When it comes to officially licensed games, things can sometimes prove a little hit or miss.
For the former we have something like MotoGP 19, which served up a great mix of visuals, realistic gameplay and all the licensed content we could shake a stick at. Then there is something like Rugby 20, which felt like a game made for the PlayStation 2 instead of the PS4.
So where does World Rally Championship 9 (WRC 9) fit into the mix?
Well this latest edition of the franchise from developer Kylotonn has proved quite impressive in the week we’ve had with it on the PS4, so let’s run through why this game is a worthy FIA officially licensed game, and why only the diehard rally racing fans need apply here.
When you boot up WRC 9 for the first time, and eventually make your way through the usual housekeeping that many a game foists on its player at the start, you’re thrown into a rally stage to test your mettle, and more importantly assess just how competent you are.
In our case, it was more to showcase just how terrible we were at rally games, despite giving the likes of Sebastian Loeb Rally Evo a go, as well as the likes of Colin McRae racing back in the PS2 hey days.
As such we quickly learned that the rally stages you have encountered in other racing franchises like Gran Turismo or Forza simply do not apply here.
It also became apparent that this game, particularly if you plan on doing well in it, requires an almost Jedi-like amount of concentration, as each tiny mistake adds on several seconds to your stage time, and larger mistakes (like going off course) result in you likely calling off the stage entirely. But more about that later.
In terms of immersion, WRC 9 hits all the right marks. You get to see some of the current top drivers, their navigators and most importantly, car of choice in-game.
Being officially licensed has other advantages too, with rally stages all mirroring their real life counterparts. If you’re wanting to go through a proper WRC season then, this game has you covered.
Where some officially licensed titles, like PES and FIFA for example, have one, two or more glaring omissions, this is not the case with WRC 9.
Now let’s talk about what happens on the track. As we mentioned WRC 9 is uncompromising. The racing itself requires you to focus for the entire race, with some stages being 20-plus kilometres long in some countries.
On average though, you’re going to be starting off on stages in the seven to 10 kilometre range, which still requires about five to six minutes of focus at a time, depending how good you are of course.
Added to the need for concentration is the amount of information coming your way, especially when it comes to course notes of upcoming corners, turns, and cautions.
Unlike a normal racing game, which may have a display for the upcoming corner appearing on the top of the screen, WRC 9 has a similar layout, but has three of four pieces of information on-screen, depending on the nature of the course. As such, you’re going to be processing quite a bit while trying to keep the car on track.
What is the racing like? The cars, regardless of which one you’re driving, respond to even the slightest of touches.
This can be calibrated, but the out-of-the-box settings mean the sticks on the DualShock 4 controller might prove a little too sensitive. We often found ourselves trying to overcorrect, which resulted in drifting (not the cool kind) and ultimately impacted our stage times.
If you have a dedicated steering wheel for racing games though, this title could prove quite a bit of fun.
One other interesting element to the stages, which are highly detailed and well visualised with things like drones and helicopters appearing now and then, is that the stage tracks themselves are rather narrow.
As such, every now and then you may think you’re fine hugging one of the sides of the track, and a rock juts out just enough to knock you car and throw things into chaos from there on out.
You also get to see just how damage you suffered at the end of the race, and quite often we were left embarrassed by just how beat up our rally car was. Thankfully knocks and tumbles don’t have too much of an effect on performance, only time, and the impressions of any onlookers who are watching you race.
All in all then, the gameplay in WRC 9 is unforgiving, and that’s why we think rally fans will like it. It’s not something you can easily pick up and get the handle of, which is why when you do place high during a particular stage, there is a sense of pride in the accomplishment.
Looking at other elements of the game, outside of the regular WRC season, test area and quick play functionality, it’s clear that Kylotonn has placed a big emphasis on the online aspect and multiplayer community of WRC 9.
As such, there is the ability to create Clubs, participate in Online Events (races) and Multiplayer sessions, all of which help towards upgrading your Drivercard level. There are also Online Leaderboards to see how other players who have the game are faring, as well as a News portal for real-world info on the Championship.
Unfortunately the latter feature prompts the PS4 on-console browser to pop up, which is not the best way to present news if you ask us, but this is a rather negative in otherwise positive all-round online experience.
Is WRC 9 a game for all fans of racing? The simple answer is no, but we say that for good reason. The uncompromising gameplay and rally-specific elements therein mean that this game is not like the rally stages you’ve encountered in other all-round racing titles.
As such WRC 9 is made for rally fans in particular, and if you have the desire to take on long courses that require serious concentration, there is lots of joy to be had out of this title. Just don’t expect to be mastering a Scandinavian flick anytime soon.