WRC 10 Review
Sliding down a familiar groove
Gravel roads have a similar profile all across the world. From Portugal to Estonia, the ideal road shape is convex with a peak in the middle and ditches on both sides. The roads are designed this way to reduce water pooling and minimize erosion. But the ditches can be hazardous when driving rally cars. If the car’s tires stray wide then it can be hard to get back on track. The ditch effectively holds the car hostage because trying to get out can result in a loss of control. Sometimes it is better to remain in place and wait for the right opportunity to exit. Staying in the ditch is a lot like playing another yearly release of a motorsport franchise.
WRC 10 is a typical new entry for an established franchise. It adds a few new rally locations, to match the official 2021 schedule, and removes some that are not part of the calendar year. There are tweaks to the interface and some changes to team management. Like sports games, there is not enough time to make wholesale changes. And since last year’s entry was generally strong, why fix what isn’t broken? WRC 10 still offers a satisfying, responsive driving model that brings delight when successfully weaving through bends.
There are several different ways to play WRC 10. Quick play lets you select any rally stage, and any vehicle, in a range of weather conditions. Challenges are a sequence of random unlockable events and training courses. Those wanting to get a bit more involved can play one season or compete in the potentially endless career mode. In the career, players can start in Junior WRC before moving up through the three tiers of the WRC. As you ascend, more objectives, extra events, and faster vehicles become available. After each season, teams offer a contract, either in the same skill tier or (hopefully) a higher one.
Team management is still a key part of becoming champion in the career. From the team garage, you select six active crew members that help race sundries, like money earned, repair efficiency, and weather accuracy. A four-branch skill tree lets players improve everything from car performance to team morale. Crew members get fatigued much quicker than last year and take longer to recover. This is a disappointing change because it means more rest events must be completed to keep crew from becoming inactivated. Unfortunately replacements are rarer too. Despite completing three seasons, there was never an opportunity to hire another Meteorologist or Mechanic to replace those that frequently got tired. A new, and mostly pointless, event this year is team building, which just increases morale for a small fee. Team morale never dropped far enough for this to be needed.
Other events are mostly the same. Extreme condition events are rather docile, merely giving players a moderately damaged car in stormy conditions; it’s a shame that weather has not changed or improved this year—fog is nonexistent. Anniversary events involve historic rallies with older vehicles. Coming across these in the career will unlock them in a special Anniversary mode, and once all have been completed under the nominated time, a private team option becomes available in the career. Only about half were unlocked after 17 hours of career play, possibly because so many extra rest days were taken instead.
Maintenance events ask players to drive lazily around the countryside to fancifully improve car condition (which theoretically reduces wear and tear). These events are sadly not available at key moments. In the middle of one year, there were three rallies with not a single maintenance opportunity between them. Instead the game waited until after to provide a choice between one rest event and three of the same maintenance events, which makes no sense when only one can be chosen. It is fortunate that vehicle wear is not much of a concern across the rally stages, but more on that later.
There are twelve rally locations this year and they match close enough with the official WRC timetable. Each has about four stages, excluding reverse. A bunch of locations have been removed—Mexico, Germany, Argentina, New Zealand, and Turkey are gone. New this year is Estonia, Chile, Croatia, and Spain. Estonia features sweeping gravel roads with a few blind crests. Chile is similar, but with more dangerous roadside obstacles and harsher changes in elevation. Croatia consists of narrow asphalt streets not unlike those in Germany from last year. And finally Spain will be quite familiar if you played Dirt Rally, with lots of winding left-right-left-right bitumen roads and a few minor surprises to keep things fresh. The new additions are good but the old locations are missed. The developers plan to release another rally location, Belgium, in October, along with more anniversary stages in the months ahead.
Racing on these rally stages is excellent. No matter in what vehicle or on what surface, it is satisfying to perform turns without flaw. There is a great difference between the old and heavy vehicles of yore and the responsiveness of their modern counterparts. Using the car’s weight to slingshot around alternating corners never grows old. Braking at the right time and sliding around a hairpin is poetry in motion. Regaining traction on a wet surface just before the back end of the car slams into the barrier will keep players coming back. These simple corner-by-corner moments are perhaps the best in the genre.
WRC 10 seems to have more commentary by the co-driver. Aside from providing accurate pace notes, they will (optionally) provide phrases based on performance and mistakes. If you crash they might say, “That was a shock,” or just make a grunting noise. My co-driver even told me that it was “quite optimistic” to slide around a few long corners. It’s nice to have more of a person than a robot. The comments are still rare and their usefulness could be expanded, by having quips about vehicle condition or race timings.
Vehicle feedback is better than before too. Using the Xbox One controller provides more granular vibration that relates to traction, road changes, suspension, tire condition, and any impacts. The intricate feel is light years ahead of last year’s crude vibration system. It helps driving because it is easier to pinpoint when the vehicle loses connection with the road. Any sort of tire wear is magnified too, which is especially obvious when putting a fresh set on the front wheels and leaving worn ones on the back.
As mentioned, vehicle part wear is a minor concern. On realistic setting, car damage is almost irrelevant when using the default rally length. Despite slamming into barriers, rolling over enough times to cause vertigo, and persistent knocks into rocks, the vehicle’s many components never became severely impacted. There was no grinding, steering damage, or any major loss of acceleration. Nothing hurt performance much despite substantial visual damage, which is rather unlike last year. The reduction in damage might be because there is now a choice to greatly extend rally length, from the default five stages to about fourteen, which brings accumulating part wear back into focus.
Visuals are similar to last year. Returning tracks have been upgraded, with foliage and rocks changing position. Some trees on returning tracks have altered, although it is hard to tell if the new ones in Sweden are an improvement. Spectators look better and are more numerous—in historic ‘70s rallies they stand right beside the track, which will give health and safety inspectors a panic attack. Track surfaces have been upgraded but some water reflections have a jarring banding issue. The most dramatic change for visuals is that there is more saturation and brightness. This creates a perceived improvement to draw distance, and more contrast is generally helpful for racing.
Game performance and stability is mostly adequate. A few corners had some unexpected drops in framerate—one set of curves in Monte Carlo is of particular concern. The biggest performance annoyance is that the load times are longer. Even going back to the menu or team garage takes about three times longer on the same SSD compared to WRC 9. Technical glitches were rare but the visual damage on vehicles broke a few times, with bonnets sinking into the engine bay and doors sliding far down their hinges. One hairpin in Spain even penalized me for going the wrong way, twice, when that was clearly not the case.
Online play works about as expected. There are some daily and weekly challenges to complete. If you want to go the more direct route, then you can race the ghost cars of up to seven others in real-time. The network connections are fairly solid, as ghost car movement is smooth and there was no random teleporting like last year. It’s also nice that ghost cars are colored so it’s easier to differentiate between opponents. After each race, the game also respects the player’s time by quickly getting back into the lobby. Unfortunately the player base is still rather small, just days after launch.
WRC 10 takes much the same race line as its predecessor, which is a good thing. It is still an extremely satisfying driving experience with improved feedback via the controller. The new stages are solid although it would have been nice to have a few more out of the box. Quirks with team management make it a lesser off-track experience compared to last year, but it is still mostly good in that regard. With a decent online component and adequate performance/visuals, this year’s entry will provide enough joy, whether driving over crests or along those dastardly ditches.