WRC 6 Review

By Andrew Ogley,
Stone chips rattle against the underside of the car as the tyres scramble for grip on the loose surface. The car slides through the tightening corner as a near manic voice calls out barely intelligible instructions, backed up by strange symbols that are flashed up on the screen. The car's nose starts inching towards a menacing looking straw bale that is marking the apex of the corner and you're desperately counter-steering whilst kicking up plumes of dust. We've been here before, not so long ago, but I'm not complaining. The relatively niche sport of rallying is well represented this year with three titles dedicated to the tough and demanding motorsport. Right from the start, though, it is clear that WRC 6 is a completely different take on the sport and is all the better for it in some respects.

WRC 6 Logo 1

Whilst the game is loading, the player is asked about their preference for the game -- fun or simulation. That single question sets the tone for the rest of the game. Players are immediately planted in the role of a rally driver, tasked with completing the rest of the stage and claiming a podium. It aims to immediately give the player the feeling of the car, the tracks and the satisfaction of winning and enjoying the fanfare. Despite the best of intentions, it just feels a little too staged. To determine the game's settings after that, players are invited to complete an obstacle course that is reminiscent of Modern Warfare's training course. They are scored appropriately with recommendations that are based on the score and players can accept or decline the recommended settings. All of the settings can be separately adjusted at any time by the player to suit their own preferences and to reflect the game's accessibility.

With any racing game it's all about the driving and handling model and Kylotonn has managed to strike a balance between playability and realism. It might not be a full simulation but it's certainly no arcade racer either. The simulation model is more forgiving than DiRT Rally -- twitchy braking or an overly enthusiastic right foot will not be as heavily punished. Meanwhile, novice drivers will find that they can achieve podium finishes when playing on one of the easier settings, although occasional tracks and stages provide some difficulty spikes. It's inevitable that there will be times when the car will not stay on the roads despite the best driving attempts. Cars become visibly damaged and the handling clearly degrades. Fortunately, the driver's team of engineers are available to perform 45 minutes of repairs per day; on a three-stage day, careful driving and prioritisation of repairs is needed.

WRC 6 screen 5

Solo play, multiplayer and time based challenges are all available. Solo features the career campaign mode and quick race, which allows the player to create a race with any car, team, location, stage, time of day, and conditions. Everything is available from the start, although the conditions are realistic to the locations and trying to create a snowstorm in the middle of Portugal may not work. Career mode has the player selecting one of the real life teams before starting in the Junior WRC class with the weakest powered cars. They then climb through the WRC2 class and eventually get to drive the ultimate WRC class cars. In a purebred WRC car, acceleration and top speed are faster, braking points change, corners seem tighter and crests become jumps. There's a clear difference in how each class of car handles, leading to a vastly different experience when driving the same stage in a higher car class. More experienced drivers can even tweak the car suspension, transmission and brakes to set up the car for the player's own driving style.

This game is developer Kylotonn's second effort with the WRC franchise. Despite a relatively positive debut last season, there were still a number of criticisms that were centred mostly around the track design and it's clear that they have listened to the fans and improved on last year's model. The actual stages are not laser scanned replicas and are fictitious tracks based on the geography and environment of the different locations. The tracks are tighter and more demanding, and there's a tangible difference in the surfaces of each of the 60+ stages. Water, gravel, mud, and snow provide a very different feeling with all of the cars behaving slightly differently on each track type. Don't be fooled, though; there's a good mix of speed tracks and devilishly tricky technical stages. With nearly 400 km of road, there's plenty of opportunity to practice.

WRC 6 screen 2

Rally stages can be done at various times of day, beginning in the early light of dawn all the way through to the most taxing: night time. Different visibility levels can be made more difficult with the different weather conditions. Rain and snow are there to shred the nerves, especially at night when headlights never seem to illuminate the road as much a you would like. Dusty conditions can be trying too, especially when TV helicopters hover over tight corners, kicking up dust clouds and obscuring any kind of clear view. Wipers will remove mud, snow, and rain, but they won't do much against the dust.

Graphically, the cars look as good as any of the game's peers. Liveries and sponsors are instantly recognisable and you can have your own name and nationality displayed on the side of the car. Fervent fans of the sport will also recognise the teams - Volkswagen Motorsport, Abu Dhabi Total World Rally Team, Hyundai Motorsport and M-Sport World Rally Team are represented in 2016 colours - and the 50+ drivers that are licensed to the title. Whilst driving, the tracks and environments whizz by in a blur. Although not locked at any particular frame rate, performance is sufficiently good albeit with some pop-ins that include trees suddenly sprouting from the ground, but there was no noticeable screen tearing or drops in quality. As for the audio, engines sound powerful and exhausts crackle and pop as they should. Stones rattle the underside as cars race across gravel tracks. It is sufficiently good, although it does sound a little subdued at times compared with its biggest rival.

