if at all) and they are definitely low-resolution. I get it, they are not a huge part of the driving experience, but you will notice they can stand out from the rest of the visuals more often than not.

WRC 9’s audio is very good. Play in any of the outside car modes and you can hear the wind blow, water flow, leaves bristle and the crowd cheer. As for your vehicle’s sound, each class of car, from Junior WRC to the all out WRC vehicles sound distinctly different, as they should. Turbos whine, gearshifts click, and motors rev high. As you race you will note the sound of your tires (or tyres as they say in the European countries) as they skid on asphalt, slide on gravel, or slip on snow or ice. Debris kick up and hit the bottom of the car and it sounds very different during any of the inside views versus the outside views. Your navigator is very clear and very concise, helping you prepare for the turns and bumps ahead while the in-game music is very appropriate, and used mostly during the non-driving periods.

Overall, I have to say that I have become a fan of WRC 9, as it is definitely a deep and rewarding game. It portrays the ins and outs of managing a rally racing team as you are in charge of all the major decisions. As we are in the midst of the COVID pandemic, the actual WRC did not have the chance to race all of these real life rally courses, so you have the chance to represent what could have been. While the visuals do suffer a few hiccups over the course of the game, it still looks great and the sound is impressive. If you are a rally fan, or an all around racing game fan, then you should seriously look at WRC 9, as it will keep you busy for quite sometime and it is worth the investment.

**WRC 9 was reviewed on the Xbox Series X**

Overall: 8.8 / 10
Gameplay: 8.7 / 10
Visuals: 8.7 / 10
Sound: 8.9 / 10


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