By Ross McGregor and Thomas Harrison-Lord
With further details announced on EA SPORTS WRC, one of its fundamental features may have escaped the attention of rally game enthusiasts – which isn’t surprising given the wealth of modern and classic rally content Codemasters and EA SPORTS are set to provide us.
The basic keystone of any video game is its game engine; the very foundation of the game’s new features, content and gameplay.
EA SPORTS WRC’s direct predecessor – Dirt Rally 2.0 – used Codemasters’ proprietary Ego game engine, an engine which has served the company well from its first use in Colin McRae: Dirt all the way up to F1 23. That’s an impressive return of 31 games over 16 years.
Ego has also been used for every GRID and most DiRT titles in the same period (DIRT 5 an exception, which used the former Evolution Studios tech seen on Onrush), alongside non-racing titles like the Operation Flashpoint games, showcasing Ego’s versatility. However, for EA SPORTS WRC, the development team has ended Ego’s rally game hegemony, with Epic’s Unreal Engine taking the throne.
The question is, why?
“We looked at different options [and] we knew when we got the WRC licence that we would have a lot of locations to make,” explained Game Designer and 2023 European Rally Championship ERC3 champion Jon Armstrong on a recent Electronic Arts The Racing Line presentation.
“We really wanted to push the boundaries of the stage lengths.”
“We [now] have really long stages. We have stages that are 30 kilometres in length, which is super, super long. I think in a Rally1 car it takes 20 minutes+ to complete that.”
That’s a significant increase in size when compared to the Southam-based studio’s previous title, DiRT Rally 2.0. While fundamentally a superb rally game, it could only manage a maximum stage of around 13kms, compared to the recent WRC games by prior developers KT Racing where the longest hit early 26kms.
“That was one of the reasons behind why we wanted to do it and to streamline the pipeline for creating that content”, continued Armstrong.
“It’s been a challenge, but a rewarding one. Everyone’s putting in a big effort to make it happen and now we’re starting to see the results.”
Unreal Engine has also been used successfully in other racing sims, with Assetto Corsa Competizione being the standout proponent despite some performance-related quibbles. Straight4 Studios’ GTRevivial is also set to use Unreal’s tech in its upcoming GTR 2-inspired sim, while also seemingly using elements of its own version of the Madness engine first used in Project CARS.
Unreal Engine on the outside, DiRT Rally underneath
Upon the reveal trailer for EA SPORTS WRC, and the confirmation of Unreal tech, it did pose questions about the game’s handling abilities.
After all, the aforementioned Assetto Corsa Competizione did take an Early Access period and four years of physics updates to end up where it sits right now, and the developers Kunos Simulazioniwill revert back to its own propriety engine for its next project.
However, it transpires that while the environments and visuals use Unreal, the physics are from prior DiRT Rally titles and then refined from there. We did notice too, that, unlike the F1 games, EA keeps using the word ‘sim’ in its press and marketing material.
“We were actually able to bring across the DiRT Rally 2.0 handling model into Unreal,” explained Armstrong.
“Our focus has been on building what we had and making it better [by] improving in areas that we want to improve.
“If you’re a fan of DiRT Ralyy, this will really feel quite natural to you. It’ll be a step further and something you’ll really enjoy.”
Sounds promising – we’re quite the fans of DiRT Rally on gravel, but less so on asphalt and that’s were we hope the major improvements lie. Still, it’s reassuring to know that based on these comments we should be in for a simulation driving experience should that be what you’re looking for.
If not, hopefully, some additional assists are of assistance.
“But also, we’ve made sure there’s good onboarding for new players to the series or new players to rally,”
“We’ve got the returning assists that we had for DiRT Rally and a couple of new assists as well. But the fundamental part of the model is what we’ve always done with our DiRT Rally days, and we just tried to make it even better.”
The tie-in with Epic is also notable in that EA SPORTS WRC will be made available concurrently on PC via the Epic Games Store, Steam and the EA App upon release on the 3rd of November, 2023, as was the case with F1 23. EA SPORTS WRC will also be released on consoles, albeit only for the current-gen PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X|S.
All that remains now is for us to go hands-on to verify the claims…