WRC 5 – Review

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It’s been a while since I’ve truly enjoyed throwing up the dirt, cutting hairpins and getting nostalgia for the old Subaru blue and gold colours. Sometimes it’s been sated by some excellent game modes and I have to say Forza Horizon 2 gave me some excellent car colours and choices, the Forza Horizon rally mode was an incredibly challenging but fun mode and there’s DiRT Rally for those lucky PC users in early access. But other than DiRT 3 which became more Rallycross and Gymkhana than actual rally, there’s hasn’t been a lot of love for, arguably, the most breakneck, oldest and intense form of racing in a good few years.

I’ll probably be proved wrong, but when you grew up on games like V-Rally, SEGA Rally and even the old Network Q RAC Rally games, there really hasn’t been anything in that style that has successfully entertained us. SEGA Rally is still, even now, the benchmark for arcade racing gaming for a lot of people. Having recently got back in to watching Rally, now that I’ve found it on a regular enough basis on a UK TV channel, I’m hoping for a lot when it comes to a rally game, especially in this current generation and the good racing games it has already given us. Admittedly, WRC 5 isn’t it. but it tries damn hard.

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The career mode is undoubted the best way to approach such a direct racing discipline and given this year’s other formula specific releases, it is refreshingly simple and uncomplicated, rewarding the racing and strategically effecting what you do next with a mini-game you effectively create for yourself. You start as a driver in a junior role for a WRC team. Straight away you’ll be driving but you can pick your name, nationality, gender, etc and let rip as soon as you’ve chosen who you want to drive for. The teams will be affected by how you drive but also by how the team wants you to drive. Some teams will go for a balance, some teams will want the speed and others will prefer you return the car in one piece, which also is something you should concentrate on.

If you have crashes, get a little lose, whatever, you will need to fix your car ON TOP OF the general wear and tear that your brakes, tyres, gearbox and other components that get a bashing from just driving hard. At the end of every day you’ll get garage time to repair your car but only so much. Go over and you’ll get time penalties. It’s much the same as normal rally really. But when you have three stages in a day you have to be careful. Knocking out the electrics will leave you unable to hear your co-driver and blind to the severity of upcoming corners. Gearbox damage will hurt your shifting, hurt your overall speed and even keep you stick in gear. These all may sound like obvious things, but when you have another two stages to get through before you can repair anything, it really makes you think about how fast you want to take the next turn.

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Which is where the game lets itself down, sadly. The driving isn’t the best. Regardless of assists, you still get a bit of auto correcting which can really nix your sliding. The handbrake kind of kicks you to a standstill rather than aid your slide and the braking overall feels a bit too sharp, especially on more slippery surfaces like gravel. The steering isn’t responsive enough to really get a power slide going, which is something you can tell the developers know by the amount of corners in the game designed with a straight cut.

What I mean by that is that there’s a small, well driven area on the apex of some corners that allows of the best speed and line, as if it’s a racing sim, not a rally sim. And it does at times feel like the stages are designed more like a race track than a rally course. That being said, they all look rather nice. The new Kt engine does some things very well, especially in the dark stages of a rally. It also does the particles quite well, although on more dirt like tracks, it doesn’t cope with it’s own frame rate at times and can stutter. I also have to mention how bad the engine sounds are at times. Mostly, they’re great apart from the repeated banging that sounds like a misfiring Harley Davidson. I know we’re at the rear of the vehicle but its very over the top and drowns out literally everything else in the game volume wise. But I assume this is easily patchable.

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There’s enough of it to go around though. Each officially licenced rally is represented by five stages, each driver and car is there and the online element that’s going to try and crack the eSports market looks to be well thought out and balanced against the single player elements. It’s not anemic in any way on either side, and the Rally school training part is a great introduction to people that haven’t played before or don’t get the lingo.

The thing is that, whilst it isn’t a great game, it’s not a bad game and it does everything it does rather well. It’s modes are well thought out and whilst the new engine isn’t a patch on what other games on the current generation are doing, it’s certainly one that appears quite seamless across platforms, delivering the same experience. The only thing that really lets this game down is the handling but, despite this, I still had fun. That’s important, right?

Summary

WRC 5 has got all the makings of a good rally game. It needs some engine refinement, it needs some better car handling and it could definitely do with engine volume rebalancing. But it does good things and get the other, more ancillary features, right. Normally one part of a game suffers and it all does, but the game is still fun to play and has enough of a challenge around it, like not demolishing your car, to keep you coming back for another stage.

Good Points

  • All the licenced teams and rallys
  • Good courses and time of day challenges
  • Repair mini-game makes you think a lot more about what you do on course

Bad Points

  • Occasional frame rate lag with large particles
  • Engine sounds are annoying
  • Handling isn’t as responsive as you’d hope

Why a 7/10?