WRC 6 screen 4

Ironically, there's a feeling that the AI co-driver is not always the most helpful with his calls. It's an essential part of rallying and it's surprising that this becomes the weakest part of the game. A voice will call out instructions and directions for the road ahead and small graphical diagrams appear on the screen. Most of the time it works well, but then there's other moments when it doesn't. The AI will occasionally call out a whole litany of instructions (of which the player generally only remembers the first couple) and then goes uncomfortably quiet, leaving the driver to negotiate the track alone until the co-driver suddenly wakes up for the next sequence. There are also occasional corners where the instructions seem to come too late, usually resulting in an 'off' and leaving the player no option other than to re-run that particular sequence while remembering the perilous corner for themselves. Then there are some equally dubious calls regarding entrances and exits that can ruin a potentially winning run. Sadly, this means that you never really feel that you can trust the co-driver until you've run the stages at least once.

On top of the normal stages, there are an additional 11 Super Special Stages. These are laser mapped, being a 1-to-1 model of their real-life counterparts. Kylotonn claims that these stages are so accurate that players will be able to compare their times with those of the real drivers who are racing the same stage. Given that the simulation level is not the deepest, it might not be the truest of comparisons but it's a nice touch. For the rest of us mere mortals, global leaderboards keep track of times across the various stages, encouraging healthy competition and a benchmark of the player's ability.

WRC 6 screen 1

Outside of the main campaign, there are additional special challenges that are devised by the developer on a weekly basis. These can be tough and on my first run I found myself a good two minutes off the time. Fortunately, players can attempt these challenges as often as they wish, learning the course and gradually whittling their times down to something more acceptable.

All of the above racing delights can also be found in the multiplayer mode of the title, both online and offline. Kylotonn has included split-screen multiplayer for those looking for some couch competition. Admittedly, there are some visual concessions to be made with the screen space being halved, but this does not impact the fun factor or the competitiveness that it induces. Online multiplayer is the standard method of searching for a race and joining in, racing on the same track as other players whose cars are represented by various coloured ghosts. It can be a little disconcerting at first but at least you get to see what your opponents are doing.

WRC 6 screen 6

As previously covered, Kylotonn worked closely with Thrustmaster for wheel and pedal support. It's nicely done, with the on-screen wheel matching the turning of the controller. Force Feedback is a little soft by default but can be adjusted in the settings, as can the button mappings. It's disappointing, then, that only two pedals are supported by the title and there is no way to remap the handbrake to the redundant clutch pedal. It's a minor gripe as driving with a wheel gives that extra dimension and level of immersion, with the player feeling when the car slips or starts to lose traction while going over crests and through water obstacles.

Finally, there are 41 achievements for the career and multiplayer modes, covering simple progress, miles driven, podiums and a couple of secret ones that are thrown in for fun -- or for the hopelessly careless driver. Completion time will vary depending on the driver's level and on the multiplayer experience, but ultimately all should be achievable.

Summary

Whilst Dirt Rally is aimed at the drivers, WRC 6 is definitely for the fans. The game wants to bring the thrill, the sensation and the enjoyment of rallying to all of the fans of the sport regardless of their driving ability. It wants all players to be able to compete in this season's events and to feel a part of the motorsport, and WRC 6 has achieved this surprisingly well. It may not be the deepest of simulations but it's certainly the most accessible, providing fans with a chance to compete with, and even win, against their WRC heroes. If other rally titles proved to be a special stage too far, this could be just the rally title for which you are looking.
4 / 5
WRC 6
Positives
  • Officially licenced drivers, teams and liveries
  • All competition locations included
  • Laser scanned special stages
  • Solid driving model
  • Adaptable rallying experience that is accessible for all driving levels
Negatives
  • Co-driver calls could be confusing
Ethics
The reviewer spent 20 hours scrabbling over loose surfaces, gravel tracks and tarmac, and plunging through water pools whilst developing a deep dislike of hay bales. The Xbox One digital code was provided by the publisher for the purpose of the review.
Andrew Ogley
Written by Andrew Ogley
Andrew has been writing for TA since 2011 covering news, reviews and the occasional editorials and features. One of the grumpy old men of the team, his mid-life crisis has currently manifested itself in the form of an addiction to sim-racing - not being able to afford the real life car of his dreams. When not spending hours burning simulated rubber, he still likes to run around, shoot stuff and blow things up - in the virtual world only of course.