For fifteen consecutive years the world rally championship has been dominated by French drivers with the same first name, “Sébastien.” Sébastien Loeb won nine times in a row before handing over the crown to Sébastien Ogier who has won the championship for the last six years. This year, though, it seems that the rally season will finally have a new winner. Ott Tänak, hailing from Estonia and driving for Toyota Gazoo Racing, leads the championship after impressive victories in Sweden, Portugal, Finland and Germany. In the video game front, after a two-year hiatus since their previous entry, KT Racing (also known as Kylotonn) rolls out WRC 8 FIA World Rally Championship, now under Bigben Interactive’s tutelage, to challenge DiRT Rally 2.0 that came out earlier this year. What can WRC 8 offer over Codemasters’ superb game? For starters, the official world rally championship license with all the events, teams and drivers of the current season, and… well, that’s pretty much it.
At the core of WRC 8 experience is its extensive career mode that’s started either from junior or WRC2 class before being eligible to drive in the big leagues. The calendar is dotted with events you can take part in, like training, sponsor challenges and, of course, the rallies themselves. That’s not all, though, as there’s a whole crew management side to everything. You have to appoint engineers, mechanics, meteorologists, agents, financial directors and such who get tired along the season for their efforts so you must have able substitutes to fill in their roles. The personnel has to be paid a full salary, too, so there’s also a budget to worry about as everything costs money. Especially repair expenses chew a big chunk out of the budget so it’s better to drive economically! There’s a skill tree as well, divided into team, crew, performance and reliability sections. You earn points to put into them from successfully completed events.
So, there’s a lot to keep your attention through the season. A bit too much, actually, as the crew management is something you really shouldn’t need to care about as a rally car driver. It would perhaps been a good idea to separate the management into its own game for those people interested more in the behind the scenes action in a minute level. Luckily, a season mode lets you experience the career without the busy event calendar and the management side but it’s, too, started from at the junior or WRC2 level so there’s a lot of mileage to go through before joining Ott Tänak, Elfyn Evans, Sébastien Ogier, Jari-Matti Latvala and other rally stars. I found it odd that off-season you can’t drive a full single rally just for fun as the quick play features only special stages. As is customary these days, you can take the competition online in quick races or periodic events.
Unfortunately, the driving action isn’t all that hot. The car handling is a bit arcadey and emphasized by the fact that the game is best experienced from a third-person view instead of behind the wheel, unlike DiRT Rally 2.0 where the cockpit view is the only place for real driving. The handling feels both stiff and slippery, resulting in an almost erratic driving response. You can’t always trust how the car performs when steered into corners sidelong. There’s no proper feel of tires gripping onto gravel and snow either, so sometimes it feels like the car is more sliding over the ground than rolling on wheels. The sound effects do their best emulating differences surfaces but they’re just that, sounds and not the sensation itself. On tarmac, however, the game’s driving physics work better but most of the rally season is driven on gravel anyway. The performance can be slightly adjusted before each stage through a car set-up that is as simple or as complex as you want it to be. You can also configure several driving assists that are at first suggested to you according to the test drive you have to perform in the very beginning of the game.
Visuals serve their purpose without popping your eyes out of their sockets. Everything looks a little rough, brown and grey, no matter whether you are whizzing through Australian rain forests or summery countryside in Finland. Weather effects are pretty nice, though, especially heavy rain that douses the roads with a reflective, rippling pools. The sense of speed is severely hurt by a lack of proper particle effects. If you have ever seen a rally car at a full speed, there’s a big trail of dust cloud or showers of water, mud or snow behind it. There’s an odd negligence in some details, too. With the car handling as it is, you’re bound to see your car rolling over but the impression is rather drab as the bottom of the car isn’t rendered at all. There’s just a blank slab instead.
Overall, WRC 8 screams mediocrity in every turn, something akin to a budget title, but still it’s sold for a full price. It’s not a bad game by any means but not that great either. At its best, WRC 8 can be nice enough to hop into now and then but nice isn’t enough when there’s a superior rally racing game available. As of writing, there are four rally events left in the world championship so there’s still room to get excited whether Ott Tänak can keep up his top form or will Sébastien Ogier make a late-season comeback and continue his winning streak. In video games, the competition is already over, though, as WRC 8 has to settle for a distant second place behind DiRT Rally 2.0.
Video game nerd & artist. I've been playing computer and video games since the early 80's so I dare say I have some perspective to them. When I'm not playing, I'm usually at my art board.