Another year and another update to the annual FIA World Rally Championship official game. Kylotonn and NACON have been making steady progress over the last few iterations, and given that the development will shift to Codemasters in 2023, it’s about the right time for them to impress and go out on a high with WRC 10. Releasing exactly 12 months to the day since WRC 9, and having to deal with a world being on lockdown for most of the development period, exactly how much of a difference can they make? Disruption in motorsport schedules and access to countries changing on a weekly basis also makes it problematic to get a real life reflection of the venues and courses, and that means that much like the latest F1 game, certain events are going to have to be added later. It’s not like it’s skimping on content though as this also coincides with the 50th anniversary of the championship and there’s a celebration in game to support that, so there’s no doubting it’ll keep players busy. However, my biggest questions are more focussed around if they’ve managed to iron out the kinks that made the last one a bit of an unpredictable ride.
There’s a familiarity to WRC 10 from the moment it’s booted up that will reassure returning players and make it easy to get stuck straight into the action. In fact, like the last couple of titles, it drops you right into an event to figure out what your skill level is… and expects you to figure out what the controls are too. It smacks in the first minute of not having picked up on the fact that there might be new players experiencing the game for the first time and – something that needs expanding on later – the devs don’t seem to have considered that people might be playing with a pad. Making it through and deciding what the level of assists are (which lack nuance, they’re either on or off), gamers are treated to a career mode which looks and acts exactly the same as 2020. You’ve to earn the right to drive the top end championship cars, and starting in the Junior category or trying out for the WRC3 are the only options. Whether you want a privateer team or an established one, you’ll still have to manage the crew, development and demands of the season, and it really is identical to what’s come before. Perform well and there might be some offers to advance, though expect that to take some time as even winning events can have your current manufacturer berating you for poor performance.
Depending on your preferred control method, getting that win might be a challenge. If you’re on a pad, then stick with this paragraph, wheel users head to the next one. Whilst we can extoll the virtues of the DualSense for hours, no amount of haptic feedback and grip related trigger rumble can make up for twitchy, overly responsive yet unpredictable steering; and that’s unfortunately what WRC 10 has as its default. If you try to head out onto the gravel without adjusting the sensitivity or correcting for how you want the linearity of the movement to be, you’ll be in a world of hurt. I’m a seasoned rally gamer. I might not be the fastest, but I know how to play, and I came close to rage quitting on several occasions just because it’s insanely hard to keep a FWD car pointing in the right direction. I don’t ever remember having to manage fish tailing in a car where all the drive is from the front wheels, simply because the control inputs are not consistent. It’s bad enough that the courses are tight and narrow with rocks and trees jutting out, but struggling to keep the car under control just makes it absolute hell trying to be competitive. Dropping off cliffs with immense understeer, spinning 180 degrees because the front bumper has glanced a bush, and turning the sticks in one direction only to see the car go the other way all feature way too often for this to be classed as fun. There should be a challenge, but this is just poor implementation and means you never have the confidence to push. Unless it’s in Sweden bizarrely, it’s as if it’s been perfectly tuned for snow driving only.
Clearly WRC 10 has been designed to be played with a racing rig because it’s night and day difference between the control inputs (and maybe I should have twigged that earlier with all the Fanatec branding on display). The default wheel settings are nigh on perfect for making the car do exactly what you want it to do. It’s uncanny and I’d forgive anyone for thinking they were playing a different game, or that the handling model is tied into the input method. The best example I have is in the first anniversary event where you take an A110 to a section of the Acropolis rally from 1973. With a pad I couldn’t get near the reference time, and was typically up to 2 mins slower than needed; swap to a wheel and I’m 30 seconds under. It changes what is a frustrating and inconsistent slog of a game into an absolute joy at times. The difficulty doesn’t change, the courses aren’t any easier, and it definitely doesn’t become a walk in the park, but because you know that whatever you’re driving is going to respond in the right way, you can enjoy the challenge rather than fear it. At this point the game felt like it opened up and showed me exactly what it was capable of, and I wish I’d set the wheel up from the beginning.
