Racers have had a wonderful 2019 so far, full of excellent games to choose from.
More is to come with GRID and Need For Speed: Heat on the way, but 2019 has a new king when it comes to realism and in-depth involvement. WRC 8, which hits shelves on 5 September for PS4, Xbox One, and PC.
What makes it so good?
WRC 8 is grounded is a way few other racers are. There is no softening of the challenge that rally driving poses. Grip levels aren’t ramped up like they are in F1, tracks aren’t as forgiving as they are in MotoGP. This game sits you down in the hot seat and tells you to get on with it. Every stage is different, challenging, and ultimately incredibly rewarding. The weather system is remarkable and effective too, helping to change the feel of every stage even if you have raced on it 100 times.
This isn’t a game you can play while listening to a podcast, you have to hear the pace notes otherwise you will go flying off a corner. It’s a game that demands your full attention and a remarkable level of concentration.
The menus are easy to navigate and you can dive into any stage of any rally on the fly, start a season in the best car around, or take to a wide open test area to practice your skills.
This game wants you to take part and enjoy, but it will also challenge you. With the assists on you can really get on with the driving and trying to pick your way between trees and snow banks, but without them you are on the ragged edge every time you touch a pedal or turn the wheel.
On pad or wheel the feel for the car is remarkable. You have to make continuous steering inputs and it can be hard to hold a drift, but you also know why you lose it and can try to correct next time. The game doesn’t wrap you in cotton wool and try to make you an overnight World Champion, you have to earn your stripes in WRC 8, and that is a good thing.
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WRC 8 career mode
When we got a demo from KT Racing a few weeks ago we were astounded with the depth career mode had. Since playing the game it is clear that this is more than just surface level.
With a feel of F1 2019 and FIFA Ultimate Team you do much more than just race. You have to manage your team, calendar, and car to get through the season while making enough money to pay for new parts, crew members and also performing well enough to keep your team bosses happy.
It is a lot, and if you don’t want to manage a crew to such an intense way you can go race under “season” and just turn up and drive. However, if you want the most rewarding experience in racing games then you will want to dive headfirst into this career mode.
You need to fill out your mechanics, agent, meteorologist, and the other slots to get the most out of your races. More accurate weather reports lets you know what tyres and setups to use, your agent helps open up new events and the better the mechanic the faster your repairs are. The crew do get tired, reducing their efficiency, so you need to rotate them out. Meanwhile, your R&D options are limited in the lower categories to your team and crew, before you can open up those performance options and get to work on developing your car.
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This is one of the most involved career modes you’ll see in any sports game. It easily beats out the classic FIFA or Madden career, and despite improvements in the last few years the F1 2019 career mode can’t compete with the depth and involvement that WRC 8 has. It is a masterpiece that put you in the heart of everything and replicates a true rally career more closely than any other sport game has tried before.
The weather system in WRC 8 is outstanding. You can set a clear run when you jump on a random stage, or let it play havoc with your career. You aren’t going to see snow in Corsica, but instead you are more likely to get rain in Wales and snow in Sweden, while the occasional storm will roll in and completely change your prospects for the stage.
The biggest achievement of this system is the slow gradient of change it provides. Other racing games can have a very hard dry/wet border but in WRC 8 the change is dependent very much on the nature of the rain. A light spray can roll onto the course and then off without affecting things too much, while a storm can quickly create puddles that are waiting to catch you out.
The weather system is best experienced in the extreme conditions challenges, that puts you in a damaged car, often during a storm or at night, and sets you the task of getting a certain distance in a certain time.
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Crashes & damage
Motorspot is dangerous. We were given a horrific reminder of that this weekend with the passing of F2 driver Anthoine Hubert after a catastrophic on-track accident.
Rally games have always had to include this aspect of the sport due to the immediate and extremely solid surroundings the course has. For many that is one of the things that adds to the thrill of rallying, with cliff edges, trees, and buildings waiting for any slip. Those slips will inevitably come on WRC 8 and you are justly punished.
The reset system can put you back on the track quickly, but with a time penalty, and the damage your car sustains can have immediate and sustained impact on your performance. Steering becomes unresponsive, the engine starts underperforming, the transmission stuttering. You can feel the car breaking as you keep pushing to the finish line and get to your crew so repairs can happen.
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Multiplayer is, thankfully, not a free-for-all on the same stage that asks you to overtake anyone. Instead, you are all ghosts and you can see your rivals on the stage but not interact with them physically.
This makes for a very civil affair compared to the online lobbies of F1 games, but still provides you with that target to aim for and a rival to beat.
There is also that rarest of unicorns in modern gaming, split screen mode! Again, it puts a ghostly target on the screen of where your opponent is on the stage, leaving the two of you to race head-to-head, but not wheel-to-wheel.
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If you have never played a rally game before it is a stark contrast to circuit racers. There is no flow that you gain from lap after lap of a circuit, and obviously no wheel to wheel racing that sharpens the senses so much. Instead it is a solo battle, and that will not be to everyones taste.
That is not something the game could change, so what about the gameplay? Well, the lack of a true automatic gearbox is a pain. You have to use manual or semi-automatic, which doesn’t change up until very late. That is a problem for new players, pad racers, and also hurts your transmission during career mode, where the wear rate can really hurt you.
You also can’t change the difficult during a career, limiting your ability to have the game keep pace with your own improvements. You can make life harder for yourself by removing assists, but you can’t up the pace of the AI, capping the challenge unless you are willing to restart your career with a higher difficulty.
This game is sensational. The visuals are sensational and matched by the handling and weather models. From El Condor in Argentina to Sardinia and Australia, you never feel like you are back in the same old place. Each venue is unique and hearing the roar of the crowd when you go past only adds to the special feel this game has.
The gameplay is engaging and rewarding, the career mode deep and you can feel the care and attention that has gone into it to make something that really stands out from the crowd. The game isn’t perfect, but as a single player game for a racing fan you aren’t going to find a more realism sim on console this year.
If you are a hardcore racer or new to motorsport games this is something you can pick up, play, and enjoy immediately.
RealSport Rating: 8.9/10
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