Buy WRC 6
A return to form for Codemasters, Dirt Rally is the best rally race offering on the current console generation. Many feel that it returned to the glory days of the Colin McRae Rally racing series. However, the WRC series has been nipping at their heels, especially during the years when Dirt was more synonymous with arcade-style rally racing than simulation. Coming to North America after its October 2016 release in Europe, WRC 6 is the latest in what is slowly becoming an annualized franchise.
The main advantage that WRC 6 has is licensing. All of the racers and cars for the 2016 season are represented. All of the track pieces are also present, including China although that course was removed from this season's real-life tour. For fans of the sport, having that license is paramount, and it helps that the tracks represent the wide variety of things real drivers in the sport would expect. From narrow roads and snow to night driving and a few jumps, the tracks are a testament to why the real-life races are so exciting.
For those who are used to racing with more traditional vehicles, racing in WRC 6 will make them feel like they're learning to drive all over again. No matter which car is selected, they all feel rather sensitive, and turns can make the car go wide. For a game with many narrow pathways, that means falling into ditches or frequently smacking into barriers. The ability to use your brakes effectively and powerslide is necessary since rally tracks seldom feature straightaways for a decent length. With that being said, it can still feel squirrely to drive these vehicles, especially since the handling doesn't seem to change when you're driving in rain or snow versus the various dry land types, like tarmac and gravel. The learning curve is steep, and you'll frequently be dead last before you finally start to understand things and slowly reach the middle of the pack.
The game doesn't do anything to ease in new players to this racing style. This is evident when you start and must go through two races to determine your starting skill level. The screen may display the basics of how to drive, but there's nothing about how to approach the numerous hairpin turns. Your co-driver won't appear until halfway through the first race, and he tends to deliver the turn warnings way too late for you to react properly, so you'll either slow down so much that you lose momentum or simply crash and wreck your machine. At the end of the evaluation races, the game improperly designates your proper settings. For example, after jumping into every possible ditch and accruing enough penalties to tack more than three minutes to my time, the game still recommended that I use the Hard difficulty. You can change this, but it is disappointing that the game gets it so wrong when you can't skip the introductory races.
While you can do some Quick Time Events to get more practice on any track, the meat of the game is in the Career mode, where you'll play the role of a rookie driver trying to break into the upper echelon of racing. You start with a contract racing for a company in the Junior WRC level, where you only need to place in a decent position and not wreck the car. Doing well here means graduating to the WRC 2 class, and repeating the pattern of success means reaching the major leagues in the WRC class.
Since this is an officially licensed game, you'll race the same grueling schedule as the pros. Races are often done in stages, with each leg being a very long trek through various environments. Damage is carried over through each leg, and unless you've turned off damage, crashing into walls often punctures your tires, ruins your engine or destroys your steering. Punctured tires can be fixed if you're willing to take a time penalty, but all other damage can only be repaired between rally days. The damage can be so severe that it'll take more than the allocated 45 minutes to fix, so you have to decide what should and shouldn't be fixed if you drive in a less-than-stellar manner.
For the most part, the racing is fine. Compared to Dirt Rally, WRC 6 is more forgiving when it comes to landing in a ditch and trying to get out. There are parts of the game design that are still questionable. For instance, the game never lets you know how you're doing in comparison to other drivers who have completed the course, so you don't know if you're falling behind or keeping pace. After what you believe to be a great run, it can be devastating to see that you're at the bottom of the pack when you had no indication that you were doing that badly. The game also seems inconsistent in handing out time penalties. Sometimes, you'll go off track, and the game acts like nothing happened. Other times, you'll go off track and cover the same distance, and the title thinks that you've gone too far and gives you a time penalty once you respawn. The wavering requirements for a time penalty make it tough to know when you'll get hosed.
As for multiplayer, the game does one thing that many racing games are missing nowadays: local play. It's done in quick race mode, so you have the option of playing against a friend via split-screen or against a group of up to eight people while you pass around the controller, hot-seat style. There are no frills here compared to the single-player experience, but because the feature is such a rarity, it might be a tipping point for rally fans to consider checking it out.
The online options provide many ways for people to compete. Standard online play against other players at one time is still here, and even though rally racing isn't about racing against others on a single track at the same time, the presence of ghost players is still amusing. The online population is there, but it's difficult to get into a match for some reason, so you're better off making your own lobby instead of jumping into someone else's. If direct competition isn't for you, WRC 6 features weekly competitions, both casual and eSports varieties, which allow you to try up to five times to post your best time on the selected routes. Like the local multiplayer mode, this isn't seen too often in other games, so it's a boon for WRC 6.
Graphically, the game feels behind the curve. The cars sport loads of great details from deformation after many crashes, but the environments look rather flat, and dull colors are used for the various environments. Lighting is a bit better, as you'll see bits of orange when the car body scrapes up against something. However, other particle effects, like water when you drive through puddles, feel uneventful. It is also disappointing to see the game running at an unstable frame rate, and screen-tearing is very visible. The competition can run at a better frame rate while looking better.
The audio also feels like it could use more adjustments. The volume for the engines is rather low by default, but that can be adjusted in the Options screen. The sounds from the environment aren't as easy to fix. While you get to hear the sounds of crowds cheering and gravel getting in the wheel well, driving on other surfaces doesn't produce the quality of noise you'd expect. Your co-driver is the real problem in this category. Aside from giving out directions far too late, even after adjusting him in the options screen, his delivery is more robotic than human. It sounds completely disjointed as the pitch goes all over the place, and hitting something or having a car part in trouble produces no reaction from him whatsoever. Considering that WRC 5 had a more reactive co-driver, this is a big step backward.
WRC 6 isn't all that bad. It's up to you to learn how to drive the rally way, as the game fails to help you out in that regard, but everything feels fine once you master it. The career mode is lengthy, and the number of available tracks and the various multiplayer options give you plenty of ways to extend the experience long after the career is finished. However, the bad co-driver system makes things unintentionally harder, and the presentation lacks some real polish. It certainly isn't the best rally racer out there, but it does well in a pinch, especially if you've already worn out Dirt Rally and are trying to satisfy your craving until Dirt 4 hits.
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