It’s fair to say that most of the Traxion team are huge rally fans. Between us, we’ve attended several FIA World Rally Championship (WRC) events, captured photos and videos of our heroes stage-side and even have a Motorsport UK BARS stage rally licence (thanks to John Munro).
There’s a group chat where we take the rally world to task, boldly predicting the winners of the next event (despite all evidence pointing to it being another Kalle Rovanperä whitewash).
And we love our rallying history too; owning a plethora of WRC season review DVDs, sharing online auction listings of legendary rally cars we can’t afford, while reminiscing about classic rallies gone by.
Being the official game of the WRC, EA SPORTS WRC therefore seems like the perfect title for us – but does it deliver?
EA SPORTS WRC sees British studio Codemasters leaning on its previous rally game, DiRT Rally 2.0, (DR 2.0) to bring an all-encompassing WRC experience to PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X|S and PC.
The Southam-based studio’s WRC story started a quarter of a century ago with Colin McRae Rally, featuring numerous licenced rally cars and recognisable locations, eventually leading to several sequels and a switch to the multi-discipline arcade-style offerings found in the DIRT franchise.
The series came full circle in 2015 with the release of the more rally-focused DiRT Rally, and its sequel DR 2.0 in 2018, but the titles lacked an official WRC licence. EA SPORTS WRC is a continuation of the DiRT Rally formula, promising a much richer and more fulfilling experience, with the added prestige of WRC branding.
Although the driving physics are influenced by the 2019 rally simulation, Codemasters has dispensed with its proprietary Ego technology in favour of Unreal Engine, in theory allowing more detailed visuals and stages over 30 kilometres in length – one of the main reasons the game will not appear on the less powerful PlayStation 4 and Xbox One consoles.
All of the 2023 WRC season’s rallies are represented, (the Central European Rally arrives as a free, post-release DLC), with the drivers, teams and liveries of the WRC, WRC2 and Junior WRC classes included – that’s an impressive 78 cars and 200+ stages.
Boot up EA SPORTS WRC (let’s just call it WRC) and you’ll be greeted by a clinical main menu offering several options. There are online modes like Clubs; where you can set up and enter online rallies using EA’s companion Racenet app; and Moments, where you take on curated rally scenarios aiming for the fastest time on the leaderboard.
One of the current Moments replicates Colin McRae’s chaotic attempt at the 1992 1000 Lakes in Finland, where the Scot’s car disintegrated gradually throughout the event after a series of crashes.
Like F1 Manager 2023’s Race Replay, except with a rich vein of historic WRC cars and stories to choose from, Moments has the potential to throw up some intriguing ‘what if?’ rally situations, with more set to be added on a regular basis.
From the main menu, you can also customise your driving avatar, choose your favourite rally car (with a range of all the big-hitters from the ‘60s to the present day) * and even build your own rally challenger using the Builder mode.
This new addition allows players to construct a Rally1, Rally2 or Rally3 car from scratch, choosing the location of the engine and selecting cosmetic and mechanical part options, with better parts unlocked during the game’s career mode.
The end result can look a bit like the aftermath of an accident at an OEM parts warehouse, but it does keep you invested in the fate of your team and its bespoke car. And let’s face it, the WRC needs more cars, so why not make your own?
It’s WRC’s career mode where players will spend most of their time, electing whether to begin in the Junior WRC, WRC2 or WRC classes. There are plenty of events to sink your teeth into here, with players’ WRC season’s interspersed with invitational events and opportunities to upgrade and modify your burgeoning team.
You can hire engineers, a team-mate and even buy new cars, all while trying to stay within a strict budget set by your eye-rollingly named benefactor, Max Lucre.
It’s only possible to perform one task per calendar week (with two weeks set aside for full WRC events), so players need to strike a balance between participating in events, recruiting team members, adding to their garage and resting engineers to achieve their mysterious benefactor’s goals.
Budgets are generous for the most part, so buying a Group B Audi Quattro S1 Evo 2 won’t break the bank. Car repairs, on the other hand, will, especially if your Rally1 Puma visits the scenery as much as ours did…
Career mode gently introduces you to different cars and rallies as you progress, with invitational events allowing players to drive a classic Lancia Fulvia on gravelly Indonesian stages or take the still-born Volkswagen Polo WRC Plus car for a spin on the tight and twisty asphalt of Rally Meditarraneo.
There’s plenty to do, and only being able to address one piece of business per week forces you to prioritise the needs of you and your team: will you give your engineers a much-needed rest or squeeze in another drive in a Metro 6R4? Silly question, that, I know.
But it’s the events you miss each week that grate, with the game announcing DNFs in the series you elect not to participate in, giving you an angsty FOMO feeling. Look Keith, you can’t finish events you don’t start.
It does feel like a bit of a grind, however, taking several rallies to unlock your Chief Engineer’s extra perks. Those 30km+ stages demand a lot of patience too: one mistake and your tired engineers will have a big job on their hands.
One highly rated aspect of DR 2.0 was its sound design, marking it out from Kylotonn’s series of WRC-licenced games and their undercooked exhaust notes.
Happily, WRC also sounds great, with Rally1 cars’ anti-lag effects captured perfectly. Naturally, there’s only so much variation in the sound of a four-pot R5 or Rally2 car, but the BMW M3 Evo, ‘95 Subaru Impreza and Metro 6R4 are scarily accurate. The Mitsubishi Galant VR4 is a rare miss, however, omitting its distinctively flat bark.
