Scotch Corner – Leaving the Tarmac Behind

Read Stuart’s column every week in The Scottish Sun, where he shares his reviews, news and podcasts with the 99.3% of the World’s population not fortunate enough to be able to buy a physical copy of the paper. The following appeared originally in The Scottish Sun on Sunday 15th September.


Flat right into bumps…

RALLY fan Alain Jarniou admits he was like a kid in a sweetshop when he got to tackle the official WRC game.  The Game Director for the series could not believe how much access they got to the stars and their cars.  Alain, below, told me:

“We have more than 50 official teams driving a total of 20 different cars in WRC8.  We take photos of all the cars at rallies to use as references for the shapes and the liveries, and of the drivers and co-drivers for the integration in the game.  We also work with the car manufacturers, so every car and team in the game is validated by the official WRC participants.  It is a great guarantee for the game realism.”

Alain is also glad they took a breather from the last title to make sure there were no grumps and groans from rally fans.  He reckons the break has paid off big-time.  He said:

“This gap was a great opportunity for us to really push some key aspects of the game much further than before.  It allowed us to significantly push the simulation level for modern rally cars and to introduce, for the first time in the WRC series, iconic historical cars.  We also now have dynamic weather, which is the ability to change the weather during a stage.  This has a visual impact, with potentially less visibility for instance, but also on the car physics.  It is a fundamental step for the rally experience realism.”

But Alain admits the fans have played a major role in helping and inspiring his team.  He said:

“The community of a game such as WRC8 is full of passionate people, so it’s really important for us to listen to their voices.  We always keep in mind when developing a rally game that we make an even more realistic game than before because that’s what our community of players asks for.  This includes cars physics, but also better driving wheel management and giving access to a wider number of parameters in the game.  We added historical cars this year — that has been a big request from our fans in recent years.”

But the key to success was talking to the pros.  Alain said:

“We actively worked with drivers competing in the current or previous seasons.  Their expertise in the real thing allowed us to be more accurate than ever about the racing experience and handling.  Sebastien Chardonnet, our long-time partner and consultant, who is a Junior WRC and WRC3 champion, came to the studio.  Sean Johnston and Alex Kihurani also met with the team and testing our alpha build.  They gave us a lot of feedback about the cars’ handling and technical advice, like the full decomposition of how you attack a corner in rally — millisecond after millisecond.  We actually adjusted the Junior WRC car following their inputs.”

That realism even extended to the events as well.  Alain added:

“As the official game, WRC8 follows the real calendar.  So we integrated all 14 official countries for a total of over 100 stages.  It’s hard to pick a favourite, as every country is a different experience, but Turkey offers one of the hardest gravel challenges and is a beautiful location.”

A huge part of the series is the eSports experience.  Alain admitted:

“It will be our fifth eSports WRC season and we will start in January 2020.  Things will be announced later, but our idea in 2020 is to make the eSports WRC an even bigger part of the WRC ecosystem, and to work also with the official manufacturers and teams.  eSports WRC is also a good way to identify the best players in the world and involve them in the making of the game.”

WRC 8  (Xbox One, PS4 & PC, £39.99)

THE stage is set for a rollicking rally riot.  We’ve all heard the phrase that a break will do you the world of good.  Well, French studio Kylotonn proves the point with the WRC games based on the official FIA World Rally Championship.  WRC8 had an extra two years in the garage, but that time was spent getting it running just right.  They needed that break because, it is fair to say, WRC7 didn’t quite hit the mark with rally fans.  So hopes are high for the sim- focused rally adventure that is WRC8.

You get a beefy career mode to navigate your way through and it is about far more than hitting the perfect corner.  You need to look after your back-room staff.  That team management angle adds a load of work to your career but it does shine a light on what the real teams have to go through on a day-to-day basic.  You need to handle everything from hiring new staff to picking the right tyres for the next event.  It is a great addition and really puts some meat on the rally team bones.  And you need to make it work because failure means you won’t get the cash you need to run the team.  Fail to pay them and your career will suddenly hit the brakes.  Again, a insight into the real world of motorsport.

Victories keep the wheels turning.  If you want the best position then you will need a healthy research and development section to keep the upgrades coming — but they are not cheap.  It is true that the management side can feel a bit clunky at times because of the menu system and a kind of input lag when you are navigating them.  But we would suggest that most people will play this for the rally experience and not the boardroom.  You will not be found wanting.  There are 100 stages for you to blast around in a number of beefed-up family runarounds on every surface from mountains to snowy forests and dusty roads.  At this point, it is worth acknowledging the well-rounded tutorial system.  Use it to teach yourself the key driving skills or as a refresher for those returning to the series after its break.

