At a glance...

Reviewer Platform Publisher Developer Players
Matt Bailey Xbox 360 PQube Milestone 1-16 (Xbox Live)
Requirements Also on... Buy from Amazon.co.uk
Xbox Live Gold subscription for online play. PC, PS3, PS Vita Click here to buy WRC 3.

WRC 3 review

It's been a difficult year for the World Rally Championship. The FIA's off-road series has been through tough times in 2012, with the promoter going bankrupt just before the start of the season, resulting in a lack of timing equipment at the first event, and many of the rallies have been struggling financially. Plus, 2013 already looks tough with long-time competitors like Ford pulling out of the sport, at least in terms of fielding their own team, while Mini - who only joined fully this year - are also doing the same. Rally fans, then, need something to cheer them up, so maybe a new official videogame could do the trick.

This is Milestone's third attempt at a rally licence, and while Codemasters found F1 2012 to be the tricky third game, here it's had a chance to build on solid, if not impressive, foundations. An immediately noticeable step up is the quality of the visuals, with a new engine bringing the Xbox 360 version up to the standard of many more recent games. Rallying has the advantage that you don't have to deal with many (if any) competitors on screen, allowing the surroundings to receive a lot more attention than in other racing games. So it is, in fact, noticeable when they don't compare well, but thankfully the series no longer suffers in this department.

Monte Carlo offers plenty of unexpected twists and turns. Literally.

Monte Carlo offers plenty of unexpected twists and turns. Literally.

The interface, or at least the menus, do seem a bit more low budget, but the cartoon representations of fictional characters do have a certain charm, and there's none of the garish Americanisms that have populated Codemasters' recent racing efforts - although it does have a dubstep-heavy soundtrack. Because this comes in at the same price as the AAA releases of today, it might be a bit jarring for some, but the interface never gets in the way of things, and you don't have to see much of it once you're in the action.

The action is split into three sections; WRC Experience, Road to Glory and Multiplayer. The WRC Experience is what the sport's fans are after, playable with real WRC cars, Class 2, or vehicles from the 1970s. It offers all thirteen rallies that make up the 2012 WRC season... well, almost. While it covers all thirteen countries, and captures the unique look and feel of each one, the individual stages are not real, and instead based on parts of real stages. This is probably because there are rather a lot of stages to cover, and only so much you can fit on an Xbox 360 disc, and also because real-life stages are often 15-20 minutes in length and thus are less suitable for a video game. Curiously, the Super Special Stages - the head-to-head battles on artificial tracks - are made-up, even though their normal length would make them suitable for inclusion here.

So while it might not be offering the complete experience, it's certainly much closer to a real rallying season than the games in the genre that have gone before it. It captures the feel and excitement of travelling around the world and taking the car out on a variety of different surfaces with a large number of different backdrops. While there is plenty of attention to detail, there still seems scope to go further here to capture the excitement of WRC. It would be nice to be able to get the sense that you are competing against others (albeit, AI-controlled), instead of just the clock; in the real world, drivers are sent out one by one, but they don't wait until the person on track finishes, meaning that you can catch up to people who have run into problems. Even if you didn't see anyone, it's a shame that you always seem to be going last, and thus know your place in the standings immediately at each marker. Also, who goes first has a significant effect on the track, with drivers sometimes opting to slow down and avoid being the first out on a particularly dusty section the next day. However, these are all nice-to-haves that would provide a more in-depth WRC experience, and maybe we could see them in the future.

Some of the challenges will be familiar

Some of the challenges will be familiar

The real concern with the WRC Championship mode is that it lacks personality. You do have all the drivers competing in this year's championship, and you get to take control of one of them and battle against real-world names, but really they are just names. There's no character to any of the drivers, and there's nothing apart from championship standings boards to make the whole experience feel connected. There's not even a sense of being in a team, with no team orders or mentions of the progress of your team-mates. There is a bit of realism coming in the events themselves, with drivers vulnerable to messing up and dropping down the order, including the big guns, with a few DNFs thrown into the mix too. Everyone is vulnerable in rallying, and it's great to see that's true here, although again a bit of personality around this - maybe someone pointing out to you that your championship rival is in 20th spot in the current rally - would have helped complete the WRC experience.

What the game is particularly good at is capturing the sense of speed and unpredictability, the key ingredients that provide an enduring popularity to rallying, even in the difficult times. It is exhilarating to plunge through a narrow gap in the trees, with little margin for error. There is a usage-limited rewind option should you mess up, but it doesn't take away from the sense of danger that Milestone have carried through from the sport to the game. This is especially so because the stages are longer than those seen in the likes of Dirt 2 so you need to use them sparingly. And if you want to up the difficulty you could just turn them off completely.

Alongside the WRC Experience is what amounts to a personal career mode called Road to Glory where events are spread across the three classes mentioned before with a mixture of single stages and rallies. In addition there are Dirt 3-like challenges, such as bashing through blocks on a rally stage. It all earns stars so you can work your way up to challenging the fictional drivers in head-to-head races. However, while it provides a good variety of action, it doesn't give you a good sense of progression. As a career mode it doesn't really work to bring you up to speed as there is no education about the terminology or the structure of the rallies. It's a generally enjoyable collection of events which unlocks cars to use whenever you like and little more than that.

I've been helping Latvala and his Mini to win the championship

I've been helping Latvala and his Mini to win the championship

On the multiplayer side there's a good chance of the community sticking around to give it life in the months to come; while many other lower profile games I've played have seen their online components empty a few weeks after the launch brings the burst of life, a good specialist racing game can keep an audience coming back. Those who do so can take part in stages and rallies, and even championships, set up by the host. It's a fairly standard set of options, but it seems to work well and attract close competition, helped by the colourful ghosts of your rivals you see as you compete without any ability to rewind your mistakes. Seeing the actions of your opponents right in front of you encourages you to take risks and makes the high speed chases through the forests and along cliff edges all the more exciting.

There's still some way to go before Milestone are replicating the full World Rally Championship experience, and the rallying itself could also benefit from dynamic weather or night-time events, but there's a solid game here that should certainly keep fans of the motorsport happy. It's not really for newcomers, but those looking to engage in real rallying rather than off-road frolics, get an engaging experience, with much-needed visual overhaul and the chance to finally beat the ever-dominant Sebastian Loeb.

Ratings

Overall The new engine allows Milestone to compete with the bigger players, even if it still lacks some of the features and polish of those higher profile games. However, it does an excellent job of recreating one of the most exciting motorsports with a real sense of speed and risk. 8/10

Click here to buy WRC 3 from Amazon.co.uk.

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