It would seem that the humble rallying game is perhaps past its best. At one time it used to be something of a cluttered area of the racing genre but these days less so. Colin McRae Rally by Codemasters used to rule the roost but even the subsequent Dirt games only give the traditional point-to-point rallying style a bit of time within a much larger game. Instead it presents highly entertaining races in a variety of cars and trucks with the regular rallying sections only make up a small part of the overall package.
WRC3 on the other hand strips all that away and offers up the rally genre in its purest form. Indeed it’s far closer to the original McRae series than Dirt currently is. But in stripping away the variety of the Dirt series to focus on the core of the sport Milestone have made something which is just about adequate and far from exciting.
In defence of the developers it is perhaps hard to do anything really exciting with the franchise. The WRC license isn't as glamorous as it once was and even the sport itself has seen better days. Sebastien Loeb's continual dominance of the sport year after year is enough to put anyone off. While Dirt 3 showed a much stronger link to the past than in recent years thanks to its inclusion of point-to-point rallying in hindsight you have to concede that the extra content around it helped flesh out a much more complete package. WRC3 unfortunately doesn't have that and it suffers as a result. The game stubbornly leans towards the purest possible representation of the sport and that doesn’t always make for the best game.
That said, and to their credit, Milestone haven't done a bad job with this game, it isn't stunning and it isn't terrible. It’s merely very average. It feels authentic and includes a full calendar for the year's events along with all the cars and teams as well. There are times when it captures the skill, concentration and the ability to adapt that you need to keep an insanely powerful hatchback on a country lane at over 100mph. It can get exciting at times but just when you need a bit of variation there isn't any in sight and it’s ultimately hobbled by some stunningly bad presentation.
In their bid to be as authentic as possible Milestone haven't done anything that the McRae series didn’t do years ago on the PlayStation. Indeed the game doesn't do a lot different from last year's instalment and it does beg the question what have Milestone been doing for the past year or so? Hopefully it’s not working on the presentation because it’s horrible. The dubstep music is enough to reach for a knitting needle to poke your ears with and the graphics in the menu system looks like they’ve come from a sketchbook (no really!). While the likes of Dirt have an insanely high level of presentation WRC3 feels like an afterthought. The graphics in the background of the menus look like they’ve come straight from the days of 16 bit gaming and the menu system at times lacks organisation. Perhaps most criminally though the menu feels a touch sluggish at times.
There are only two main game modes to speak of. A career mode called 'Road to Glory' sees you start out as an unknown and climb the ranks. Amassing enough stars unlocks further events and more powerful cars. Driving with particular style or aggression in a stage offers up more points but it’s somewhat unpredictable how you actually accrue them. It's a rather uninspiring career mode and some of the early cars can be painfully slow. Perhaps most damning of all however is the lack of any real tutorial. Players are thrown in at the deep end and if you have no prior knowledge of the sport it can be something of a difficult journey to work things out. Pace notes for example
For a single race or the odd event in the 'WRC Experience' mode (which allows you to pick any of the official WRC3 cars and events to race from the off) that is fine. However the career mode badly needs to offer some help for those coming into the game cold. Even giving rookie players some introduction to pace notes and tuning the car would be a massive help. Having “Right Three into Bridge” shouted at you might make sense to some but to others weaned on other sports it might mean nothing at all. Throw in the rules about having a limited time to repair vehicles between stages then there is certainly scope for some kind of gentle introduction or tutorial. Slap on top some woeful presentation and confused menus and its difficult to give 'Road to Glory' much time. It is compounded by the fact that the other mode, 'WRC Experience', pretty much gives you all the cars and courses from the off to play with. It makes you wonder why you would bother playing a grinding career mode.
Out on the track the game is quite pretty, certainly not up to the standards of the Dirt series but it is no porker. After a while though forests, sunny deserts and mud filled country lanes blur into one. Its strange then the presentation elsewhere is so poor. One can only think that resources are somewhat stretched or that Milestone would rather put their money on screen. The presentation in the menus certainly needs to be given a higher priority though as it is a crucial first impression. The presentational issues and the disappointing career mode could have been put to one side if the driving experience was decent but like the rest of the game it is unpolished and extremely average. Car handling feels a little twitchy and sometimes you are left with the distinct impression that the track conditions don’t seem to have much of an impact on the car. Most of the cars handle in much the same way as each other, even the few classic rally cars that are thrown in don’t feel all that different either from their modern counterparts. There are times though when it just about hints at the possibility of the game when you find yourself being drawn in by the concentration needed to stay on top but it’s too rare. Even when those moments do come you are quickly snapped out of it the minute the next menu screen comes along. Did I mention the menu screens? They really are bad.
WRC3 is a huge disappointment for those of who remember the Colin McRae series with a lot of affection. Milestone have tried to be as authentic as possible with the sport and that should be credited - deep down there surely must be something of a market for a proper rallying game? Unfortunately though WRC3 shoots itself in the foot with woeful presentation, an awful menu structure and a pair of lacklustre game modes. Throw in an extremely average in car experience and the fact that the game doesn’t appear to have moved forward in any real shape or form since the last version and it’s difficult to recommend this.
Can WRC3 compete with Codemasters and Dirt?