WRC6 Review… Part 1: The “Feeling”
Admittedly, it has taken me a bit of time to put together a review of WRC6 which came out about 1 month ago. There are a couple of reasons for this. First of all, when I first booted up the game, my aging GPU was not sufficient to run the game on anything better than the lowest graphics settings. I didn’t really feel that it would be fair to evaluate the game from this perspective, so I had to save up my pennies for a shiny new Nvidia GPU to install in my PC. Secondly, I wanted to give the developer Kylotonn Games a little bit of time to see if they were going to patch and support the game after its initial release. Save for a few patches released within the first week, things have gone silent from Kylotonn, so I think that it is now fair to evaluate WRC6 as a “finished product”. A few months ago, I put out a rather optimistic preview of WRC6 discussing the possible improvements from last year’s disappointing release of WRC5. So, now that I’ve played the game on a properly prepared PC, did it live up to my high hopes?
Let’s start out with the question that you probably all are wondering… is it better than WRC5? My answer to this question is a fairly resounding yes. WRC6 is absolutely better than WRC5. However, considering how poor of a game WRC5 turned out to be, this fact alone does not serve as an endorsement for WRC6. In order for WRC6 to be a game worth sinking your hard-earned money into, it has to be SIGNIFICANTLY better than WRC5. Is it? Well, let’s get into that, why don’t we? In the interest of fairness and also organization, I’m going to evaluate WRC6 using the same criteria I used in my review of Dirt Rally last year. Once again, I’m not going to be reviewing WRC6 from a “gaming” perspective, because this has already been done quite well by gaming websites and publications. Instead, I’m going to evaluate it from a “rally” perspective from one rally enthusiast to another. At the end of the day, this is a rally website, and you are reading this because you are a rally fanatic, so I’m going to approach WRC6 from that angle. As this review began to come together, I realized that it was getting a bit long… no, actually, VERY long. For that reason, I have decided to split it up into several more readable, “bite-sized” chunks that address each aspect of the game. So, without further ado, let’s get into the first topic, how is the “feeling” in WRC6? Did it make you feel like you were “Facing The Danger” as it was advertised?
When people hear about the “feeling” of a rally game, usually the first thing that comes to their minds is the physics. At that point, the pitchforks will come out and the various “camps” of rally games through the ages (Richard Burns Rally, Colin McRae/Dirt Rally, WRC series, etc…) form their battle lines on internet message boards to wage war over which game is the “most realistic.” However, when I discuss the “feeling”, there’s a lot more to it than just realistic physics. Rallying is an emotional sport, and for a game to adequately capture the “feeling” of rallying, it needs to evoke an emotional response as well. When I crash into a tree on the final stage of a rally and am forced to retire, the game should make me care. When I have a “big moment” but get away with it, the hairs should stand up on the back of my neck… at least just a little bit. When I’m driving my virtual rally car through a stage, the physics don’t need to be spot-on realistic (because to be honest, having never driven a rally car, I don’t know what that is), but they should be predictable. I shouldn’t be guessing what the car is going to do. To sum it up, for a game to capture the “feeling”, it needs to be an experience, not just a game.
So, does WRC6 deliver when it comes to the “feeling” of rallying? My honest answer to this is yes and no. Let’s talk about the yes first. One of the most impressive aspects of WRC6 is its force feedback. I’m going to say it right now that the FFB effects in WRC6 are some of the best I have ever felt in any PC racing game/sim, and are definitely better than in Dirt Rally. The force feedback in WRC6 feels “raw”, but in a good way… kind of similar to how the sound in Dirt Rally is described as “raw”. The steering wheel feels weighty, and as the car passes over various surfaces, you feel a palpable difference in the feedback coming through the wheel. When you clip a ditch too closely and the car gets thrown off line, there is a noticeable jolt in the wheel. It is one of the ways where the “feeling” that WRC6 delivers brings a big smile to my face when I’m driving. Another way that WRC6 delivers the “feeling” is on the high speed corners and straights. At speed, the cars feel tight and responsive. You can point the car at the apex and it goes right where you wanted it to. You can link fast corners together into one flowing chain, and it feels absolutely brilliant. Driving in Finland in WRC6 is one of the most fun virtual rallying experiences I have ever felt… even better than driving in Finland on Dirt Rally. During the high speed sections of WRC6, I was able to achieve that elusive rhythm that rally drivers are always pursuing, and it absolutely gave me an emotional, visceral feeling when I was behind the wheel. It is in those moments that WRC6 really excels by rewarding me with a memorable experience and lets me forget for a little while that I am playing a game.
