WRC 3: World Rally Championship
OverviewPlatform: Xbox 360
Improved physics and gameplay makes for an authentic rally experience, but WRC 3 is held back by its presentation.
The first two entries in Milestone’s officially licensed WRC series were mediocre titles with unremarkable visuals and gameplay. It’s no surprise then that racing fans have very low expectations for the latest sequel, WRC 3. However, Milestone has finally made some big improvements which make the new game worthy of some attention from off-road racing fans.
Car handling has gone through a massive overhaul, which is particularly noticeable if you play the game with a steering wheel. It is much more responsive and therefore easier to control slides and cope with fast changes of direction. The sideways nature of rallying means that improvements like these are vital to the experience. The cars also feel heavier, allowing you to throw them around more and use weight transfer to place the car exactly where you want in a corner. Even the handbrake has been improved. In previous WRC games, a tap of the handbrake button would send you into a spin, but you can now catch these slides more easily for a perfect drift.
Milestone has also listened to rally fans’ complaints about the nature of the stages in their games. All of the roads (be they tarmac, gravel, mud or snow) are significantly narrower than in past titles. This makes threading the needle between barriers and sheer drops in the likes of the Monte Carlo Rally feel a whole lot more authentic, satisfying and rewarding. Of course, it also means that novices will have a hard time getting used to the concentration this demands. Seven of the rallies feature all new stages, but many others are exactly the same routes as those in the previous two games (just made narrower) and there are no long stages to create a truly realistic experience. The special stages last for no more than four or five minutes.
Along with the stages requiring more skill this year, WRC 3’s difficulty level has increased significantly. The abilities of the other racers are controlled by a slider in the options screen and near the top end it becomes a brutal challenge. You will need extreme car control skills to beat them and an insane understanding of each stage. Dedicated players will get there eventually, but don’t expect to jump in on harder settings and dominate!
When you get out on the road, the improved vehicle graphics are instantly noticeable. Car models are detailed and crisp, with terrific damage effects. In fact, the damage model is up there with this game’s biggest rival, DiRT 3 and is much better than the other official FIA motorsport game on the market currently, the F1 series. Unfortunately, any visual comparison with Codemasters games stops there. The environments in WRC still lack detail, with blurry textures and some rather jaggy roadside objects such as fans and marshals. The graphics lack the HD clarity we’ve become used to in the last few years and they certainly don’t match up to the big hitters in the racing genre.
Other aspects of the presentation are also lacking. The menus are basic and bland, offering no sense of the glamour or excitement that players are treated to in other racing games. This is accompanied by some of the worst menu music imaginable. A voice over narrates many of these menus and introduces each new rally in the championship, but its attempts to create atmosphere come off as rather forced. Thankfully the co-driver voices are much better, offering clear advice when you’re out on the muddy roads and the cars sound loud and aggressive.
The Career mode from previous titles in this series has been completely removed from WRC 3 and replaced with a new “Road to Glory” mode. This feels less like a traditional racing game career and offers more advice to the player, providing the chance to experience a variety of stages and cars so that car control can be improved. You start with low-powered front wheel drive hatchbacks and move up through the various different classes of rally, such as Group N, Super 2000, WRC and even some historic rally cars, like the infamous Group B machines of the 1980s.
This replacement for Career mode doesn’t follow a traditional path. Instead of competing for championship points, you compete for Stars. There are several on offer for each event, some based on your finishing position and others based on style points such as drifting. This encourages the use of different driving techniques to help improve player skill. After earning enough Stars in a region, you can take on the local Rising Star. Beat them and you unlock the next region and new challenge events, such as destroying certain objects laid out on a short stage.
Road to Glory is a good learning tool for rally novices, but it is not going to hold the interest of more hardcore players. Those people will want to jump straight into the actual WRC cars in the Single Rally and Championship modes. Bizarrely though, this means you will experience a lot less content than the newcomers playing Road to Glory. The historic cars from that mode cannot be used in a Single Rally or Championship of their own, which seems crazy. Why put them in the game if you can only drive them in a limited number of specific events?
WRC 3 is a much improved game which will satisfy die-hard rally fans who were let down by the small number of traditional rally stages in DiRT 3. WRC 3 is full of challenging, narrow courses which those players will love. However, while the core gameplay has improved dramatically, the presentation is still lagging far behind the competition and the online mode is basic at best. WRC 3 is definitely recommended to anyone looking for a serious off-road challenge, but Milestone still has some way to go to give this series mainstream appeal.