Racing games can provide some genuinely thrilling gaming experiences. Whether it’s cutting through fields of cars or running side-by-side online against an unknown rival on another continent in multiplayer, simracing can offer some of the best action you can hope to have sat on your sofa.
Naturally, it was hard not to be eagerly excited for the release of EA’s first officially licensed World Rally Championship title. After developers Codemasters picked up the WRC license, that made them all the more appealing for EA to purchase them in 2021.
Now, Codemasters’ legendary rallying legacy that began with the Colin McRae Rally series and evolved over time into Dirt Rally enters its newest era as an officially licensed WRC title for the very first time. But does the spiritual successor to 2019’s Dirt Rally 2.0 deliver on what franchise fans and WRC enthusiasts were hoping for? And can EA’s first WRC game show they can do rallying better than Kylotonn and their underappreciated WRC series before it?
To start, EA WRC does include all teams, cars, drivers and co-drivers of all three tiers of the World Rally Championship for this season, as you’d expect. Although the game features 17 locations and over 600km of total stages, they do not strictly follow the 2023 WRC calendar, with fictional events such as ‘Rally Scandia’ in Norway or ‘Rally Iberia’ in Spain. It suggests that this game will be a platform for EA to build upon, rather than stick with a typical yearly model.
Although carrying on the legacy of Dirt Rally 2.0, EA WRC feels less of a continuation of the series and more like a reset. Not least because Codemasters have left their reliable old Ego game engine behind and instead switched the series onto Unreal Engine 4 for the first time.
The main reason for this bold design choice was to enable longer stages for players to race on. Kylotonn’s WRC series famously featured so-called ‘epic stages’ that would last well beyond ten minutes in length in many cases, providing a relentless test of player concentration. With Unreal Engine, EA WRC has much of the same with the longest stages in the game reaching over 30 kilometres in length.
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Stage design is critical to any modern rally game, but unfortunately this is where EA WRC begins to fall short of Kylotonn’s previous WRC series. While the stages in WRC Generations – Kylotonn’s last entry – were potentially the best designed in any rallying game ever released, EA WRC’s stages feel simply ‘good’ by comparison.
WRC Generations felt like racing through real, lived-in environments where actual day-to-day life would take place once the rally drivers were long gone, whereas the stages in EA WRC just feel more like environments designed to emulate the areas where they are set – even if many stages are based on real world courses from the WRC’s history. The lifeless spectators and absence of drones following your car as you fly around turns take away from the overall effect.
Graphically, the game is perfectly decent to look at. But given that this is a release exclusive to PC and current-gen consoles, I expected more of a visual leap over Dirt Rally 2.0, which isn’t the case.
Despite that, performance is a problem. From easy-to-ignore issues like screen tearing to less forgivable issues like stuttering and micro-freezes to PC players reporting major frame rate drops at the ends of later stages, it’s hard not to wonder if the change of engine may have created more problems than it has solved. At least Codemasters have already released multiple patches in an effort to address some of these problems, so if you haven’t picked up the game yet you may already get a better experience when you do.
Audio-wise, EA WRC is particularly strong. From the raw buzz of engines to how the audio shifts depending on your driving view, damage or if the car door falls off, this sounds exactly like a rally game should. The pace notes – a critical aspect of any rally game – are on a level to match WRC Generations, but it’s hard not to miss the rugged Welsh voice of Phil Mills and his exceptional notes from Dirt Rally 2.0.
When it comes to handling, EA WRC is perfectly enjoyable on controller or with a serious steering wheel. Although cars seem to lack the same sensation of weight and momentum from WRC Generations or the tactile sensation of Dirty Rally 2.0, the handling model is more than adequate and you will make mistakes and be punished if you aren’t paying attention.
Unfortunately, the ‘AI’ seems to suffer the problem so many rally games seem to have of inconsistency between locations or between difficulty settings. Naturally, you’re going to have your stronger rallies and your weaker ones, but there are times when you will have what feels like a strong run and finish well behind your AI rivals’ times and other occasions where you go wide or spin five times and still end up quickest.
Alongside the single stage, single rally and championship modes, there is a career mode. But rather than focusing on you rising through the ranks to become a factory WRC racer and win the world championship, the career mode focuses on you running your own privateer team which you can choose to start in any of the three WRC categories. While there are team management elements of hiring staff and choosing what to do with your time each week with sponsors to keep happy, similar to WRC Generations, it feels less cohesive and fleshed-out than what Generations offered, which is a shame.
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The car builder mode is a exciting addition, which boasts the unique ability to design your own rally car by choosing its chassis, suspension and engine parts. While this seems interesting and allows you to create unique cars to run in any game mode, its boils down to picking from a limited selection of body parts for the front and rear of the car and then choosing whether to buy cheaper parts that carry lower performance benefits or more expensive parts that are the most efficient. It’s a little shallow, but a feature that it would be good to see brought to other EA racing games and expanded upon for the WRC series.
When it comes to other features EA should introduce to their other major motorsport titles, WRC comes with an actual livery editor. But although you have the ability to paint any car in your own signature style, unfortunately even the livery editor is restrictive. It’s not as intuitive as Gran Turismo 7 or even Codemasters’ own Dirt 5 release from 2020, with limited camera movement and a lack of key features like copying and pasting decals or mirroring to the other side of the car. You can’t upload your designs and download those made by the community either and you’re limited to the same fictional sponsors that Codemasters have included for the last four F1 titles. But you can still at least use it to make your own designs – which is better to have than not at all.
Aside from the 2023 cars, EA WRC comes with a huge roster of classic cars – almost 70. From historic Mini Coopers to Group B behemoths to the late nineties cars that Colin McRae and Tommi Makkinen tore up surfaces across the world in, to Sebastien Ogier’s multiple title-winning Volkswagen Polo, there is every kind of rally car you could dream of here. You don’t even need to unlock any of them – the only unlock-ables come in the Rally Pass where you pick up new driver suits and gloves and the like. But there is no virtual currency to purchase either, which is a welcome change from many games.
Overall, EA WRC is a decent first officially licensed WRC game from Codemasters, offering exactly what it needs to. But it’s hard not to feel slightly disappointed that all the potential of the two brilliant Dirt Rally games doesn’t seem to have been fully realised with this long-awaited game. Ultimately, we’re left with the first game of a new series that is very much fun when at its best, but that doesn’t match the same level of the final game of the previous WRC series.
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Platform(s): PS5, Xbox Series S|X, Steam, EGS
Publisher: EA Sports
Released: November 2023
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