This is the official FIA licence game so you get a host of cars from WRC, WRC2, JWRC and legends.  They all have their own characteristics on handling and you’ll need to work them out before you blast down a snow track at 80 mph.  Don’t do the hard yards and it won’t end well.  The weather system adds to the fun because it is random as well as dynamic.  That means you might start out on a clear run but, suddenly, there is sideways rain and you are fully on the slide.  You never know what’s coming and that keeps you on your toes because the driving conditions can change dramatically as you get less grip.

WRC8 has definitely raised the bar on the past titles, but DiRT is the reigning rally king — so does this do enough to dethrone it?  If you’re a WRC fan then this is a must-have game.  If you want a full, well-rounded look at rallying from the backroom action through to the driving then this is an interesting take on the sport.  But we felt it just lacked the overall polish that DiRT brings to the table.  It isn’t quite as sharp in some areas but, that said, nothing will make you smile like power-sliding the perfect corner and firing it full throttle into the next straight at the dead of night . . . in a snow storm.  That is a winner.

Score: 4.5/5

MXGP 2019 (Xbox One, PS4 and PC, £49.99)

GET some revved-up two-wheel action with a MXGP blast.  This is the latest offering from Milestone — the masters of all things bike-shaped in gaming.  They have already served up a treat with the Moto GP series and they have earned Brownie points for the more retail-focused Ride series.  But the Italian studio is back in the spotlight with MXGP 2019 — the official MXGP FIM Motocross World Championship game.  You get all the stars and bikes as well as the tracks so you can unleash your inner motocross rider.  And as you would expect Milestone have put some stunning level of detail into the look.  The bikes are amazing and the kit your riders wears has all the logos you would expect.  But we’re going to start with the gripe.  Why, just why, are the Italians so reluctant to have some music during the races?  It would add to the feel, boost the atmosphere and is just right.  And breathe.

The biggest upgrade in this year’s game is in the core physics and handling.  They add a real sim vibe to the whole game.  You have to learn how to get the most out of your bike hitting the corners or carving up big patches of dirt as the track gets more worn throughout a race.  If you don’t then you might as well turn the game off.  Then there’s the weather system — rain plus dirt?  Enough said.  Yes, it does take time to learn and perfect the skills but there is a solid rewind system that will save your bacon enough times to stop you throwing a hissy fit when you spin out again.

The core game is the big sell.  Everything else is a bit threadbare and there is no real progression beyond winning titles and kitting your bike out.  We did like the fun and easy-to-use track editor where you can build your dream mud bowl then post it online for the world to attack.  There is also a playground — a big open area — for you to learn how to ride, do challenges and create your own races.  MXGP 2019 moves the core of the series forward, but you’ll need to be a hardcore fan to see how.  Newcomers will have some fun races.

Score: 3/5

Wreckfest (Xbox One, PS4 and PC, £49.99)

YOU will never die wondering what this game is all about.  Talk about doing what it says on the tin.  Wreckfest is a licence to smash stuff up and make a real big mess.  And more people can join in the fun now that the PC hit has arrived on consoles.  Developed by Bugbear Entertainment, the Finnish studio has taken racing games and flipped the idea on its head.  This is very much the spiritual successor to the Flatout series — which is no surprise because some of the development team worked on that and polished their signature brand of destruction derby vehicular anarchy.  The result is a fun racer but with the epic twist that you can destroy the other racers by smashing, pushing or just good old ramming them to bits.

By bits we really do mean bits — the game can be truly stunning as thousands of fragments of body work fly through the air after each crash.  There is a good selection of vehicles, ranging from ride-on grass-cutters to old school buses and everything in-between.  There is also a customisation system which can change the look and the overall handling of your car.  Then you can attack the different modes.  Career is where you have to bag points to move up the levels.  But online is the star of the show.  It is the best riot you can be part of.  You can also build custom events so you can put 23 buses against a poor guy on a ride-on mower and there are so many options to tweak as you search for that perfect event.

The tracks are a mix of real-world type locations to flights of fantasy.  There’s a car skate park as well as a huge loop-the-loop.  That choice means there should be a track that suits you best — but they are designed to make you crash so embrace that.  And, if you’re looking to push it to the limit, you could try the realistic damage setting.  Cue a gloves-off fight where you have to smash things but you need tactical nous.  Look, it is nothing new.  It isn’t even a polished version of what went before.  But it is big, loud and in your face.  It is a great break from a heavy-duty sim racer and ideal for a laugh with your mates or even on your own.  It’s a smash.

Score: 4.5/5

I’ll be back next week with more from North of the Border. Catch ye’s…

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Stuart Cullen

Scotland’s very own thorn in the side of the London gaming scene bringing all the hottest action straight from The Sun… well… The Scottish Sun at least, every week!

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