It’s interesting to trace the history of the World Rally Championship franchise, starting with Sony and Evolution Studios, then to Black Bean Games and Milestone, before Bigben Interactive and Kylotonn took over. However, Codemasters is no stranger to the sport.
Not only did it develop the acclaimed Colin McRae series, starting with Colin McRae Rally and eventually spinning it off into Dirt before delivering Dirt Rally, another acclaimed rally racer (its sequel less so). Perhaps it’s appropriate that the studio would develop the latest title, bringing back its rally sim expertise while advancing the formula forward in multiple ways.
To that end, EA Sports WRC is a big improvement over Dirt Rally 2.0, with more content, a more comprehensive Career Mode, several Championships, and much more. There are some technical issues and annoyances, but as a whole, it’s an endearing time.
"Each vehicle also looks authentic, and while you won’t see windshields and car glass splintering or paint scraping, hoods and doors go flying when taking enough damage."
As with other contemporary racing games, you have to create a driver. Make no mistake, this is far from the most comprehensive character creation tool. You can’t adjust the eyes, hair, height, or anything else outside the presets. However, you can customize your co-pilot’s voice and the gear (with more available by progressing through the Rally Pass), and I’m mostly okay with that. Less so with the substandard character models on tracks with their dead eyes and barely animated expressions, but you only briefly see them before races.
The real attention to detail and visual fidelity is seen with the cars and environments. It’s noticeable when dirt sprays into the air on a turn and dust covers your bumper or when the road’s surface is slick with ice. Each vehicle also looks authentic, and while you won’t see windshields and car glass splintering or paint scraping, hoods and doors go flying when taking enough damage. The skyboxes and distant details are also good, though there is some noticeable pop-in at times.
There is some stutter and dropped frames when starting races, but the former is almost non-existent when racing. Any stutters that did materialize were thankfully minor and didn’t compromise any races. The snow-covered mountains in the backdrop of one course also had a weird flickering effect, but that went away after some time.
Those who have stuck with the series for this long – and rally sim fans in general – know what to expect with the gameplay. Select a car, tune it accordingly, race the course, and listen to your copilot’s commands. While flying by the seat of your pants is all well and good, preparing yourself for upcoming turns, especially the brutal hairpins, is the key to success, and shaving off precious seconds for that perfect run.
"None of this is to say that the racing is “easy.” Accelerate too heavily coming out of a turn, and sometimes oversteering will send you sailing to the side."
Going offroad can result in time penalties – heck, hitting a corner beacon will knock some seconds off. The AI is also quick to capitalize on your mistakes, though if you race reliably enough without any major mistakes, it’s possible to obtain a comfy lead without much trouble. Some tuning is required, even when the AI is set to “50.”
The feel of EA Sports WRC is intriguing in several ways. Each car, whether it’s WRC2 or Junior WRC, is easy enough to pick up and control. The handling is responsive overall, and the feeling of power when accelerating down straights or narrowly clinching slight turns is exhilarating. However, each controls differently, and whether it’s the balanced but less powerful Ford Fiesta Rally 3 or a classic Lancia with its excellent handling, you feel those differences as you come to terms with each track.
None of this is to say that the racing is “easy.” Accelerate too heavily coming out of a turn, and sometimes oversteering will send you sailing to the side. Different road types also need to be respected – tarmac can feel friendly and welcoming, but heavy dirt roads require easing up when going uphill.
The snow-covered stages like Sweden are easily a favorite because of this, and you can feel the difference between a road wet with snow and another covered in ice – just turning on the latter causes your car to slide on its own. It’s as entrancing as it can be frightening, especially when co-driver calls can feel a little too late at times.
"While I didn’t bring my creation into many races, instead opting for tried and true rally machines, the amount of customization and options is pretty good."
This brings up another highlight – the course design. There are over 200 courses in EA Sports WRC, each with unique road conditions and options for weather. While you won’t find dynamic weather conditions, varying road conditions are enough to keep you on your toes, whether it’s going from tarmac to perilous snow or back. As a whole, the courses are long but well-paced, presenting enough of a challenge without getting frustrating despite the sheer number of things that can stop your car in its tracks. Precision is key, but so is understanding the course and how to navigate its most treacherous sections.
Championships are your standard run through multiple events against AI drivers, with options for deciding the length and number. The new Moments Mode offers specific challenges based on real-world events where you must complete objectives (like placing in a certain position or sustaining a certain amount of damage) to earn XP. Using specific cars spices things up, but having more Moments or cycling them out over a shorter period would be ideal. Furthermore, you can’t play them offline, which is just annoying.
Builder Mode is also brand new to the series, allowing you to create a rally car from scratch, down to the springs, tyres, brakes, bumpers, you name it. While I didn’t bring my creation into many races, instead opting for tried and true rally machines, the amount of customization and options is pretty good. Those who want to go fully hands-on and craft the rally car of their dreams will no doubt have fun.
Career Mode is fairly extensive, as you select a competition, team logo and colors, hire staff like Engineers (whose perks can be customized and trained), and complete goals provided by your benefactor. There are several events on the racing calendar, whether competing in major championships, invitationals, manufacturer hospitality (where you can try out other manufacturers’ cars for free – just don’t damage them) and so on.
"Several things need to be improved, but as a complete package, it’s a fun, meaty experience for rally racing fans to dive into."
Having the right vehicle type and adhering to your benefactor’s requirements. Keep them happy by earning points, completing goals, and staying within the allotted budget. Of course, it’s also important to rest your staff now and again since they have a set amount of stamina.
It’s a fun time overall, and there’s a healthy amount of settings to tailor the experience to be as challenging or relaxed as possible. However, buying a car for each invitational can get expensive quickly, especially when you have a limited amount of space in your garage (even with subsequent upgrades).
Perhaps the only real drawback is the multiplayer. No, not the netcode, but the long wait times. You need to get into a game with other players and wait for them to ready up, so whether Quick Play or manually searching for races with the Server Browser, the wait can be excruciatingly long. At least you can play custom games against the AI, but a quick race option or automatic countdown would be nice.
Overall, EA Sports WRC is a worthy successor to Kylotonn’s games and Codemasters’ rally titles. Several things need to be improved, but as a complete package, it’s a fun, meaty experience for rally racing fans to dive into.
This game was reviewed on Xbox Series X.
Easy to pick up handling that's difficult to master, with each vehicle feeling unique. Realistic course and weather conditions, with long, well-paced layouts. Moments feels like a strong addition while Builder Mode provides extensive customization. Strong presentation and visuals, with an exceptional amount of content.
Some slight performance hiccups, mostly before races. Career Mode has a few issues to iron out. Online multiplayer lacks any Quick Race option and requires long wait times. AI could use a bit of tuning.