Rally games have been hit and miss over the past couple of years. By that, I mean I’d regularly lose control on the course, hit whatever tree, boulder or wire fence was closest to me, and I’d miss anything close to a competitive time against even a medium-difficulty AI. If I’m being truthful, the difficulty of rally games often meant the replay value was minimal outside the time I’d spend playing enough to review, simply because I’d be so bad at it.
So with that preconception in-mind, I fully expected to approach WRC 9 with a similar expectation, where I’d appreciate what the game did well and could say that rally fans would enjoy it, but once the review was done so was I. Interestingly enough, things were a little different this time around.
WRC 9 is very much a little-nonsense rally title that cuts to the chase super-quick and gets you doing the very thing you’ve bought the game for: rally. There’s no minute-long intro video everytime you start the game up, nor super-pretty menus to navigate; it’s clean, simple and to the point.
After a brief few moments of loading screens, it was time to attack the first special stage, and attack I certainly did. After the six minutes of driving I finally crossed the finish line, my blue Polo a little battered and about 20 seconds behind the stage leader. Very quickly it was looking like WRC 9 was going to follow the same path of recently rally games before it. Nonetheless, I decided to restart and try again.
Firstly, one of the things WRC 9 does well is load times, in that they’re very minimal. While there’s no rewind feature that’s been a crutch so many of us have relied on for well over a decade, it takes literal seconds to jump back to the beginning and restart a race. It’s definitely frustrating to have a decent pace ruined by a lost of control and a need to restart the event, but at least you’re not kept stewing over your mistakes while the game sends you back, which definitely helped on the 20+ restarts I did during the Rally Italia Sardegna.
Back to attempt two of the stage though, this time (and truly by chance) I tried a different tactic to just gunning it into every corner and hoping I didn’t get sent off flying by a rouge bump or gutter – I started to slow down. Low and behold, the ‘slow and steady’ adage holds true and I managed to shave 6 seconds from my previous attempt. Still not happy I restarted again, tried once more and would you believe – I got even quicker! It wasn’t much longer after 30 minutes or so of trying that I actually set the fastest pace, and while 30 minutes of trying for a 6-minute course seems like a poor time investment, you better believe it was rewarding. By the end of the fourth stages I finished second in the rally overall, and what a accomplishment it was! I was actually starting to enjoy a rally game again.
Across the past two weeks I’ve had with WRC 9 I’ve been following a similar method of trying a stage, failing, restarting and trying again, and while some stages I do well, others I’m off by up to 10 seconds, but it’s actually fun to explore these stages and see how hard I can push.
As you’d expect, the game includes all the locations of the real-world WRC motorsport and there’s both great variety and degrees of difficulty as you progress through them. As soon as you feel you’ve mastered the asphalt and snow-covered paths of Monte Carlo you’re sent to the rocky mountains of Argentina, where you struggle to distinguish between the drivable dirt path and mounts of large rocks on either side as you fight to push hard while battling the glare from the scorching sun up ahead. Shortly after that you’re thrown into a super-special stage that has you driving on quick closed courses rather than the traditional sprint tracks, and it was these events that I often found myself regaining most of my lost time and building a buffer. Difficulty and AI competitiveness is a little inconsistent I won’t lie, where some events you’ll struggle to not close a 10-second gap, only to smash it and some by a larger margin two events later.
Gameplay-wise, WRC 9 is definitely fun to play, and while I still think rally titles are ill-suited for non-racing gamers (but let’s be honest, it’s not the target market anyway), it’s not impossible for racing fans to get up to speed and enjoy relatively fast. Feathering your gas and brake inputs, turning into corners and working to regain traction as you approach a corner a little more sideways that normal all comes together for a satisfying experience when it works, and disappointing when it doesn’t. But that’s the name of the game. I even found myself tinkering with camera settings for the best visibility across different stages – which usually goes beyond the involvement I usually have for a racing title, but WRC 9 does it simply and well.
When it comes to annual releases like these, everything is essentially a build-up of the formula before it, but WRC 9 to me feels like the most fun I’ve had in a rally game since Colin McRae DiRT over 13 years ago, and that says something. A title shouldn’t have to be super-difficult to be rewarding and enjoyable, and developers Kylotonn should be praised for a job well-done. WRC 9 does well to replicate the challenge, risk and unpredictability of rally driving, and one I think fellow racing fans would get some good fun from.
WRC 9 was reviewed using a promotional code on Xbox One, as provided by the publisher. Click here to learn more about Stevivor’s scoring scale.