While barreling down a narrow gravel road, rocks to one side of my car and a sharp drop-off on the other side, it occurred to me that WRC 8 may well be the most intense racing game I’ve ever played. It packs a combination of speed, unpredictable tracks, and brutal difficulty that’s difficult to match in any other wheeled racing sport.
WRC 8 (shorthand for the eight iteration of the World Rally Championship franchise of games) roughly follows the 2019 season of one of Earth’s most challenging motorsports. Players can take on a variety of stages drawn from this season’s events, join a team in career mode, or battle each other’s ghosts in time attack mode.
For folks unfamiliar with the modern rally concept, it’s a series of race stages based, usually, around the fastest time for each team. The winner of each event has the lowest overall time, but may not be the winner of every stage. The big hook is that unlike most other motorsports, the route isn’t a pre-planned racetrack. It’s mostly a series of normal roads that people are driving down at ludicrous speeds, with drivers trusting their navigators to help them successfully navigate all sorts of blind corners, jumps, and narrow roads.
The meat of WRC 8 comes in the career mode, where players can start their own team and attempt to work their way up the ladder from the Junior division to the full WRC championship. Along the way, they’ll have to learn to manage various crew mechanics, balance sponsor challenges with actually winning races, and find things to do between rally events to keep funds up and not burn out their crew. The three levels of difficulty available when choosing career mode are important to note. Medium and Hard difficulties have limited replays of each race stage, which can make getting even a decent finishing time difficult for new players.
Variable weather and terrain play a big role in races. While most stages are predominantly one type of terrain or another, it’s possible to encounter multiple road types in a single stage. Do you set your car up with soft, grippy snow tires and sacrifice speed on the asphalt, or risk a catastrophic crash in the snow by running tires optimized for pavement? Some special challenge stages will put players at the wheel of a heavily damaged car, in horrible weather, careening down a narrow mountain pass.
As played on the official CasterClan Test Rig™ with a GeForce 1070, WRC 8 looks pretty good. Perhaps not photo-realistic in every angle, but definitely pretty and very convincing. Mountain passes whip by fast enough to make one’s stomach tense up, trees look like trees, and crowds… okay, the crowds aren’t that convincing, but people have never been a strong suite in any racing game. Performance on the test system was fairly solid at medium graphics settings, though with an occasional stutter while rendering large areas. This likely could have been avoided by turning the graphics down even farther.
Audio shines, especially when wearing headphones. As cars go through race stages, they take damage. Damage translates into all sorts of squeaks and creaks when going around corners and across bumps. Engine turbochargers whine and flutter. Transmissions grind as they slowly fail one gear at a time across long courses. When played with headphones, a large screen, and a racing wheel, WRC 8 is incredibly immersive.
Rally fans will get the most meat out of the long career mode, but there’s also the opportunity to challenge friends in the online time attack modes and regularly reset challenges. A head-to-head multiplayer mode is coming to PCs “soon.” For dedicate players, the eWRC challenge will resume in 2020, with the best players earning a spot in the finale to be held at a WRC event!
For racing game fans accustomed to other forms of motorsport, WRC 8 may come as a bit of a rude awakening. It’s unforgiving in difficulty, and requires a skill set not developed in most other racing series. Mastering the tracks at higher difficulties may become repetitive, and for players not interested in the eWRC challenge, the game may lack enough multiplayer aspects to hold interest for a long haul. However, it’s also incredibly rewarding to finally master a course, and the feeling of racing along narrow lanes at high speed is unmatched.
An Epic Game Store copy of WRC 8 was provided for this review. WRC 8 is also available for the Microsoft Xbox One and Sony PlayStation®4 consoles.