Getting past the control issues really does mean you can appreciate the new addition in the 50th Anniversary events. Taking a classic rally car around an iconic track against the clock feels special, and it’s nicely setup so that the events are interwoven with the career mode. There are a couple that can be accessed from the main menu, though it would have been nice just to attempt all of these in sequence instead of going through seasons in the career to unlock them all. It’s probably one of the biggest issues in WRC 10 – it’s not overly considerate with your time. Sure, there are different lengths of rallies selectable, so you can either take a 3 stage reduced competition or mimic a real life 15 – 25 stage beast, but getting to the pinnacle machinery means multiple career runs to unlock and prove yourself capable. I’ve always enjoyed the career build in the games, though I think there should be an option to jump right in that’s not an “arcade” mode. There is a Season mode that lets you run the rally events without all the team management, but that’s also restricted to WRC3 and Junior categories in the beginning. However, those who do put in the miles are still going to miss out on events because whilst everything is officially licensed and replicating the true championship, the Ypres rally in Belgium and the Acropolis rally in Greece will not be added until October and November, respectively.
I mentioned early on that the devs might not be considering new players joining the game for the first time, and that’s no more apparent when getting into the car setups. These are crucial in extracting the right performance and best handling on a given surface, and they’re frankly impenetrable. In an advanced mode you’re setting actual values for each of the variables – like spring return rates for suspension in N/mm… great if you’re an engineer, mystifying if you’re not. There’s a classic mode with moves it to a single slider that lets you set some global values, yet every single category (suspension, gearing, differential, etc) just has a 1 – 10 scale. WTAF does that mean? Is 1 front and 10 rear? 1 hard and 10 soft? 1 slow and 10 fast? These bizarre omissions to make them user friendly really grate after a time, and even a tooltip to say what it means would be useful. At least the new livery editor is a bit more intuitive, though lacks some of the features found in other games, like mirroring decals across each side of the car. It’s something that crops up each year that the handling model, physics and content can be praised, but the UI and ease of getting into the detail leaves a lot to be desired. A bit like including managing the tyre allocation for an event, but making you choose all the tyres without telling you what the surfaces types are. That’ll catch most out in Monte Carlo with sporadic snow and ice in an otherwise asphalt based rally.
Sticking with year on year comparisons, WRC 10 looks exactly like WRC 9, and that’s coming from playing the PS5 version. With several different options for performance on the next gen machines there’s at least a selection depending on your display hardware, but right now the PS5 version suffers from atrocious screen tear in the balanced mode that targets framerate over fidelity. It’s very, very distracting… unless you’re in the cockpit view that limits the draw demand (another suggestion that the game has been designed around racing rig setup?). Switching to prioritise the resolution eliminates it, but at the compromise of fixed 30 fps. Sound is consistent though and each car, especially the historic ones, come across as authentic. The co-pilot is clear and customisable in a few ways so that you can get the right blend of listening to the directions without getting lost. A key test is sitting at the start line revving the engine and hearing it clatter in the barebones shell of the cockpit, waiting for the beep so you can drop the handbrake and roar off. It gets that right, and regardless of what comes next you at least feel like a real driver about to pit his skills and reactions against nature.
So, how do you sum up a game that right now feels like it’s likely to divide players based on their ability to afford or have space for peripherals? Honestly, if you’re only going to play on a pad then save your money, it’s too frustrating and inconsistent to provide a decent reward. Likewise, if you’re a casual rally game fan with the right kit looking for a few thrills, this will not fit the quick blasts you’ll want from it. WRC 10 has a strong impression that it’s for the hardcore only, from the background menu videos of real drivers playing in custom Fanatec racing rigs, to the selection of events in the daily challenges (a launch one was running at 15 km course with broken steering and a knackered turbo). Maybe that’s the right direction for the game before the license changes developers, and it’ll showcase exactly what the Kylotonn team are capable of in the off road sim arena – it delivers on that part brilliantly. For a targeted title though that will have a relatively niche audience that love watching the sport but aren’t ever going to be expert drivers, it’s drifting away. Fans of the FIA World Rally Championship in real life will love the technical details, updates to rosters and new additions like the tyre management; but they might not enjoy having to become as good as the top drivers to play it.
A PS5 review copy of WRC 10 was provided by Kylotonn Games PR team, and the game is available now on PS4, PS5, PC, Xbox One and Xbox X|S for around £40, and will be coming to the Switch at a later date. Additional free DLC is planned over the next few months to expand the season and anniversary modes.