This year has been littered with Rally games and entering into the heated race is World Rally Championship 4. Judging by its predecessor’s success, this fourth incarnation in the successful racing series should be a great game - but does it lives up to expectations?
In WRC 3, the learning curve wasn’t exactly steep - it was more like a vertical line. This has been greatly reduced whilst keeping the game challenging. The controls are well thought out and effectively placed - the ‘brake’ button is situated next to accelerator. Braking is still a matter of finding a precise balance - brake too much and you skid, brake too little and you crash. However you quickly get used to it and it does not impede game play for long.
The handling of the cars has been greatly improved. WRC has always been good at creating large panoramic scenery to drive through, but the driving itself was never very realistic - more like floating on a hovercraft. Now, however, all that has changed, and a car going at 130MPH seems like a car going at 130MPH - extremely fast. Other realistic features have been included such as cars, which sometimes strain to get up hills, and if you drive for too long on the wrong surface, you’ll get a puncture. It’s infuriating to damage your gearbox when only half way through a long stage.
The graphics in the last game did not seem capable of improvement, but somehow they have been. The cars are now very realistic and look excellent - they get dusty, muddy, and snowy in different terrain and the car changes with damage. Scenery has always been WRC’s strong point and it also is better - the expansive panoramas are more detailed and picturesque than ever. There are a variety of tracks to drive on including gravel, snow, asphalt, and mountain villages. One aspect of the graphics which have not been improved, though, are the spectators: they still appear to be made out of cardboard - although in this game the cardboard moves slightly, it’s still a bit disappointing in the realism stakes.
One great feature is that all the drivers and races from this year’s World Rally appear on the game, along side the actual teams, and the actual drivers. Overall there are 16 race locations spanning 5 continents. Anyone who follows the Rally therefore will be able to mirror the races in the actual competition. There’s a wide selection of cars, each with a different driver and co-driver, who helpfully lets you know when a sharp corner is coming up. The main menu is slick, with all the usual modes - time trial, multiplayer, championship etc.
Overall World Rally Championship is a highly polished game - the graphics are some of the best in racing games, the handling is so good it feels like a rally car you’re driving, and not a Smart car. Unfortunately it is let down by a few small points which could have been corrected so easily. This game is a serious rival to ‘Colin McRae Rally 2005’, and with its official licences and amazing scenery, could top it next year.