World Rally Championship Review
Not until recently was I able to make a clear realization that racing is indeed my favorite genre. I've always wondered whether it was RPG or racing. As much as I love RPG games, there's nothing more that I enjoy most than speed (no, not the drug, mind you)! Cars, ATVs, motorbikes - their engines revving, their pistons pulsating, their tires burning and in some cases spitting mud, gravel, snow and sand all over the place - which brings me to rally racing. European's love their rally racing, no matter what surface it's held on; the simple fact is the Euro's love rally racing. Colin McRae stands out among being one of the most renown rally racers around the world, as does Richard Burns and Tommi Makinen. When Evolution Studios and Sony CEE released World Rally Championship for the PS2 in Europe, it was the console's first true rally offering, and was greeted with very positive results. Up until now, Gran Turismo 3 has been our only source of rally racing. And while Sony CEA was negligent to bring the game out to the US, BAM! Entertainment picked up the publishing rights to this wonderful rally title (as well as WipeOut Fusion and Dropship) and have allowed it to set sail here. After extensive play time with WRC, I can't help but acknowledge that this is single-handedly the best rally game to date.
Visually, it doesn't quite rival GT3 or RalliSport Challenge (Xbox) for that matter, but nevertheless WRC looks fantastic in its own right, and manages to hold up with both games. The car detail is made up of roughly 4000-5000 polygons, and sports excellent graphical touches that frees the cars from any noticeable jaggy effects (especially on their spoilers, where both GT3 and RSC get hit). You can take a look at the following screenshot for yourself, and notice the clarity of the game. The environments of WRC are a bit hard to explain. Most of the tracks have excellent looking scenery and texture details, while some feature a poorly done wall of trees that is supposed to represent forests or possibly jungles. You've got some tracks where you could literally look out miles ahead in every possible direction, and you've got tracks where one gigantic wall of flat textured trees prevents you from looking anywhere but ahead. Granted, it's understandable that Evolution Studios just couldn't render hundreds of trees on one simultaneous image, but they could've at least made the image look a bit less repulsive. That said, WRC is still a very pretty looking game. The environments aren't only wide and open, but many of them also feature polygonal bystanders that are rooting for you, trees that sway from the wind, and heat waves that distort the backgrounds (an effect seen in replays).
Although, the surface such as dirt and snow doesn't quite kick up as realistically and heavily as GT3, it looks very good either way, as the following image exemplifies. All of that dirt kicking, mud slinging, and snow spitting does result in aesthetic change for the car, as it could turn into this or this -- depending on how rough you were. Unlike GT3 and RalliSport, WRC allows you to drive through the cockpit view of the car or even the driver's eye. There are many different camera angles to choose from; something for everybody. The cockpits actually feature quite the detailed pilots, not just some low polygon models. The authentication for this game is unrivaled by any other rally racer on the market, and that's what sets the game apart from every other rally title. The cars feature working windshield wipers, and even the damage in WRC is accurately done. Scrape the sides and you'll notice in the replays. Bump the front, your light will blow out and the bumper will possibly hang, and etc. Truly the attention to detail is paid here. The frame rate is very consistent, as I have yet to experience any problems, and the lighting effects are top-notch. Overall, aside from the weird wall of trees in a few of the tracks, the game looks great.
Let's face it, GT3's rally experience wasn't enough, especially for the rally enthusiast who wants an officially licensed FIA WRC title that features realistic locales/tracks, teams, pilots, co-pilots, standings, rally-events, and vehicles of the 2001 WRC season. Only WRC for PS2 offers all of that. My final impressions with this game couldn't be any more positive. Instead of playing a videogame, I felt as if I was actually a participant in the WRC, which was made possible through my wonderful GT Force/Driving Force setup. The wheel works like a dream with this game; every bit as good (if not better) as it did with GT3. It created a wonderful sensation and really threw me into another world. Speaking of sensation, something that many racing games lack is a decent sensation of speed. WRC's sensation of speed is excellent to say the least. You'll really feel the tension as you swerve and weave your way through the curvy roads in Spain or the muddy roads of Finland. Every in-game track is based on an actual real-life replica of the same course, so make no mistake about it this is the WRC experience. The cars included in WRC are of course the Subaru Impreza WRC, Mitsubishi Lancer Evo VI, Skoda Octavia WRC, Ford Focus WRC, Citroen Xsara T4, Hyundai Accent WRC, and the Peugeot 206 WRC. Each car has its own unique style of control, maneuverability, performance, and features 3 sets of a pilot and co-pilot to choose from.
