Although EA SPORTS WRC’s driving physics are influenced by the now four-year-old DiRT Rally 2.0, Codemasters has dispensed with its proprietary Ego technology in favour of Unreal Engine, in theory allowing more detailed visuals and stages over 30 kilometres in length.
All of the 2023 WRC season’s rallies are represented, (the Central European Rally arrives as a free, post-release DLC), with the drivers, teams and liveries of the WRC, WRC2 and Junior WRC classes included – that’s an impressive 78 cars and 200+ stages.
There are online modes like Clubs; where you can set up and enter online rallies using EA’s companion Racenet app; and Moments, where you take on curated rally scenarios aiming for the fastest time on the leaderboard.
One of the current Moments replicates Colin McRae’s chaotic attempt at the 1992 1000 Lakes in Finland, where the Scot’s car disintegrated gradually throughout the event after a series of crashes. Fitting, as this is the outfit that created the Colin McRae Rally titles through the ’90s and ’00s.
Like F1 Manager 2023’s Race Replay mode, except with a rich vein of historic WRC cars and stories to choose from, Moments has the potential to throw up some intriguing ‘what if?’ rally situations, with more set to be added regularly.
From the main menu, you can also customise your driving avatar, choose your favourite rally car (featuring all the big hitters from the ‘60s to the present day) and even build your own rally challenger using the Builder mode.
This new addition allows players to construct a Rally1, Rally2 or Rally3 car from scratch, choosing the location of the engine and selecting from numerous cosmetic and mechanical components, with better parts unlocked during the game’s career mode.
The end result can look like the aftermath of an OEM parts warehouse accident, but it does keep you invested in the fate of your team and its bespoke car. And let’s face it, the WRC needs more cars, so why not make your own?
It’s EA SPORTS WRC’s career mode where players will spend most of their time, electing whether to begin in either of the three available classes. There are plenty of events to sink your teeth into here, with players’ WRC commitments interspersed with invitational rallies and opportunities to upgrade their burgeoning team.
You can hire engineers, a team-mate and even buy new cars, all while staying within the strict budget set by your eye-rollingly named benefactor, Max Lucre.
It’s only possible to perform one task per calendar week (with two weeks set aside for full WRC events), so players need to prioritise their requirements: will you give your engineers a much-needed rest or squeeze in another drive in a Metro 6R4? Silly question, that, I know.
Budgets are generous for the most part, so buying a Group B Audi Quattro S1 Evo 2 won’t break the bank. Car repairs, on the other hand, will, especially if your Rally1 Puma visits the scenery as much as ours did…
Just like the development studio’s previous rally simulators, the sound design is exemplary, with Rally1 cars’ anti-lag effects captured to perfection. Naturally, there’s only so much variation in the sound of a four-pot or Rally2 car, but the BMW M3 Evo, ‘95 Subaru Impreza and Metro 6R4 are scarily accurate. The Mitsubishi Galant VR4 is a rare miss, however, omitting its distinctively flat bark.
New for this game is a photo mode – a significant upgrade due to its absence in DiRT Rally. Borrowing elements from EA and Codemasters’ F1 series of games, WRC’s photo mode creates powerfully dynamic images despite being a little fiddly to use.
Another fresh addition is regularity rallies – rallies focusing on a specific time of arrival rather than a battle against the clock – adding a new dimension to the point-point format. It lacks the immediate excitement of standard rally fare, though.
Physics is fun
For most people, how WRC feels to drive will be the deciding factor on whether it warrants a purchase. Well, those looking for a DR 2.0-style experience are in luck, as this new release feels remarkably similar to Codemasters’ previous rally game.
If anything, driving on gravel feels better than in previous attempts, with the first joyous kilometres in a Rally1 car showing off the development team’s ability to create a convincing rally experience. Cars need to be hustled to go quickly, with the hefty physics model showcased as your car dances from corner to corner.
It’s magic, especially on fast gravel rallies like those found on Rally Chile, Oceania and Finland, encouraging you to use the road’s topography to help guide your car to victory.
The driving experience is less fun when switching to asphalt, however, with cars retaining the floaty feeling found in prior Codemasters rally titles.
It feels better than its predecessor thanks to heightened steering weight, however, but cornering is sometimes vague and requires constant corrective inputs.
That’s not to say asphalt driving isn’t entertaining, as high-downforce cars like those in the WRC 2017-2021 and Rally1 classes feel more direct and intuitive on the grey stuff.
The asphalt issues are somewhat exacerbated by the tardiness of co-driver calls. Using the most detailed co-driver call type on a twisty stage can overwhelm your navigator, even on the earliest setting. Sometimes you’ll be halfway through a corner they’ve yet to describe – Francois Delecour would not be impressed.
The game is compatible with most steering wheel peripheral brands, including the likes of Fanatec, Thrustmaster and Logitech, but the weightiness of the game’s handling model also translates well to a gamepad, with numerous driving assists and difficulty sliders making the game accessible to the majority of its fanbase.
Unfortunately, in a title demanding intense concentration and quick reflexes, visual stutters severely affect the overall gameplay experience. However, when the game behaves well it looks great, with a wide variety of landscapes and stage furniture adding an air of authenticity to WRC locations past and present.
Stages range from the realistically narrow switchbacks of Rally Guanajuato, Mexico, to the beautifully cambered gravel roads of Rally Oceania (a fictional event akin to New Zealand), all replete with multiple weather and seasonal effects.
EA SPORTS WRC is a rally buff’s dream. Its authentic cars, realistic exhaust notes, hefty career mode and expansive stages are a recipe for success. Plus, its sublime gravel handling model will delight newcomers and Richard Burns Rally aficionados alike.
However, too often the game is spoiled by performance and stability issues, making progress frustrating. Asphalt driving, while an improvement over DiRT Rally 2.0, is still lacking, but can be an enjoyable challenge with the right car and stage combination.
EA and Codemasters have stressed that stability improvements are promised shortly after the game’s launch, however, with VR implementation also slated for the PC version post-release.
Those issues aside, when everything clicks, this is an excellent follow-up to the DiRT Rally series and should move to the top of any rally fan’s wishlist.
EA SPORTS WRC is out on the 3rd of November for PC, PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X|S. Players who pre-order can access the game from the 31st of October.