My experience in rally games on PC and Xbox has been varied over the years. I love playing them but they can be some of the more difficult racing games due to the inherent nature of driving fast cars on dirt, gravel and icy conditions. The latest rally game to hit my desk is a preview build of EA SPORTS WRC by Codemasters, dropping the Dirt Rally name and coming in under the EA SPORTS banner, and is set for release on November 3, 2023.
This series of racing games started off as the Colin McRae Rally Series way back in 1998, named after the World Championship rally driver Colin McRae. It focused on rally sport racing for a number of years until 2007 when Colin McRae: Dirt was released shortly before the unfortunate death of McRae himself. EA SPORTS WRC will be the first Codemasters rally game to have official WRC licensed cars since Colin McRae Rally 3, and it’s great to see the sheer volume of rally-focused cars in the vehicle lineup in this game. You can see a full list of cars available in the game here.
We start by creating our driver with some character customisation options and then I went straight into career mode. Here we are able to choose from three options and you can go straight for the top tier WRC if you want, however I chose to start from the bottom with the Junior WRC with WRC2 being the mid-tier option. Here you go into a calendar of events which was reminiscent of games like F1 Manager where not only do you have race event tabs on the calendar but you also have options to hire engineers, purchase vehicles and so on. Engineers require a salary within your budget, and have ratings for how well they improve things like your repair speed, the quality of chassis repairs, and so on.
We have a budget to work within and our spending is just one aspect of how we are rated in managing the team and our career. You start with an initial car but I had to buy a new car for the next event and it tells you which class of car you require on the calendar tab. I didn’t notice this at first so when I went into the vehicle purchases screen, I assumed it would highlight eligible vehicles. However, this didn’t, so I was scrolled through and purchased one that was within my budget, but it was the wrong car type for that race. Since I had made a purchase, that moved the calendar of events forward, so I didn’t actually get to race with that car.
It was a little confusing at first, but once I got my head around the fact that any action, whether it be hiring an engineer or purchasing a vehicle, will move the timeline forward. When I finally did get into a race, wow is it a shock to go from games like The Crew Motorfest and Forza Motorsport, into a specific rally game like EA Sports WRC. I flew off the road on my first corner and copped a time penalty for being put back on the track. I then drove much more gingerly as I got used to controlling the vehicle. Driving in the middle of the road is fine but you need to be moving to anticipate turns, especially sharp corners. It sounds like I’m stating the obvious and you can take turns fast, but if you haven’t prepared physically and mentally by anticipating where the car needs to go, you’ll easily find yourself in the bush.
I started using an Xbox controller and was really struggling to get a good balance in acceleration, braking and turning. The co-drivers race calls are fantastic, and I found that after a few more races, I performed better by listening to his calls rather than glacing up at the bright icons. I was more able to position the car to take advantage of cuts or anticipate the forces of a turn by hearing him tell me the strength of a corner or straight. I knew when he said “opens” that I could hit the accelerator more and when he said “don’t cut”, I knew to take it easy on the next bend.
At one point I clipped a rocky wall and then heard a hissing sound, but I was able to keep driving unhindered. A turn or two later and turning was becoming a struggle but I could still aim the car where I needed to, with a slight pull to the left. This was shortly followed by the familiar sound of a flat tyre, but I was still able to keep driving. Well, by the time I could see the finish line, the rubber had ripped off the tyre and I was driving on the rim. When I went through the career menu to start the next race, the car looked very beaten up and I was faced with a hefty repair bill.
When needing a new vehicle for the next race, you can purchase one from the list, but you can also build your own vehicle to the required specifications. The build mode allows you to design and build a rally car from the ground up including selecting the chassis, body shells, all of the mechanical parts and customising the interior and exterior of the car. I am not mechanically minded so I didn’t go down this path, but the functionality of the builder was easy enough to pick up. No doubt rally enthusiasts are going to enjoy this mode.
Despite starting the races using the Xbox controller, I tried driving with the keyboard, and I found I was better able to handle throttle control and whip the car around corners much more efficiently than with controller. This will be a subjective thing, but keyboard controls worked very well for me over the next few races. I next tested the Moments mode, and this had a list of five real-world rally events drawn from the 50-year history of the FIA World Rally Championship. I don’t know much about WRC myself, but these races were of a decent challenge with gold, silver and bronze time goals to try beat. Leaderboards show how you measure against players around the world too. New Moments will be added to EA SPORTS WRC on a regular basis (initially daily), challenging players to complete scenarios and events tied to and inspired by the real world of rally.
The graphics in EA SPORTS WRC are very good for an early access preview build and will be better for the full release, and the vehicle sounds are authentic. I did have some occasional graphical hitching however the track details and surrounding environment details were quite good. I particularly liked the races that were around dusk, and the clouds and sky details set a great mood around each race location. Driving in the hills of Italy made me gasp at some of the sheer drops around a corner without much in the form of railings. Hats off to the real rally drivers who drive those courses all the time. From Monte Carlo and Portugal to Kenya and Japan, we will race in 17 current and former WRC locations with over 200 stages at launch in November.
So far, I was very impressed with my time in EA SPORTS WRC. I was apprehensive going into it knowing how much I struggled playing DIRT Rally 1 and 2. And while I did struggle on the first couple of races, I settled into a good rhythm as I listened more to the co-drivers’ excellent race calls and focused on hitting corners at necessary angles and speeds. There’s a large variety of racing options with career and moment modes, as well as time trials and even a rally school, and being able to build your own rally car is certainly going to appeal to rally enthusiasts. I am very much looking forward to the full release of the game.
This preview utilised a Steam key provided by EA Australia and EA SPORTS WRC will launch on November 3 on the EA App, Steam, Epic Games Store, Xbox Series X|S and PlayStation 5. Everyone who pre-orders EA SPORTS WRC will receive each of the five VIP Rally Passes that contain additional post-launch content, as well as three vanity packs consisting of liveries and apparel, and up to three days of early access starting October 31, 2023.