So, that sounds pretty good, right? Well… I wish I could leave it at that, but unfortunately, not all rally stages have fast, flowing corners. For every Ouninpohja, there is an El Condor if you get what I mean. I’ll discuss the character of WRC6’s stages later on in this series, but for now, let’s just say that there are many stages in WRC6 with very tight, twisty corners and that’s where the “feeling” starts to break down. I don’t know why, but it seems hard-wired into WRC6’s physics that once you turn the steering wheel past a certain point, the cars snap into oversteer. This isn’t noticeable on the fast corners because not much steering input is needed, but on the slow corners where you really have to turn the wheel to hit the apex, the cars inevitably swing out the rear end into a lurid, uncontrollable slide. The weird thing about this is that even at incredibly slow speeds, these slides still occur and that makes the slides feel “canned”. I have tried everything from the steering wheel settings to the car setup to dial this out of the handling, but thus far, I have been unsuccessful. It’s very frustrating, because it really breaks up the fantastic rhythm that you can get into with WRC6. My best example of this is in Poland. Just like in real life, the stages feature kilometers of fast, flowing corners before coming to a tight junction. The fast corners feel great, but when I get to the junctions, the car oversteers into an uncontrollable slide the inevitably turns into a spin. The picture below is something that you are going to get used to seeing a lot of in WRC6. Your car usually ends up spun into the inside of a tight turn after suffering one of those exaggerated slides.
I fear that Kylotonn have fallen into the same misconception that many game developers have about rallying… the idea that rally cars power-slide and drift automatically. This couldn’t be further from the truth, especially with today’s rally cars and their complex active differentials and suspensions. The fastest way from point A to B is a straight line, and modern rally cars are designed to eliminate as much sliding as possible. Now… do we still see big slides in the WRC? Yes, but they are usually the result of a driver making a mistake by either overcooking it into a corner or missing an apex and then having to drag the car back into the middle of the road. My problem with the sliding in WRC6 is that it happens spontaneously and sometimes without warning in the slow corners. It just doesn’t feel right. Now, does this ruin the game? Not entirely, but it did wipe that big smile off my face that was there as I was driving through the fast corners. Over time, I have found two things that have helped mitigate these “canned” spins just a bit. The first is playing from the hood cam. By having the camera further towards the front of the car, it decreases the gyration of those big slides and makes it easier to recover the car. The second is playing with the degree of rotation setting on my wheel to increase the steering threshold before the car snaps into one of those big slides. They aren’t perfect fixes, but they definitely help. If anyone figures out a better way to get around this problem, please let me know because if it gets rectified, it will make WRC6 MUCH more enjoyable to play.
What about the emotional aspects of the “feeling”, how does WRC6 deliver on that front? Well, like I said above, when driving in Finland and the fast sections in Poland, the game made me feel some of the same emotions that the WRC’s drivers described at the end of those stages in real life. However, after a crash, I didn’t feel the same gutting disappointment that I felt when I crashed in Dirt Rally. Why is this? Part of the reason is that when I crashed in Dirt Rally, I knew that it was my fault. I pushed too hard, swung the car just a bit too wide, or clipped an apex just a bit too close. Almost every crash I had in Dirt Rally, I could point to a mistake that I made, and I could retrace my steps to understand how not to make the same mistake again. In WRC6, when I crash, it is usually because of those “canned” spins that I described above, and when that happens, I feel cheated. I feel like the game causes me to crash rather than a specific mistake that I made, and that definitely leaves a sour taste in my mouth. It makes the crashes feel not nearly as meaningful as they are in Dirt Rally, and it also gives me no motivation to drag my damaged car back onto the road and limp it home to the end of the stage. The marketing tagline for WRC6 this year was “Face the Danger”, but to be honest, the sensation of danger wasn’t really conveyed adequately and it made WRC6 feel more like a game and less of an experience.
So, does WRC6 deliver on the “feeling” of rallying. My honest assessment is that in this area it provides a bit of a mixed bag. When compared with WRC5, the answer is a resounding yes, but when compared to Dirt Rally, and even in some ways Sebastien Loeb Rally Evolution, WRC6 comes up a bit short. That being said, is that enough to make you pass on WRC6? Check back in a few days for the next part of the review to see if other aspects of WRC6 balance out some of the issues that I described today.