Off-road racing is an experience all its own. With no racers and only sparse crowds around you, it’s just you and your skills. Both punishing and rewarding, WRC 9 captures the technical skill of the sport in a way that manages to be enjoyable while doing justice to the sport and the skill it requires. It’s not perfect, and returning fans may find it plays things a bit too safe in some areas. But overall, WRC 9 is a solid entry in the series.
If you’re coming into this as a returning player, you may initially be disappointed by what you see. There’s very little that’s different, at least at first glance. The game’s interface is very similar to previous games. The structure, menus, and mechanics behind the career mode are similarly unchanged. While this does make it easy for returning fans to know exactly where to start, it’s more of an issue than anything else. The menus and interface have always been clunky, and WRC 9 is no exception. Navigating the menus for the career mode especially can be clunky and unintuitive, particularly if you’re playing on consoles like I was. The controls and interface never quite feel natural. It’s one thing to make incremental changes, but leaving the interface completely unchanged wasn’t the best call.
"It’s not perfect, and returning fans may find it plays things a bit too safe in some areas. But overall, WRC 9 is a solid entry in the series."
The game suffers some other issues on the technical front as well. Load times, at least on consoles, were a bit longer than I would have expected. It can definitely get a bit frustrating waiting through them, especially with the repetitive soundtrack. The music is generic, and doesn’t really seem to fit the atmosphere of the sport. This is a minor complaint, for sure, and you can mute the music if you want, so it isn’t really a big deal. But it doesn’t make those long load times any less irritating.
WRC 9 also has some other technical stumbles as well. For the most part, the visuals are solid. Cars look great both on and off the track. The lighting and weather effects are similarly solid. And the damage modeling for the cars is impressive. The environments also look good, especially when viewed from a distance. Up close, there are some hiccups, particularly regarding aliasing, but it’s nothing too major. It’s not gonna win any awards for its visuals, but they look nice and get the job done well enough. But where the issues really lie here is the audio. Beyond the aforementioned soundtrack, the sound design in general is lacking. Most of the cars sound identical to one another. The game’s audio mixing is also strange, with some sounds coming through far louder than they were likely intended to. At times the audio would even cut out on me altogether. This is especially true of the car audio. Engine and impact sounds would sometimes glitch and just not play. These issues aren’t game breaking, but they are strange, and they definitely bring the game down on a technical level.
But that’s not really the important thing here. What matters in a game like this is the driving. Thankfully in that regard, WRC 9 is a strong contender. The cars handle well, and the controls for driving are simple to pick up. The game does a great job of simulating all of the different factors and conditions that can affect your handling during a race. Different cars handle differently, as do different types of terrain. WRC 9 does a particularly great job here. The different environment, terrain, and weather effects are absolutely stellar, and they are simulated perfectly. Snow has no traction, and slipping and sliding is a regular occurrence. Mud and rain affect your grip, and it’s easy to get bogged down in thick mud if you aren’t careful. The game does a wonderful job handling the interactions between your car and the environment. Everything behaves in a realistic way, difficult to manage, but consistent in that difficulty. The physics are really top notch in this regard.
"What matters in a game like this is the driving. Thankfully in that regard, WRC 9 is a strong contender."
WRC 9 also does a good job of making the different cars feel distinct from one another. They all handle a little differently, with different acceleration, traction, weight, center of gravity, and a whole host of other factors. You can also tweak your cars, allowing you to further modify your car’s handling to suit your preferences and the needs of the track. The customization is as deep as you’d expect from a game like this, and it’s really well done.
WRC 9 isn’t hurting for content, either. Games like this can sometimes have a tendency to be a little light on things to do. Thankfully, WRC 9 has plenty to offer. The career mode is the meat of the game. It’s a strong experience. While in the career mode, you take on the role of both manager and driver. You set up your crew, hiring different specialists, making contracts, and setting up your event schedule. Then you hit the track. All of this is in the goal of moving up the standings to qualify in the titular WRC, the World Rally Championship. There’s a lot to keep track of, and it can be daunting for new players. But the game offers a surprisingly deep tutorial for first time players that explains the ins and outs of career mode. It still doesn’t quite help with the clunky interface, but it’s a big help regardless.
Aside from that, there’s the usual quick race options, where you pick a track and a car and immediately enter the competition. Season mode allows you to participate in a rally without having to worry about the crew management aspect of career mode. It’s a nice intermediate option between career mode and quick play. Challenges require you to complete certain objectives on a preselected track with a preselected car. Meanwhile, the multiplayer options come in both an online and split screen option. I will always praise the inclusion of split screen multiplayer in games these days. It’s a dying feature, but it’s always a welcome one. The online events serve as an online equivalent to the single player challenges. And finally, the esports mode allows you to challenge yourself and other players in a high stakes competitive environment. This mode even comes complete with its own rewards and unlockables.
"WRC 9 isn’t hurting for content, either. Games like this can sometimes have a tendency to be a little light on things to do. Thankfully, WRC 9 has plenty to offer."
WRC 9 isn’t a ground-breaking experience. It suffers from the same long-standing UI issues that have plagued the franchise for ages. And from a technical perspective, it’s far from perfect. The sound design in particular is a major culprit here. But the game delivers in spades where it truly matters. The actual racing in WRC 9 is top notch, rewarding skill and practice in a way that feels true to the sport without feeling punishing. Ample content, meanwhile, ensures that you don’t get bored while putting in those practice hours. If you’re looking for a high skill, off-road racing simulation, WRC 9 is your game.
This game was reviewed on the Xbox One.
Excellent physics make for a top-notch off-road racer; Plenty of content ensures you won't get bored.
Some technical issues hold the game back, particularly its clunky UI and awkward sound design.