In comparison to last year’s big jump in quality with WRC 8, WRC 9 is a more modest lurch forwards. Several great new rallies have been added and it does feel like there’s been a bit of massaging under the hood – with a better sense of car mass and weight transfer – but elsewhere things seem fairly similar. This makes WRC 9 a thoroughly excellent entry point into the series, especially for rally fans who aren’t aware of the rapid and remarkable improvement of the official WRC series since developer KT Racing took over in 2015. However, if you already own last year’s game you may crave a little more than WRC 9 has to offer.
WRC 9 is a slightly peculiar experience, as it’s found itself in a similar position to Codemasters’ F1 2020. That is, thanks to the long-haul nature of video game development and a global pandemic, it’s ended up shipping with a bunch of events that were already stripped from the real calendar long before launch – and understandably without any of the surprise replacements that have been shoehorned into the real championship at the last minute. So it’s been unfairly robbed of authenticity, though in a way that lets us pretend we live in an alternate universe that’s not quite as much of a bummer.[poilib element=”quoteBox” parameters=”excerpt=Kenya%2C%20known%20as%20the%20famous%20Safari%20Rally%2C%20is%20a%20serious%20standout”]The fresh rally locations are Kenya, New Zealand, and Japan, and this is the only way you’ll see WRC cars tackle these events in 2020. Kenya, known as the famous Safari Rally, is a serious standout; fanging past flamingos in the African countryside is a massive aesthetic shift from the mostly European-based rallies that make up the majority of the calendar. The red mud and soil contrasts beautifully with the swaying green grass and there are tons of unique trackside features to behold, from enormous baobab trees to curious zebras. It also features some fantastic high-speed blitzes across wide-open countryside that are extremely authentic to the real event, and these are vastly different to the challengingly cramped and twisty stages in places like Monte Carlo and Germany. It is a superb addition to KT Racing’s series. [ignvideo width=610 height=374 url=https://www.ign.com/videos/2020/07/09/wrc-9-safari-rally-kenya-gameplay-video]
New Zealand is fantastic too, particularly the sections that wrap their way along the North Island coastline, and Japan is an incredibly taxing and technical tarmac-based rally boasting a lot of raised sections of road flanked by streams and ditches that’ll totally ruin your day.
Fuel and Unusual Punishment
WRC 8 arrived with a radically overhauled career mode that seemed to draw inspiration from both the Dirt and F1 games, turning WRC 7’s vanilla shuffle from one event to the next into something that made me feel as if I really had an actual race team around me. WRC 9 seems mostly the same in this department, but to avoid déjà vu it probably could’ve done with a way for returning players of WRC 8 to skip past the feeder series and get straight to the WRC championship proper.
It’s also still pretty incongruous that it’d be up to a newly-hired driver to personally rotate staff out for vacation time, although it’s less annoying this time because team-members don’t seem to tire as quickly in WRC 9. The ridiculous bonus objectives have remained, though, and while the penalty for ignoring them or brushing them away is only slight, it’s still hard to swallow your current manufacturer reputation dropping after you win a rally, all because you had the audacity to… choose the best tyre compound for the job instead of an arbitrarily mandated one. Were you saving those tyres for a special occasion, lads? I thought I was doing the right thing using them to… drive faster than those other blokes.[ignvideo width=610 height=374 url=https://www.ign.com/videos/2020/05/01/wrc-9-new-zealand-gameplay-trailer]
Triple Caution! Stay Centre!
There have been a few refurbishments elsewhere, with a handful of subtle but welcome tweaks since WRC 8. The feeling of weight seems better, though cars are no less nimble; there just seems to be an improved sensation of bulk as your car dances across the gravel, which is ideal. There’s a new English co-driver whose delivery is more organic, though it’d be nice to have one who has the dialogue on-hand to be able to react in real-time to your good (or bad) driving. Additionally, the awkwardly stiff chase cam finally appears to have been nixed in favour of one that lets the car slide and pivot more on its centre axis while the camera remains facing forwards. Previous chase cams have seemed like GoPros attached to the back of your car on a broomstick and I found them virtually impossible to use.
There seem to have been improvements made to the already excellent sound mix, too. Everything from the racket of kick-up from loose surfaces to worn brakes seems stronger in WRC 9, although I have encountered an odd bug on multiple occasions where the engine sound becomes soft and muted despite all other effects remaining at normal levels.
Less ideal is the AI, the skill level of which is now determined by a slider instead of named difficulty levels. The slider suggests more control to dial it in right at the perfect level to match your own driving skill, but the disparity in the AI’s performance across rallies can often be strange, especially when they go from nipping at your heels at one event to lagging miles behind in the next, despite no changes to their setting. The AI can be adjusted to compensate before each event in career mode, but it takes some testing to find the right range of difficulty (and that’s not as straightforward as it is in F1 2020).[widget path=”global/article/imagegallery” parameters=”albumSlug=the-greatest-racing-games-ever&captions=true”]
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