PC, PS5, Xbox Series X
November 3, 2023
EA Sports WRC is developed by racing game (and Rally game) specialists Codemasters. This marks the first time they have been in control of the official World Rally Championship license in donkey’s years. This one started development as the sequel to the sublime Dirt Rally 2.0 which in my view is probably the best Rally game ever made. It also marks a switch from their custom engine EGO over to Unreal.
As an admirer of not only Rally as a sport but also as a big fan of Dirt Rally 2.0 I was excited to see what had changed as well as what had stayed the same. The EGO engine was great at the time, so a shift is definitely risk so I was keen to see if they were able to translate their classic gameplay over to their new threads.
The good news is that EA Sports WRC is an extremely solid racing game under the hood; the new engine has allowed longer rally stages and more of them which is definitely a plus. On the car side these rally monsters still control as well as they did in Dirt 2.0 and its pretty good looking to boot, but its not quite a generational leap in the visual department as I would have liked.
The thing about Rallying though is that it’s a bit of a niche sport to begin with. For the uninitiated, a Rally is several stages of you vs. the environment, so you won’t be seeing any other racers on the course. Each car in the field gets to run the stages (assuming you make it that far) and the total times are tallied up at the end. Races feel more like time trials – which they are.
That said, for fans of the sport it’s an incredibly exciting way to race. Some of the courses are truly terrifying at high speeds, relying on your co-driver to call out the next few corners and trusting them with your life. It takes quick reflexes and constant concentration; if you let your mind wander, or admire the views, you risk overlooking a call and the result is often sending yourself into a tree, into the side of a bridge or over a cliff.
With full damage on and a rally consisting of several stages, its very easy to end your chances very early on. Sure, at a few points some stages might have a repair area to fix up what you can but I can tell you tackling a night stage with one or no headlights is a serious challenge.
This means that there is plenty of strategy involved to win a Rally. At full length these can consist of 9 stages sometimes so some thought needs to be given about whether to run hard from stage one or dial it back a bit to make sure we keep the car in one piece. When we make it to a repair area, we have to make choices about what we can realistically do to fix ourselves up, taking into account what type of stages are coming up.
Fortunately EA Sports WRC lets you tailor all of the modes, so you can run shorter rallies with fewer stages or tackle the full length ones. The positive of the full length challenge is that you get to play all the stages, proper strategy comes in as well but the downside is with these longer races they can take a while. Some stages I drove took over 15mins to complete, so you add up nine of them and its a bit of a time commitment, especially if you are making your way through career or a championship.
EA Sports WRC has us covered with locations as well with Rallies covering everywhere from Japan, Africa, New Zealand and many more. These are based on actual courses and feature enough surface changes and hazards to challenge anyone time and time again.
EA Sports WRC also has a wide range of cars to choose from, everything from 1970’s front wheel drive old school rally legends through to those monsters that were Group B in the 1980’s all the way through to modern rally cars. The Group B cars are as nuts as the drivers that dare tried to tame them in the day, a truly terrifying ride with all of that horsepower. In these beasts you just floor it and they fly… nigh on uncontrollable sure, but a blast none-the-less!
I played using a steering wheel and pedal set up and it worked great with feedback in all the right places as I wheeled my way around the stages, but despite EA Sports WRC leaning into the simulation category it plays just as well with a controller, so either is fine to enjoy with this one.
There are many different ways to play EA Sports WRC; everything from career mode, which is probably the core of the game through to racing an actual WRC season in the Juniors, WRC2 or top tier. Or you can set up your own championships, choose the car class, locations and stages etc. You can even try and build your own rally car from scratch.
In EA Sports WRC the career is pretty standard fare; you have your sponsor and a calendar, and moving week to week you can choose which event to race, hire staff and try keep the boss happy. The voiceover ‘Keith’ is a highlight, walking you through everything and dropping in comments regarding performance with the odd one-liner that made me chuckle.
The cool thing about the career is that aside from choosing one of the current classes to base your season off there are rallies and events that provide the opportunity to borrow or buy other cars and race the different generations on offer. Sometimes hopping in a relatively underpowered, old school FWD car is far less stressful than tearing around at the speed of sound anyway.
Another aspect of EA Sports WRC that is a win are the sound effects, specifically the sound of the cars. A few stages into a rally, a bit of damage and you can hear the engine struggling, hear those shards of metal rattling around inside it probably doing even more damage as you go along. Moments like these, when I was leading overall and saying to the car “come on car, we can make it, just keep going” – are priceless.
In many ways, this is an exceptional game because it has everything, decent graphics, gameplay, a multitude of cars from Rally history, a multitude of locations and tonnes of stages. Even though it has its feet in simulator territory, much like their offical F1 games you can tailor it to how you want it. It plays well on a steering wheel as well as a pad (not all racing games do!) the only thing that could be a turn off for some is the subject matter.
Even though Rallying may not be everybody’s cup of tea there is definitely something to be said for a style of racing where it’s really just you and your co-driver versus the environment. It truly is a case of who dares wins and I am totally here for it.
- Ability to tailor and make it as simulation-ish as you want
- New engine, but the gameplay remains stellar
- Plays great on both wheel and pad
- Strong sound design enhances the experience
- Style of Rally racing gameplay is not for everyone
- Not a huge generational graphical leap over Dirt 2.0
- Longer stages are great but results in serious time commitment
EA Sports WRC is definitely not a let down and is a more than worthy successor to Dirt Rally 2.0. Even though I had some concerns about a new game engine and wondered if that gameplay would translate, thankfully those fears were unfounded. Make no mistake, this is a solid racing game featuring plenty of cars, plenty of locations (plus loads of stages within them) and excellent gameplay be that via wheel or pad.