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December 2023

EA Sports WRC

Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X
Genre: Racing
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Developer: Codemasters
Release Date: Nov. 3, 2023

About Tony "OUberLord" Mitera

I've been entrenched in the world of game reviews for almost a decade, and I've been playing them for even longer. I'm primarily a PC gamer, though I own and play pretty much all modern platforms. When I'm not shooting up the place in the online arena, I can be found working in the IT field, which has just as many computers but far less shooting. Usually.


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PC Review - 'EA Sports WRC'

by Tony "OUberLord" Mitera on Nov. 10, 2023 @ 1:15 a.m. PST

EA Sports WRC, the official game of the FIA World Rally Championship, is the first truly next-generation rally game and the quintessential title for sim-racing enthusiasts.

The most important element for a rally game to nail isn't how it looks or how accurate its stages are. Its physics and handling model are important, but above all, it must control well. With the official World Rally Championship (WRC) license now in the hands of Codemasters, it chose to use Unreal Engine 5 for EA Sports WRC. While the offering has many things going for it with Codemaster's first crack at an official WRC title in over two decades, the engine has a significant and pervasive stuttering problem.

It's obvious that the developers wanted to make EA Sports WRC feel like a new game, separate from the WRC series developed by previous license holder Kylotonn. A lot of effort seems to have gone into what the new game should be, and it results in some genuinely fun gameplay elements. The career mode feels deep enough to provide a career experience without miring players in fine details. You can start in the WRC championship, or you can work your way up from the WRC2 or Junior WRC support championships.

In the career, you have a benefactor, and every year, you have a series of objectives to meet to keep them happy. One might be to score a set number of points in your current WRC championship, but you also may be required to participate in a few manufacturer invitational events or complete a number of events in other rally series. The entire year is played week by week, and for each week, you must choose which event you wish to do that ignores the rest. You also have a weekly budget for your cars, repairs, and engineer salaries, and you gain slight boosts with your benefactor after a streak of staying within budget.

You also build a team of engineers, from expanding the skills of your chief engineer to hiring other engineers who can help with their expertise during rally events. Hire an engineer who specializes in four-wheel drive cars, and bring him along for a rally event, and it'll take less time to repair your vehicle. Of course, your engineers lose stamina for every event they participate in, which can only be replenished by choosing an engineer rest day during a week that you basically consider as an "off week."

The management of your engineers is important, but it doesn't feel overbearing. There's usually a week here or there that you simply can't compete in any of the events for one reason or another. Those are the good weeks for resting your engineers, have a hiring day for new ones, or take the time to add a couple of points to your chief engineer's skills. Each point invested gives a permanent bonus, such as taking less time to repair certain parts of the car, engineers using less stamina for each race, or things costing less to maintain.

I was initially pretty interested in the "Car Builder" aspect of the game, where you can build a complete car by first selecting your engine placement. You then choose the particular engine, transmission, etc., that are going into the car, and you can opt for expensive new parts or inexpensive used ones that may have reliability issues. You can also specify what the front and rear bumper look like, as well as some interior elements of the car, such as the seats. I was a little let down when the fancy MyChron-like unit showed telemetry such as water temps, but it's just a static image, and none of the data actually changes or means anything. I'm not convinced building your own vehicle provides any real advantage, other than being able to compete in some of the builder-car-only events during the year, but it's better to have the option than to be restricted to only being able to take one of the official cars.

It all leads to the times when you're finally unleashed to haul through a rally stage with as much speed and precision as possible. WRC does a good job of capturing the nuances of each vehicle's particular handling, down to finer differences between the surfaces you are on and the environmental conditions. Before long, you develop a feel for how to flick your car around while maintaining speed around curves and over bumps. When you make an error, the game usually seems fair about the repercussions; tag a craggy rock wall and the results feel harsh but predictably so, and getting too eager on the throttle and putting the car into oversteer usually feels like an error you made as the driver. I will give the game a little grief that hitting a traffic sign at rally speeds should really result in a bent-under sign rather than a dead stop of the vehicle, but it's a very rare instance of the game "getting it wrong."

It results in handling that feels rewarding. As you adapt to the surfaces and the conditions, you begin to develop some real pace, and keeping a high pace through successive elements is an addictive feeling. There is a hardcore damage model setting for those who really want that extra challenge, but on the default setting, the damage is clearly less than realistic, but it'll still punish you for driving poorly.

The problem is the stutters. I first noticed them back in the preview version of the game, but at the time, I couldn't be certain if it was the game at fault or something else with my PC. After a couple of driver updates and running the game from an NVMe drive, the game still has stuttering issues that occur during every event — and often multiple times. Graphics settings do little to address them, and they really haven't gotten any better since the full release.

Stuttering in any game is an annoyance, but in a rally title, it means you might be mid-corner and providing precise driving inputs. Any stutter at that point effectively results in a full loss of control, and while it is only for a fraction of a second, it's enough to turn that perfect line you had going into one that sends you off-course and into the trees. This happens in every mode, with any car, in any stage, and if emerging user reviews are to believed, the issue happens to a large number of people to some extent.

It will stutter every time you cross water for the first time in a stage, and it will stutter any time you shatter your windshield. If you run though a stage and then retry it, it will still stutter but not always in the same places. It will stutter for seemingly no reason other than, "I was turning into a new area of the stage," and during the times that it isn't stuttering, you're paranoid and worrying about if it is going to do so in that upcoming element. Even a 6 Left can be a struggle when the game seemingly arbitrarily decides to hiccup, and good luck getting your co-driver to call that out ahead of time.

The developers for EA Sports WRC have said they are working on the issue, but after so many Unreal Engine 4 and 5 games have suffered similar issues upon release, it is harder to accept this wasn't fixed before release. It's harder still with a rally game, which demands fine control from the player but undermines itself with stutters that often result in significantly punishing outcomes. There is a lot to like about EA Sports WRC, and with a future patch it may become buttery smooth. That isn't how the game was released, though, and while a smoother version of this game would be easily recommendable, it's best to avoid EA Sports WRC in its current state.

Score: 5.9/10

Reviewed on: AMD Ryzen 7 3700X, 32 GB RAM, NVidia RTX 4070 Ti, Xbox One Controller

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