One aspect of DR 2.0 that was less pleasing was its absent photo mode. Happily, this has been addressed in WRC. Borrowing elements from EA and Codemasters’ F1 series of games, WRC’s photo mode creates powerfully dynamic images (although this review build featured an odd bug when applying motion blur).
It can be fiddly to use, however – it would have been nice to use the mouse to position the camera on PC, for example – but the results are clear to see.
Regularity rallies – rallies focusing on a specific time of arrival rather than a battle against the clock – are also a new feature in WRC, adding a new dimension to the point-point format. It lacks the immediate excitement of standard rally fare, though.
Physics is fun
For most people, how WRC feels to drive will be the deciding factor on whether it warrants a purchase. Well, those looking for a DR 2.0-style experience are in luck, as WRC feels a lot like Codemasters’ previous rally game.
If anything, driving on gravel feels better than in DR 2.0, with the first joyous kilometres in a Rally1 car showing off the development team’s ability to create a convincing rally experience. Cars need to be hustled to go quickly, with the physics model feeling hefty as your car dances from corner to corner.
It’s magic, especially on fast gravel rallies like those found on Rally Chile, Oceania and Finland.
The experience is let down a little when switching to asphalt, however, with cars retaining the floaty feeling found in prior Codemasters rally titles.
It feels better than its predecessors, thanks to heightened steering weight, but too often we turned into a corner and required another arm-full of corrective lock to point the car where we wanted it to go. There’s a vagueness to the game’s asphalt handling model that becomes more apparent over time.
That’s not to say it doesn’t provide an entertaining drive occasionally, as high-downforce cars like those in the WRC 2017-2021 and Rally1 classes feel more direct and intuitive on the grey stuff than most other cars.
The asphalt issues are exacerbated by the tardiness of co-driver calls. Using the most detailed co-driver call type on a twisty asphalt stage can overwhelm your navigator, even on the earliest setting. Sometimes you’ll be halfway through a corner they’ve yet to describe.
It’s a rare, but potentially ruinous, occurrence. Don’t go all Francois Delecour on them though, they’re only doing their job…
Wheel support covers most major brands, but the likes of Simucube and Moza are missing off the official compatibility list. In most cases, wheelbases will work but will likely require extra fudging in the game’s nascent stages. WRC supports and recognises peripherals like the Heusinkveld Sim Handbrake, however, enhancing the overall rally experience.
Gamepads will likely be the controller of choice for most WRC players. The weightiness of the game’s handling model translates well to thumbstick control, but it takes a heck of a lot of concentration to thread your chosen car through a Rally Catalunya-style mountain pass. Those who struggled with using a gamepad in DR 2.0 and WRC Generations will likely feel more at ease in WRC.
There are free and paid levels of DLC in WRC, with the free Rally Pass and paid-for VIP Rally Pass only adding additional liveries, decals and clothing for your avatar. So, no performance-enhancing items, then. Nice.
One weakness we discovered during our early hands-on preview of WRC was poor framerates. In a game demanding intense concentration and quick reflexes, visual stutters severely affect the overall gameplay experience.
Smooth and consistent framerates using medium graphics settings should be expected on a modest gaming PC, but this simply isn’t the case in the review version of WRC. Running on the lowest graphics preset improves the fluidity of the gameplay but at the expense of detail, making WRC look worse than DR 2.0 at times. Which is obviously a huge disappointment.
However, when the game behaves well it looks great, with a huge variety of landscapes and stage furniture adding an air of authenticity to past and present WRC locations. And some famous stages made it to the game, with the likes of El Chocolate present in abridged and ‘reimagined’ form. The lack of super special stages is a disappointment, however.
There is frequent pop-in to deal with too, especially when viewing outboard replays, with foliage textures occasionally appearing muddy no matter the graphics detail setting.
EA and Codemasters have at least acknowledged that the Monte Carlo, Croatia and Japan locations suffer from stability and performance issues, adding that general night-time running is also a concern.
Fixes are promised in the week after the game’s launch; here’s hoping we see big improvements across the board, especially as VR is set to be implemented for the PC version post-release…
EA SPORTS WRC is a rally buff’s dream. Its authentic cars, realistic exhaust notes, hefty career mode and expansive stages are a recipe for success. Plus its sublime gravel handling model will delight newcomers and Richard Burns Rally aficionados alike.
However, too often the blend is spoiled by performance and stability issues, making progress frustrating. Asphalt driving, while an improvement over DiRT Rally 2.0, is still lacking, but still an enjoyable challenge with the right car and stage combination.
When it all clicks, EA SPORTS WRC is an excellent follow-up to DiRT Rally 2.0 and should move to the top of any rally fan’s wishlist. If the developers can fix the game’s stability issues in the coming months the future looks very bright for EA and Codemasters’ WRC franchise.
EA SPORTS WRC is out on the 3rd of November for PC, PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X|S. Players who pre-order are able to access the game from the 31st of October.
*we opted for a Vauxhall Nova. Yes.
|Release date||3rd November, 2023 (early access 31st October)|
|Available platforms||PC , PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X|S|
|Best played with||Steering wheel and pedals|
Full disclosure: A game code was provided by the developers for review purposes. Here is our review policy.