Rugged Rallying

Working my way through the PlayStation Plus backlog continues on the good old PS3. Back in the summer months, it was given WRC 5 and as it has been quite some time since my last driving game, I eagerly took it for a spin. This turned out to be not the best of ideas, as the game didn’t provide much in the form of entertainment. In terms of numbers, it should’ve been a good one, featuring rallies of a whopping 13 different countries, a total of 65 special stages, and 21 cars. All of these are instantly available either as single runs or in a career mode that guides the player through rally school and Junior WRC all the way to the very top of WRC itself.

I usually prefer my driving games in cockpit view but in this case, it doesn’t really work that well. Not only do the cabins look awfully spartan, general visibility is often so poor that the feeling of speed is very much amiss. Switching to bonnet view helps things tremendously but sadly the developers’ idea of rallying is rather eccentric. Only about a fifth of the special stages are such that one can press hard enough to even make it a little bit scary. Most of the stages, however, are just bends following each other with such frequency that driving becomes a chore. The most egregious stages are so twisty that average speed drops closer to forty miles per hour, which no longer resembles rallying whatsoever.

Although each car has a pleasantly distinctive sound, their handling is always uncomfortably floaty. Grip is still decent on dry tarmac but especially on gravel, snow, or in heavy rain, driving turns into slalom. While that is basically realistic, utterly hopeless brakes and almost unnaturally smooth road surfaces make the cars feel more like bobsleighs. There are no impressive crashes as straying off course simply turns the screen black and returns the car back to the middle of the road. Blunders closer to the track damage various parts of the car, though. Careless driving with wild abandon can knock out individual shock absorbers, chassis, engine, gearbox, or even the in-car radio. Should any of that happen, there’s no choice but to try and limp to the next service park where mechanics are given 45 minutes to mend the car as much as they can.

The career mode is hardly inspiring, given the short length of the races. Each rally consists of only six or seven special stages that take about 2-7 minutes each. What’s worse, these half-hour races aren’t really about racing at all as the player’s performance is effectively ignored altogether. Unless driving extremely slowly or absolutely wrecking the car, each stage yields the best time with the second best always being 0.2-2 seconds slower. As every stage and every race ends the exact same way, the career mode is just mind-numbingly boring.

WRC 5 isn’t that good technically, either. It’s prone to frequent crashes and every now and then the car apparently doesn’t hit a point that would activate notes for the next three or four corners. While the co-driver eventually wakes up from such naps, having to drive blind even briefly can be quite jarring. The graphics are fairly bland, too. Trees and whatnot are sparse and especially on stages run early in the morning or late in the evening, merely discerning the road becomes a needless challenge.

Despite all this naysay, WRC 5 is still decent enough to quench at least a casual thirst for rallying. Given that it was technically free, its faults are forgivable and I suppose there’s some longevity in trying to improve one’s own times or heading online, even if two years after release there are hardly any players around anymore. Still, on whole the game is mostly just lackluster. While it basically has all the ingredients of a good rally game, it only manages to feel uninspired with more emphasis on quantity than quality.