The car damage, while a neat visual effect, also affects the performance of the car. WRC exemplifies some of the best damage I've witnessed in a racing game. It's not as soft and wimpy as RalliSport (hitting the tail of your car at 5MPH breaks your tail light) and not excruciatingly stubborn where an 80MPH collision leaves your car only with a bruised bumper. Something that happened to me is a fantastic example of how incredible the damage is. As I was cruising at 80MPH, I swerved a bit after making a reasonably sharp turn. As I was stabilizing my car, I had swerved off to the right and the right side of my car nailed the edge of a road railing - head on. The result wasn't just a broken light, bruised bumper and severely cracked front window, but my engine had been dangerously damaged as it was smoking violently, and the force of the bumper being pushed in, ruptured the right tire and blew it up. I didn't understand what had happened at first (as to why my car was drifting to the left all the time) and then I noticed my tire was flapping! Looking at the replays, it became even more evident and the GT Force really made me feel that torn tire, too. The damage system is indeed that defined.
WRC features a ton of features: multiple camera views, 108 tracks (81 world rally tracks, the rest are 2-player), WRC mode, Single Rally, Time Trial, and Two-player modes. Prior to races the game will allow you to customize the performance of your chosen vehicle, according to the stage you selected. Although if you pick an icy or snowy stage, the game will automatically give you the proper setup; suspension, tires, steering, brake strength, and gear ration. You can change those around if you wish, but I suggest sticking with the default settings. Unlocking what is locked in WRC requires the player to race in either the Single Rally mode or WRC mode with the normal difficulty selected. Overall, WRC is a fantastic playing racing game with incredibly well done gameplay elements. The track designs are filled with bumps, jumps, turns, hairpins and whatnot. They're so well designed that they pretty much give anything RalliSport has, a run for its money. As much as I loved RSC for the Xbox, there's just no denying that this is the rally experience every PS2 owner must play. My one and only complaint are the loading times which can last as long as 30-40 seconds.
World Rally Championship isn't as soundtrack heavy as games like GT3 and RSC are. There is no music audio during an actual race, just your co-pilot reading off the track specifications as you make your way through the track. Coupled with that are of course special effects such as engine noises, skids, and basically everything else you'd hear while watching a rally race - psychotic fans yelling and screaming included. There is a very minor soundtrack, consisting of 6 songs, but they are only played during the replays. The tracks are: "Not Alone (the Jamie White track)" by Cavallo Morte, "Much Against Everyones Advice" by Soul Wax, "Close Range" by New Order, "Hole In My Head" Feeder, "Sharkhunt" by Way Out West, and the WRC title track "Speed" by Sister Bliss/Rollo. All in all, the audio sounds fine.
As mentioned earlier, WRC works like a dream with the GT Force/Driving Force Logitech wheel. The precision, the handling, and the overall sensation is exhilarating to say the least. You can use the wheel to the fullest, and damn it feels good! With the standard Dual Shock 2, the game controls great as well, although new comers to the rally gaming scene may need time to adjust as rally vehicles tend to control a bit slippery and are drift happy, so powerslide away if you're good enough. The analog sensitivity is top-notch, as is the sensitivity in the buttons and the vibration works superbly as well. Just give the game a couple of minutes in the time-trial and you'll be ready to go for the real deal.
In the end, after having exhausted myself from countless 2-3 hour playing sessions of World Rally Championship with the GT Force/Driving Force wheel, I can safely assure you that this is the finest rally racer on the market. While GT3's rally and RalliSport make look somewhat cleaner, their gameplay facets do not even touch the incredible depth of WRC. WRC not only stands out as the best rally title on the market, but one of the best racers as well. Surely, this is guaranteed to be one of biggest sleeper hits of the year. World Rally Championship is a must have rally title for every rally enthusiast with a PS2.
4/3/2002 Arnold Katayev