In 1998, my family purchased a PlayStation gaming console. Each of us was allowed to choose one game, and my siblings went with Crash Bandicoot and Tomb Raider. I, on the other hand, opted for Colin McRae Rally from Codemasters. Little did I know that this game would become one of the most influential racing games I’ve ever played. Fast forward to today, and I find myself playing the latest installment in the WRC series, EA Sports WRC. With the impressive legacy of the Colin McRae and Dirt Rally series, coupled with the addition of official WRC content and the success of the F1 games, it seemed like WRC had all the ingredients for success. Unfortunately, it fell short due to various performance issues and disappointing features that overshadowed its fantastic loose surface handling, excellent audio, and extensive car list.
Codemasters made a significant change for WRC by switching from its in-house game engine to Unreal Engine. This change was deemed necessary in order to accommodate the longest rally stages the studio has ever developed. These new longer stages, which are roughly 30 kilometers in length, are a welcome addition to the game. I personally enjoy the challenge and sense of occasion they bring, as they truly put one’s consistency and endurance to the test. However, this engine switch has also introduced a range of performance problems that weren’t present in previous Dirt games. The most significant issue is the regular stuttering, which occurs not only during pre-race camera pans but also during actual racing. This can be highly disruptive and negatively impacts one’s rhythm and reaction time, especially in complex corner sequences. Additionally, screen tearing is a frequent occurrence and adds to the overall messy visuals of the game.
Furthermore, the stage design in WRC leaves much to be desired. The surface detail lacks crispness, the vegetation is basic, and roadside features lack attention to detail. It fails to deliver the level of quality seen in games like Forza Horizon 5. While the dust effects are realistic, the constant clipping of shrubs into the car’s cabin is a major annoyance. The overall visual fidelity of WRC doesn’t feel like a significant leap forward from its predecessor, Dirt Rally 2.0, despite being available on more advanced platforms. The absence of small details like rabbits or low-flying drones and the lack of realistic tire kick-up on the cars further detract from the overall immersion. Additionally, the snow effects in WRC are subpar compared to other rally games, making it look more like dirt painted white rather than freshly fallen snow. The lackluster visuals are a disappointment considering WRC features over 600 kilometers of unique roads and 17 different locations.
Despite these drawbacks, the handling in WRC remains a standout aspect of the game, particularly when driving on loose surfaces like gravel, dirt, and snow. The grip that rally cars can achieve on rough and dusty terrains feels realistic, and the sensation of weight as cars fly through the air over jumps is spot-on. Aquaplaning is also well-simulated. Despite the technical issues, the driving experience is still enjoyable, thanks to the handling and force feedback that were heavily influenced by its predecessor, Dirt Rally 2.0. However, it’s worth noting that the handling on asphalt has been adjusted, though not necessarily for the better. Controller players may find the cars overly responsive and difficult to control, especially when attempting to drift high-powered cars.