STAFF REVIEW of WRC 8 FIA World Rally Championship (Xbox One)

Wednesday, October 2, 2019.
by Adam Dileva

WRC 8 FIA World Rally Championship Box art There used to be a time where I would play nearly every rally game I could find, especially when they hit their stride with the Colin McRae games back in the early 2000’s, which eventually morphed into the Dirt series we know today. Around the same time, the WRC series emerged as well, though for whatever reason I never dived head first into them. It’s been a long time since a dedicated rally game has caught my attention, though to be fair, with the Forza Horizon series basically encompassing all different race styles, which may be what has kept my rally hunger at bay all these years.

Today is a new day though, and after sinking a good dozen or so hours into WRC 8 FIA World Rally Championship, based on the current 2019 WRC Season, I may have become addicted all over again to the absolutely insane racing that takes an unfathomable amount of skill, braveness and just a hint of crazy. Have you ever watched an actual WRC rally race? You need to have steel balls if you were going to try and attempt that, though the same could be said for the spectators that watch along the sidelines, inches from a speeding car on the verge of chaos.

It’s been a little bit of a layoff since the previous WRC 7, as it was welcomed with lukewarm reviews overall. It seems though that with the time off, Bigben and Kylotonn have improved on nearly every facet and mechanic, making WRC 8 a truly authentic experience that fans should appreciate. Not only is it the official simulation of the World Rally Championship, you’re going to have access to actual WRC drivers and co-drivers, WRC vehicles, WRC 2, Junior WRC, legendary cars, but you’ll do so over the course of 14 rallies, equaling easily over 100 stages, varying in challenge, difficulty, weather and more.

While there are a handful of modes to play and try out, Career Mode is where I spent at least 90% of my time with WRC 8. While the bulk of your gameplay will obviously be racing in the stages and championships, there’s a whole new element to the Career mode this time around, as you’ll actually partake in being a part of the whole team like a manager. That’s right, a racing team is a lot more than its driver and mechanics. You’ll have to hire and pay staff for R&D, repairing damage to your vehicle between stages, finance managers, meteorologists, engineers and more. This whole ‘team sim’ aspect actually took me by surprise, but I did enjoy it, as you had a balance to budget and do more than simply jumping from race to race.

You’ll have a calendar where you can see the upcoming events of the series you’ll take part in. Between these large events you can choose how to fill your days, such as resting if you simply want to get to the event sooner, or maybe try out a legendary race, race in some extreme weather or even test out a new manufacturer’s vehicle. There are even rare events that you might be able to partake in, so there’s always something interesting to do other than the main rallies.

Another aspect that surprised me was that there’s a fully-fledged skill tree as well. As you earn XP for racing, you’ll be able to spend skills in a vast skill tree, of which there are four main categories. I decided to focus on earning more money, job roles and such for my team, but there are a bunch of different ‘builds’ you could work towards. It added a little more personalization to the campaign, setting it apart from others which I liked.

It seems the extra time in development has helped improve almost every facet of WRC 8, from its improved and more robust campaign mode, much more impressive graphics, a new physic engine, and my favorite, the dynamic weather system. Make no mistake, WRC 8 is much more on the simulation side as opposed to arcade, though there are a bunch of difficulty options and assists you can toggle if you’re new to the series. Be prepared to crash a lot in the beginning though, as I would nearly go off the track at every corner early on, but once you start to get a feel for it, the experience completely changes for the better.

Of course, for the hardcore fans and the ones that want a super realistic experience, you can tweak nearly every setting in your vehicle to perform however you wish, even the damage can be turned to realistic where you’ll need to watch your tire wear as well. As I said, it does take quite a bit of getting used to, but once you overcome that steep learning curve and can start tackling corners that are barely wider than your vehicle itself, it becomes quite thrilling, just like watching the actual sport.

I have to say though, while dynamic weather is nothing new in games, they are more than a mere nuisance in WRC 8. Usually in most racing games when it starts to rain, sure your tires will slide a bit more and you’ll get rain on your screen to simulate the real thing, but weather in WRC severely affects your racing and handling, which I don’t think I’ve experienced to this level before. For example, in one race it started to rain; no biggy, I just slowed down a little more than normal for the upcoming corners. Then, it started to really downpour, substantially more.

As I hit puddles in dips that formed, it would actually alter how my car handled through them. Have only one wheel going into a puddle? Your car is going to pull that direction, just like in real life. You may even hydroplane if you don’t straighten out before going through as well. Snow takes this to a whole other level and this means that your races can always be unpredictable.

You’ll not only have daytime races, but night as well, which adds an additional level of challenge. Sure, you have your co-pilot barking out upcoming turns and directions, but having that limited visibility, coupled with the dynamic weather, and you’re going to have to put your big boy/girl pants on to place well. You’ll also want to make note of the track type before a race, as you’ll want to equip the most appropriate tires to match what type of race you’re partaking in.

Fans of the sport will be happy to know that not only are actual teams and rallies included, but stages are replicated from their real world counterparts as well, so keen eyed super fans should be able to recognize some of the stages. While I’m not a super fan by any means, the variety of stages was quite staggering, as each had its own feel and look. Racing down incredibly narrow dirt paths is quite different from drifting along cliff edges or a tarmac race. There’s plenty of variety to keep you challenged and entertained.

While multiplayer is included, I was unable to find a single game to play with others online with a Quick Match. I tried hosting a lobby as well numerous times, but no one ever joined, so I’m unable to speak to the quality of the online multiplayer unfortunately. I’m hoping that doesn’t mean that the community isn’t large, but luckily there are weekly challenges that you can partake in to challenge yourself on the leaderboards against others. They are calling this is WRC eSports, and can see it being a weekly event to return to in the long run if you like competition.

Visually, WRC 8 can be incredibly impressive. Lighting looks fantastic with sunrays peeking through the treetops, dirt will form on all sides of your car as you progress through stages and the rain effects look absolutely realistic on the windshield, especially when it starts to downpour heavily. The vehicles themselves though look simply average. I never once had any performance issues and the framerate was incredibly smooth throughout. I’m not sure if it was 60 FPS, but it sure felt like it on my Xbox One X. As for the audio, engines roar, you can hear the pops of gears being shifted and the backfire of the exhaust.

I actually have very few complaints overall aside from crashing which seems very buggy and ‘floaty’. When you hit a rock or spin out, it’s like the physics sometimes follow a different set of rules compared to racing. Sometimes I’ll stop dead in my tracks, other times I’ll spin out wildly, and finally, I’ve launched myself nearly into space on occasion. The crashes sound great, but feel inconsistent and not weighted.

My only other major flaw I noted was the lack of vehicle selection. Yes, you’re getting actual drivers and cars from manufactures, and there’s multiple types of cars from WRC, WRC2, Junior WRC and Legendary vehicles, but it seems like there’s not all that much variety. Again, I’m no WRC expert but I wish I had more selection choices, as I get it, the Lancia’s are legendary.

Kudos to Kylotonn though, as they’ve gone above and beyond adding support for a wide array of steering wheels and peripherals. While I didn’t have a wheel and pedal combo to test it on, I did watch others play who did, and it seemed like an even more authentic experience, especially for the wheels that have force feedback.

While I’ve been out of the loop for many years on rally games overall, WRC 8 has sucked me back into the fray, eagerly awaiting to see what improvements the inevitable sequel will bring. WRC 8 improved on nearly every aspect and should be considered if you’re looking for an actual FIA World Rally Championship simulator; it’s even quite fun to boot.

Overall: 8.1 / 10
Gameplay: 8.5 / 10
Visuals: 8.0 / 10
Sound: 8.0 / 10


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