Rally cars, despite being very complex, are very simple beasts.
Given that a crew can end up trying to fix them in rapid fashion by the roadside, they have to be. The history of the sport is full of desperate bodge-jobs to try and get a car back on the road, with my favourite probably being this one from 1998:
@wrc argentina 1998 was a mixed bag for colin mcrae - first car damage, fixes car, wins next stage and wins the rally ? #wrc #rally #motorsport#mechanic ? original sound - World Rally Championship
Moments, like this classic Colin McRae one, are what rallying is all about - and I’m glad to report EA Sports WRC definitely understands that.
As the first game to come out following Codemasters’ acquisition of the WRC licence previously held by Nacon, I went into the game a little anxious that it wouldn’t live up to the former’s last hardcore rally sim, the brilliant Dirt Rally 2.0. Thankfully, despite the addition of plenty of new features, wrinkles, and visual tweaks in line with the graduation to an officially tie-in game for the World Rally Championship, the gameplay at the core of the experience - while currently afflicted by some occasional stuttering on PC - retains the fundamental elements that made Dirt Rally so good.
Whether you’re flying along a gravel stage littered with flowing turns and jumps, sliding through a hairpin flanked by high snowdrifts, or nailing the apexes on tarmac, each of EA Sports WRC’s cars feels just grounded enough to convey the terrain, while still feeling fast enough to offer the thrills inherent to sheer speed. Dirt Rally was arguably at its best when it came to the former type of rally, with its depictions of Finland, Australia, and New Zealand offering hours of fast flowing fun, during which one tiny error could see you immediately fired off into the scenery. WRC picks up that baton and substantially betters Codemasters’ previous depictions of tarmac rallying.
That last point has seemingly been helped out by the fact that, with the official WRC licence has come the ability to directly recreate real world stages. Rallies like the infamous Monte, Japan, and Croatia all feel totally unique from their gravel or snow cousins in terms of how cars behave, with narrow mountain roads and tight urban routes feeling more like traditional racetracks.
The starkest illustration of this can be found in Monte Carlo. A few minutes after hearing your co-driver gently mutter “ice coming”, you’ll go from being in complete control of a fire breathing beast with what feels like all the grip in the world to desperately scrabbling for traction as you slide along on glass. Along with the great lineup of official WRC rallies, there are also a number of fictional ones designed to mimic classic events, with all offering a slightly different challenge. The option to pick which season a specific rally is taking place in also helps to spice things up a bit.
The car lineup, while missing a couple of classic Toyotas I’d hoped might join the roster now that the game’s officially licensed, combines the rides raced in the modern WRC’s top three categories - WRC, WRC2 and Junior WRC - with an expanded version of Dirt Rally 2.0’s formidable lineup of historics. Being able to hop straight from Kalle Rovanpera’s hybrid Rally1 motor into a fearsome Group B monster, both brought to life in equally terrifying fashion, really hammers home the comparisons made between them. There’s also plenty on offer for those who prefer something slightly less scary. A Super 1600 or a 60s Mini perhaps?
You can also just bolt straight for the iconic blue Impreza. No one’s gonna judge, I swear.
WRC boasts a pretty beefy selection of modes through which to sample its racing offerings, with the beefiest of all being career mode. Offering you the chance to create your own team and either work your way up through the WRC’s feeder categories or jump straight into the deep end that is the top-class, the mode sees you manage your racing exploits across seasons. As something akin to an owner-driver, there’s plenty of budget and personnel management to be taken care of, meaning you won’t just be thinking about hopping behind the wheel. The aim is simple, to keep your financial backer happy by finishing as well as you can and not spending too much of their cash on cars, repairs, and crew salaries.
Having set the whims of this bankroller to the midpoint of the three difficulty options on offer, I found it relatively easy to maintain their approval. Keeping their indicated preferences in mind when choosing whether to compete in a classic rally, brand event, or part test when not on the WRC stage or resting crew also didn’t get in the way of my own desires that much. Though, the fact that I couldn’t view my calendar in a manner that would make it easy to flick between months and check if a classic championship I was signing up for in February would cause any clashes later in the year did a bit.
The fact that the custom Junior WRC car I’d created using the game’s builder ended up being incredibly prone to oversteery spins was also a bit annoying. Though, this was probably my fault for electing to make it mid-engined. Thankfully, my choices when it came to other mechanical and visual parts proved much less disastrous. Well, unless you count as a fashion crime the fact that, like every car you can make using this pretty cool feature, my bizarre baby looked like the front and rear sections of two different hatchbacks welded together.
If you’re in the mood for a simpler racing fix, WRC’s offerings include a Championship mode that allows you to take over the bodies of a real-world WRC crew for a single season and a Quick Play mode that’s ideal for setting up your own custom series. Fittingly, there’s also a Moments mode that allows you to take on single-stage imitations of specific scenarios from WRC history, though some of these do seem to be locked behind EA Play membership.
That said, the most important thing about EA Sports WRC is that I’m pretty sure I’ll get addicted to the moments its recreation of rallying can provide across its plethora of modes. As with Dirt Rally 2.0, it’s those simple, brief moments when you get into a perfect adrenaline-fuelled flow and feel - just for a second - like you are as good as Colin McRae, that’ll keep me coming back for more, no matter how many trees I hit in between them. I'm pleased and relieved to report that post-acquisition Codemasters still understands what makes a good rally game tick.
EA Sports WRC is out now on PC (version tested), PS5, and Xbox Series X|S.