In the options menu of WRC 8, ($59.99) there’s a race card screen that tracks your driving in the game, noting everything you do without any judgement. So far, on my time with the game I’ve ran my cars into stuff
3,302 3,477 times (and counting) between small dings to major collisions that had me completely wrecking out of a few races, but this is a good thing (not for my poor garage, though).
The game is quite a massive effort from KT Racing and it’s their best racer to date as well as the sole officially licensed WRC game on the market. The assorted cars, courses and sounds are pretty lifelike and the rides all handle differently under a range of conditions once you get a grip on the controls. But practicing makes the game even better and finding the perfect settings for each car and course is key to getting the most out of the overall experience.
Codemasters’ DiRT franchise might be better looking (the terrain deformation adds to the realism) and better known to some, but the outside a PC mod, the more authentic to the WRC season licenses, courses, drivers, and cars here will be the way to go for fans who enjoy the sport and want the deepest dive into it. Thankfully, those options also include a number of tweaks to make the experience a good deal more flexible to new players. Granted, like the two DiRT Rally games, this is the sort of simulation that’s going to be daunting to novices no matter how many assists they turn on. But that sticking to the real deal thing is for me, what makes a good rally game and WRC 8 makes for the most the best WRC experience since the five great WRC titles by the late Evolution Studios way back on the PlayStation 2. That said, one has to give the still mighty Richard Burns Rally it’s own pedestal for what it brought to the virtual rally game.
Even when set to the easiest mode and with every assist on, the game still requires near flawless or even perfect mastering of its courses and weather conditions. New players to this on Easy can indeed make it around the special stage or a few rallies with some effort. but it’s a literal learning curve taking in the pace notes and reading the track ahead while not hitting something because you’re trying to do it while driving a car at high speed with a co-driver notes near-constant directions at you. Still, the game’s Season and Practice modes will be your friend for a while as you settle in. There are the much harder Weekly challenges to do, but you’ll want some mileage under your belt, as these are pretty difficult events.
There’s real challenge here and if, after time, you get that zen-like concentration thing going where you’re running a course without hitting something or getting time penalties, only to find that you’re a second off the record, well, those are cases where you try again. Those record times will eventually be beaten, but the time it takes to fully master this on some courses will take a while. Between variable weather, fiddling with your cars, your overall mood, and if you’re playing the deep Career Mode, expect the intricacies of running a rally team to test other skills from managing finances to picking the right team members to work on your cars and drivers.
You can go with the real drivers or create your own (three profile slots are here) and Career Mode’s tutorial comes highly recommended if you choose that route. Season Mode drops the management stuff and just lets you race, you can practice on a separate practice course any time, and there are split screen modes to play as well as online and offline modes. The game has a lot of content with over 100 courses, 50 teams, and 14 rallies spanning the globe. No matter how you play, there’s more than enough here to keep you occupied for a long time.
For novices, starting out on the zippy but slower and more easy to handle junior cars is my recommendation because the 2.0 games are so fast that you’ll likely hit everything on the track and not finish a single event. Of course, turn the damage to cosmetic only and you can, but you’ll me missing out on some proper car handling in harder modes. There game offers up an intense set of tasks like one in which you need to get a heavily damaged car to the finish in some awful conditions. It’s doable, but man, it is nail-biting (and you can’t bite your nails if your hands are gripped around a controller or steering wheel). One complaint about the total number of cars is I wish there were more represented and more paint variants to choose from. Yes, the game adheres to the 2019 season’s rides, but the included bonus liveries including the DLC) aren’t that expansive.
Naturally, this will all be daunting to fans of more arcade-like experiences or racing games where casual modes tiptoe or flat out stomp difficulty into submission by default. Yes it’s not as accessible as the brilliantly balanced GRID games are, but this is a totally different sort of game. WRC 8 offers enough challenge even when damage is shut off that you’ll want to stay as much on the road as possible. Even though you can reset your car if you need to, or have the game correct it for you, you’re given a time penalty upon resetting that can result in some painful course times. I did wish the game was more flexible here, but I can see the need for speed (heh). Getting back the the racing part as fast as possible, yet seeing that you constantly need to improve does keep the tension flowing.
Career mode also offers an RPG-like skill tree where every race counts towards progression. You can earn virtual currency, level up your reliability, performance, team reputation and crew management stats, all of which are important. You can skip all that plus the even deeper crew and calendar management and just play Quick Races and Season Mode galore or do plenty of practice runs if all that work isn’t your thing. But heck, you’ll be buying this because it’s an impressive simulation that takes time and effort to master and yes, all of KT Racing’s hard work pays off when you see it coming together. Not playing the sim aspects is kind of like getting a copy of a Romance of the Three Kingdoms game just to see the horses and fancy costumes.
Here comes the paradox: There’s a big eSports component to the game and I’ll admit to not messing with it solely because I don’t do competitive gaming. But I’ve been looking at some video footage and see why people gravitate to this style of play. With the best players, there’s something to watch that’s rarely dull, if you have the room in your space, the expensive custom setups for the game are pretty awesome, and hey, it’s pretty cool to see the best players miss a turn or roll their car once in a while. Heck, it’s practically a given that you ruin a car in this game, and somewhat spectacularly so.
So yes, there’s a lot of game here and its worth picking up overall. There are a few pesky technical issues (some crash physics are really odd, the typeface needs scaling up a bit) and yes, hitting foliage causes the same what, dozen or so branches to go airborne (it does get funny after you’ve seen it so many times), but it’s clear that KT Games has made quite a spectacular entry and I’d call it one the best simulation games of the year. As far as best racers this year go, those willing to put the time in and learn the ropes (and not drive through then) will find this pretty awesome stuff. Recommended, and I’m tempted to play the Switch version at some point, if the racing action is like it is here.
Score: A (90%)
-Review code provided by the publisher