WRC6 Review… Part 4: Everything Else
So far, we’ve looked at the feeling, cars, and stages of WRC6. I dedicated an entire article to each of these topics, because I feel that they make up the bulk of a rally video game. This final piece is going to focus on aspects that are important, but don’t carry quite enough weight to justify an individual article detailing each of them. I don’t think any of you want to be reading “WRC6 Review… Part 12: The Interface”. So, today we’re going to take a look at the atmosphere, co-driver, and damage in WRC6, before wrapping up with whether or not WRC6 is worth your hard-earned money.
I almost dedicated an entire post to this aspect of the game, because I really do find it to be the glue that holds a rally game together. A game can have great physics, a good car selection, and well designed stages, but if it isn’t held together by the atmosphere of a real-life rally, it will fall flat. As good as Dirt Rally is, I still feel that this is the one area where the game is lacking. It feels like a catalog of cars and stages, but without the atmosphere of a real-life rally. What do I mean by atmosphere? Well, it is a bit of a subjective concept, but those of you who have walked through a WRC service park or stood alongside a special stage will know what I mean. There is this palpable sense of excitement and anticipation that wells up inside of you. It isn’t just one thing, but the culmination of many things that bring this feeling. It might be the sound of air guns and revving engines in the service park, or the sight of a distant helicopter and a puff of dust over the ridge signalling that the first car is approaching. It is all of these little details that make a WRC rally so memorable, and when I’m evaluating an official WRC game, I want it to stimulate some of those memories. You might remember that I slammed WRC5 last year for having no atmosphere whatsoever, so how did Kylotonn do this year with WRC6?
I am pleased to say that Kylotonn have made some significant improvements in this area. The first thing I noticed was that during the pre-stage sequence, Kylotonn introduced a cut-scene of the car in front of you launching into the stage. Now, I know that this is only a 3 second clip, and it may seem like a very small detail, however, nothing gets my blood flowing quite like the sound of a rally car building up the revs on the start line before disappearing into a cloud of dust. Call me a nerd, but this is actually the alarm sound on my phone that I wake up to every morning. Kylotonn did a pretty good job with the sound and graphics on these cut scenes, and even though they are short, they really help build the anticipation before starting a special stage. In addition, the people and objects placed in these scenes really do make it look like the start of an authentic WRC stage. Check out the screenshot below to see what I mean.
In addition to adding the stage start sequence, there are other small details that Kylotonn have added to increase the atmosphere of the game. At times, there is low hanging fog or dust in the stages, especially in sections with dense forest. There are also times when you can see the TV helicopter flying above and casting it’s shadow on the road ahead of you. When you drive past a spectator point, you can hear cheering and air horns, and when driving at night, you can see bugs flying up in front of your headlights. Do any of these things make WRC6 a great game? No, but when they are all put together, they give you the feeling that you are driving through a dynamic environment just like you see on TV.
Let’s talk about the service park for a moment. Anyone who is familiar with the sport will know that the service park is the epicenter of the rally. It’s where everyone, fans, media, drivers, navigators, mechanics, and team principals come together. It is filled with sights, sounds, and smells to create an intoxicating experience. I have yet to see a rally game truly capture the atmosphere of the WRC service park, and sadly, WRC6 does not break this trend. Don’t get me wrong, Kylotonn definitely made an effort by including a CGI rendered overhead shot during the loading sequence, but once you get to the service park itself, it is much like we saw from Milestone before. There are a few static camera angles of your team working on the car which are changed when you select a different option from the menu. Yes, they did add some nice sounds to add a bit of atmosphere, but for me, it’s just the same old thing.
What am I looking for then? Well, I’d like to see a lot more interaction with the service park. Think about all the cool things that would be made possible by expanding the service park experience. There could be the option to wander to another team’s transporter to have a discussion about next year’s contract with the team principal. There could be the ability to interact with fans (signing autographs, taking photos) that would affect your popularity. There could also be a media aspect where interviews could be conducted, and this would affect your future. In addition, there could be the option of driving through the time control into the service park and finding your team’s service area. All of these things, when put together, could create a really memorable and deep experience. Codemasters have set the standard in this area with the all new career mode in F1 2016, and I’d like to see future WRC games explore these options as well.
