2015 has been a good year for rally games. For the first time I can remember, we have not one, not two, but three titles to look forward to playing. Codemasters stole the spotlight by surprising us with the early release of Dirt Rally back in the spring. Shortly after that, the WRC announced their official game, WRC 5 developed by Kylotonn, and Milestone began development of Sebastien Loeb Rally. We rally fans should feel pretty fortunate with all of these titles to look forward to playing. Despite this, it still easy to fall into the consumerism mindset of complaining about what you don’t have instead of appreciating what you do. Because of this, I made an intentional effort to guard against that mindset and approach WRC 5 with an open mind.
Even though I have been relishing the challenge of Dirt Rally, I still purchased WRC 5 when it was released on Steam yesterday. There are a couple of reasons for this. First, as someone passionate about rallying, I almost feel a responsibility to respond when a rally game is produced by a developer. At the end of the day, sales determine what games publishers will continue to release, and I want to do my part to support the ongoing development of rally video games. If people don’t buy them, they won’t be published. Secondly, even though I know that WRC 5 isn’t designed to be a simulation like Dirt Rally, I understand that there is room for a game to offer a more forgiving depiction of rallying and still be fun. Not every game needs to be a hard-core simulation, and it isn’t fair to expect this out of WRC 5. I knew that I would be getting something different with WRC 5, but I was hoping it would still be good.
I wish that I could say that this is the case. I wish that I could write about how the game, though a bit arcade is still fun and well developed. I wish that I could say that even though it isn’t the five course meal of Dirt Rally, it is still a somewhat faithful representation of the WRC. Instead, I’m afraid that WRC 5 is just another rally game… and a mediocre one at best. If the developers aren’t going to focus all their energy on an ultra-realistic handling model, that’s fine! All I’m asking for is that they re-direct that energy into other aspects to make a memorable product. That’s my biggest gripe about WRC 5. There’s nothing memorable about it. The graphics are fine, but in 2015, that should be a given. The sound is poor and does nothing to create any immersion when driving the cars. The co-driver is worse than games made 10 years ago, and the game lacks any atmosphere whatsoever. It has licensed cars, some stages between 2-7 kilometers, a shallow career mode, a basic multiplayer system, and that’s it! There is nothing in the game that provides any of the atmosphere of the real WRC, nothing of any lasting significance, nothing that makes me FEEL like I’m rallying. It is a short-lived, bland, and utterly forgettable experience.
It pains me to say this, but after only 1 hour of gameplay, I returned the game under Steam’s refund policy. As much as I wished that the game would grow on me with time, I knew deep down that this would never be the case. As I watched the game get erased from my Steam library, I experienced a variety of emotions. I felt disappointed, unsatisfied, but most of all embarrassed… embarrassed for the WRC. The WRC is supposed to be the pinnacle of the sport of rallying, and with that designation comes the responsibility to promote the sport to the best of its ability. Is WRC 5 really the best product that it can put out there? Anyone who has used the WRC+ service has seen what the WRC promoter is capable of producing. I have to be honest, I feel more immersion in the WRC when I watch those dots moving across a 2-dimensional map than I did playing this game. Every sport wants to attract fans, and video gaming is one of the primary forms of media that can be used to achieve this. Unfortunately, WRC 5 feels more like an obligatory “check in the box” of promotional activities instead of a meaningful effort to further the sport of rallying.