Mostly because I had fun. The handling isn’t great and the graphics aren’t stellar, but they aren’t bad. The licensing is all there, the rallies are all there and the courses are nice and challenging once you get out of your head that you’re indestructible. If you gave me a single player racing game that I could just dip in and out of right now for a race or two, this would probably be it.

 

This review was based on the Xbox One version of the game.

 

Are Boxing Day sales over for games?

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It was good to walk in to my local GAME store and see people queuing to buy games this past Saturday. Obviously the glut of online retail sales and their frankly aggressive marketing hasn’t dulled the public’s taste for high street shopping. And given that my town has either GAME, a CEX, or a very small (practically non-existent) section of WH Smith’s for entertainment sales, there truly isn’t anywhere else to go except online. Or maybe a supermarket but I always find it weird that these big chain stores are becoming the only non-online outlet for my hobby vices. I’ll have sale copy of NBA with my clearance advent calenders and family pack of Wotsits, please… My shopping receipts probably look like I have marijuana munchies all the time.

Which is why it has surprised me that big old Amazon, the internet terror that has dominated the retail and server-scape for the past decade has had no games on sale during the Boxing Day sales period. I mean quite literally ZERO. I know, I’ve been watching it like a hawk. DVD’s and Blu-Ray’s, yes. Xbox One console sales, yes. But games themselves? No. GAME itself had better prices on games before Christmas, which all went up after Saturday.

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But cast your mind back to Black Friday. Games galore were on sale. Mostly Shadow of Mordor and a few others. But there was certainly far more options at that time than there is now. I even highlighted on twitter how the Xbox store has an old game at effectively double the price compared to the US store. Although the discounts on PSN/XBL rarely get to be really… discounted.

Of all the games discounted this period, the big ones have to be Assassins Creed Unity, a game that was incredibly broken at launch and has received such a bad reception that a price drop was needed to shift the units, and The Crew, a game also with bugs at launch and that was mostly downloaded for free because of the issues with the former game. In that regard, any sales are good for those games. But there appears to be, compared to other times of the year, a massive absence of games on sale, or games that weren’t already on sale beforehand at better prices.

So is this it for the traditional “Boxing Day” sales time for games? Retail seems to have so many different sale periods these days that it’s hard to even define a sale period. No doubt the Easter period will see some of the better deals for gaming sales, or the same games at further discount. But the availability of digital platforms, of digital stores and the fact that every big release this year seems mostly to be part of the annual franchise brigade that holds their price until they become worthless in two years time, suggests that our linear interpretation of sales is probably at an end.

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Which is a bit of a shame because if anything us gamers have had to become more thrifty. I read a tweet recently about how even freelance journalists like myself can’t afford to buy all the games they want to play. I can’t either, I’ve just played some discounts and Tesco vouchers rather well. So all of us have to make use of good timing and good searching if we really want something.

Of course this probably has more to do with the success of Black Friday rather than anything else. I had a word with the management in my local GAME store, just casually, to discuss the prices. It was a bit crazy where Xbox One versions of games were cheaper than the PS4 versions and even pre-owned was more expensive than the new copies of games like The Last of Us. In the space of four days, The Crew had gone from £25 to £35 and back down to £30, presumably when someone realised that £35 was probably too high. The distributors and the console “powers-at-be” set these prices and amend them if they need to. So really, it’s got very little to do with the outlets selling the games as to what deals we get.

But Black Friday’s massive success has thrown a spanner in the works. From a business point of view, the January sales are great for showing profits and accounts in the black over a typically poor quarter for retail (as the pictured graph shows). The strength of the first month makes the rest of the financial quarter rather mute. What Black Friday has done has moved that to before Christmas and the success of those sales seem to have thrown everyone off. The price setters have already done what they needed to in order to drive sales so they don’t need to discount so much in January to drive those profit margins. It’s something that could unsettle our economy a little bit if the companies don’t adjust their predictions correctly.

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A great example of this is the rumour that the Xbox One is going back up in price to $400 in the US. That would knock on to the UK and see console prices likely return from the £320 mark to about £360-380. Given that you could have purchased an Xbox One during Black Friday for £269.99, enough units appear to have been shifted to start raising the prices, ready for when past generation game production finally starts to slow down. So when people are “forced” to upgrade, the prices will be higher, but enough has been sold already to inspire a higher amount of game production for those consoles. It’s a bit cheeky but it’s business.

What that means is that the traditional time of purchasing games appears to be at an end, something my local GAME agreed with despite queues to buy products. Steam certainly makes buying video games very fluid and their sale periods seem to be an event unto themselves. Online/High Street retail seems to have three periods that will shift units, Black Friday, Christmas and Easter. But Boxing Day, a time we used to love for having a wallet full of generously donated notes, looks like it will join that great retail gig in the sky along with Woolworths, Our Price and C-List celebrities opening Supermarkets.

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