Alright, this is one thing that has only slightly improved from WRC5. The co-driver in this year’s game still features monotone prerecorded sound clips that are spliced together. In addition, when playing with the English pacenotes, the occasional French phrase sneaks its way into the notes, and it can get a bit confusing. Even when the pacenotes are set to “very early” in the settings, some of the notes still do come too late to prevent you from having an accident. This is a shame because it forces you to memorize certain parts of a stage, and that definitely hurts the “replayability” of the game. On a positive, you can tailor the pacenotes to your liking with either a 1-6 or a 1-9 system. You can also select how detailed you want the co-driver to be when describing distances, corners, and hazards. Kylotonn still need to do a great deal of work in this area, but at least they showed some minor improvements this year.
The damage, even on the heavy setting in WRC6 still falls more on the arcade side of things. You can run into a tree while in 6th gear and still reverse your car to continue on with little more than a crumpled hood. I don’t have a problem with a game including different levels of damage to make it accessible to casual players, but I really wish that for once, a rally game can make the highest damage level realistic. OK, now that I think about it, it was done once in Richard Burns Rally, but that game is now 13 years old. Even Dirt Rally, as realistic as it is, went a bit soft on their damage, and it takes a LOT of effort to terminally damage the car. WRC6 is much the same in this regard, and the damage feels way too forgiving. One thing that I did appreciate was the inclusion of tire wear and punctures in their damage model. You have the option to pick soft or hard tires for a loop of stages, and they do wear accordingly. If you run them too long, you will lose grip and risk a puncture. It’s a small thing, but like I said above, enough of these small things add up to make a difference.
Alright… Finally! Here we are at the end of this long-winded review of WRC6. Let’s get down to the heart of the matter. Should you buy WRC6? Rather than giving you a yes or no answer (that would be way too easy), you’re going to get an analogy to help you decide. I’m going to use different types of restaurants to compare the last 4 rally games to come out over the past year (Dirt Rally, WRC5, Sebastien Loeb Rally Evo, and WRC6). Let’s talk about Dirt Rally first. In this analogy, Dirt Rally is the fancy, gourmet restaurant. When you go to a restaurant like this, you are expecting a long, deep, and filling culinary experience. There may not be many options on the menu, but you know that each one will be sublime. Dirt Rally lacks official licensing and offers only a few stages, but almost every aspect of the game is oozing excellence. On to WRC5. This game is fast food. It is superficial, cheap, not very filling, and absolutely forgettable. Just like fast food, shortly after you play this game, you are left hungry for more. What about Sebastien Loeb Rally Evo (SLRE)? Using this analogy, SLRE is the casual franchise restaurant that is found in every suburban area. A restaurant like this offers a ton of options on the menu with some quality, but nothing that will blow you away with its excellence. SLRE has plenty of cars, rallies, and stages, but in this game, the quantity of the content is far greater than the quality.
So, that brings me to WRC6, the subject of this article. Using this analogy, how does this game fit in? The best way that I can describe WRC6 is to compare it to a critically acclaimed small plates or tapas restaurant. When you go to one of these places, you want to try a few different plates that are small in size, but at the same time high in quality. Each individual plate might not last long, but by the end of the night, you have enjoyed some fantastic food and have left with a memorable experience. Am I going to sink my teeth into WRC6 for hours of exhausting gameplay like I do on Dirt Rally? No, but when I play WRC6, I find that I am using it to get my WRC “fix”. If I want to experience the ambiance of Rally Monte Carlo , I can. If I want to get a taste of Mexico’s twisty and unforgiving gravel stages, I can. Let me give you an example. This past weekend, while watching the highlights from Rally Australia, I thought to myself, “I’d really like to have a go on those flowing, dusty stages.” I only had about an hour to spend before heading off to work, but that was just enough time to boot up my PC and run a few stages in WRC6. I wasn’t looking to get involved in a marathon 12 stage rally on Dirt Rally. I just wanted a taste of the WRC action that I had just watched on TV, and WRC6 perfectly satisfied my appetite. It’s in these moments when I want a high quality “taste” of rallying that I find myself playing WRC6. So, if you find that like me, you need to get your WRC “fix”, WRC6 might very well be worth your money. Let me give you a hint though… the Steam autumn sale starts later this week, so you might be able to scoop it up for a bit cheaper if you are willing to wait.
So that’s it! I’m deeply impressed with how much Kylotonn have improved since last year and WRC6 is definitely worth the money that I spent on it. However, as good as WRC6 is, I’m really hoping to see an even deeper and more authentic virtual representation of the WRC in next year’s game. I want to see those wonky low speed physics get fixed as well as the inclusion of more proper stages and a greater sense of atmosphere. If Kylotonn can keep improving at the rate that they have since WRC5, I think that their next game could be something really special!