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WRC 6

Score: 75%
ESRB: Everyone
Publisher: BANDAI NAMCO Games America, Inc.
Developer: Kylotonn Games
Media: Download/1
Players: 1 - 8 (Local Multiplayer) / 2 - 8 (Online Multiplayer)
Genre: Racing (Simulation)/ Racing

Graphics & Sound:

I have to say the videogame industry, as a whole, has made a lot of progress in graphical realism. Sadly, WRC 6's graphics feel like they're lagging behind a generation or more in places. Some of the issues are likely to be a selection of where you want to use up your polygons and related processing power, but the animated spectators look really robotic and remind me of early Gran Turismo crowds of generations ago. There are, of course, more important things than the look of the crowds to keep your attention when racing around the course, but this lack of detail and realism is very noticeable during pre-race screens when there are spectators in the background and once you've noticed it, you can't un-see it.

There are also some strange distracting graphical issues that occur from time to time. For one, the process that adds fullness to trees based on how close you are to them works pretty well, in general, adding detail when you would be able to see the extra detail. However, on a couple of tight curves where you are hurtling toward a cliff wall and you have to chicane around it to the right, I found it disturbing to witness tree limbs growing towards me quickly as I rapidly approach. This probably shouldn't ever be situated directly in the center of the screen, where this process is able to be heavily scrutinized, since the resulting feeling that the tree is growing out to get you breaks the suspension of disbelief.

On a few rare occasions, I also found electric poles to not only be located slightly in the street itself (and not beside the street), but that the bottom of the electric pole was actually floating several inches above the ground. Again, this might be something you wouldn't necessarily notice at high speeds, but since I lost control, ran straight for it and smacked into it, it was somewhat of a focal point for me.

Another thing not to expect from WRC 6 is customizable vehicle appearance. You are playing as a driver on an actual, licensed rally team, so your car appearance will be that of their actual car. The make and model of the car will also be that of the team's car. There is customization to be done, but it's all dealing with adjusting the settings on the brakes, suspension, steering, etc. It affects how the car performs, not how it looks.

What will affect how your car looks are the many, many times you'll find yourself smacking into something. Unlike Gran Turismo, these cars get smacked up. A lot. Fenders and hoods will get thrashed. Your windshield will get cracked. When you hit a road sign, you may carry it around a bit, adding a certain flair to your car's appearance until it's slung off. And, while there are several views to choose from, including a Bumper cam, a Hood cam and a third-person view, if you choose the Interior view, you'll also have to deal with the grit on the windshield. Personally, I found that I prefer the Bumper cam, even though it's a bit low to the ground and flags and signs end up blocking my vision more often than I like. At least I don't have to add windshield wipers to the list of controls I have to manage.

As for sound effects, the cars sound realistic, but in a gritty, grinding, gravel-caught-in-the-wheel sort of way. Don't get me wrong... that's when you're sliding at high revs through a gravel-covered turn. The grit sounds like grit, the gravel sounds like gravel, and the high-revving engine sounds like you're going to need to give it some attention before the next race. You can even hear the air rapidly whoosh out of your tire when you get a puncture.

However, rally racing is not a one-person sport. It takes a driver (that's you) and a co-driver to call out the PaceNotes warning of upcoming turns, since you might be racing through what looks every bit like the service access roads in a National Park (but narrower) and where you might need to take a blind hairpin left turn just over a hill. Off camber. At night. In the rain. With a flat. As fast as you can manage, without falling off the cliff on the right. The timing and detail of these route instructions can be tailored to fit your preferences and are available in multiple languages. I would say the co-driver seemed realistic, except that I'm pretty sure any real, live person trying to co-drive for me would have been yelling, "Stop-Stop-Stop-Stop-Stop", "Are you trying to get us killed?!" and "Just drop me off here. I'll walk back," which seemed noticeably missing from the co-driver's calm audio clips.


Gameplay:

I am a fan of racing games, whether it be the Need for Speed or Test Drive series, or more arcade-y, such as Burnout or more simulator-esque, such as Gran Turismos or Project: CARS... or even futuristic racing games such as Wipeout. However, by and large, those racing games are all about going neck and neck against opponents to scramble your way across the finish line ahead of as many of them as possible. You might not realize how much of a factor the other cars are until you race without anyone else on the track, just you against the clock. The visual feedback of gaining on or being passed by someone helps to give you an almost tangible understanding of your performance, during the race. Are you at the back of the pack and on the last lap? Maybe it's time to be a little more reckless and go for broke. Perhaps time to hit the Nitro button or take that risky shortcut. Out ahead of the competition? Maybe you need to keep your eyes peeled for other cars trying to overtake you and nudge them out...

But, um... none of that applies here. When you're racing, you're racing against the clock, so whether you're doing well or having a horrible run, you won't overtake an opponent or be passed. There are no power ups or nitros. There are no shortcuts and, in some places, if you go off-road a bit, you can get penalized with seconds added to your time. Fun. Spectators are fanatical about being close to the action, but not so concerned with their own safety. There are places you can slip just a little off track and smack into some, which (no gore) will automatically reset you (at a dead stop) in the center of the road and, again, penalize you precious seconds. Some places that you accidentally go off-road (such as when you fall off the road and into the woods or down the side of a cliff just a bit) don't instantly reset you and fine you for going off-road, but let you sit there, stuck, until you either manage to make your way back to the road or hold down the manual reset button (for a few seconds) to opt to manually reset yourself back on the track. Selecting to manually reset your car on the track will get you yet another time penalty. So, let's see... there's the initial loss of time and speed when you fell off the road, the wasted time it took for you to decide you need to manually reset, the time it takes holding down the button to actually trigger the manual reset and, finally, the time penalty assessed on top. This is frustrating enough to make me want to simply restart the run, but WRC 6 limits how many times you can actually restart a given race, so you'll have to balance the crappy run you're currently trying to redo with the possibility of messing up worse in your next go.

The nature of rally racing means that the gameplay is primarily single-player centric. You can start a quick race just to get a quick game in, if you like, or to try out a new stage or practice one you're having problems with or you can play in the Career Mode and start with the Junior WRC cars, working your way up through WRC 2 and finally into the WRC cars, which are scarily powerful to be hurling themselves over such narrow roads in poor visibility. WRC 6 does have Online and Offline Multiplayer options, as well, but I wasn't ever able to actually get into an Online game, so I can't speak to what that's like... other than the fact that it's difficult to find a game. I did play an Offline, Splitscreen Multiplayer game with Psibabe and that race was handled as if we were racing against each other, but using "ghost" cars. You could see where the other player was in relation to you (if they were nearby), but you wouldn't bump them off a cliff, for example, since your cars can't interact.

Another interesting player-vs-player setup takes the form of Challenge Events. There can be up to two of these running at the same time and they present a scenario, such as a public exhibition run or a special stage from one of the rallies and players try to get the fastest time or best score while the challenge is open. Once the challenge is closed, final standings are revealed. This was interesting, but again, WRC 6 really feels like it's mainly about you and the road.


Difficulty:

When you first start playing WRC 6, you will first be asked whether you're looking for a more difficult simulation experience or if you just want to race for fun. You will also be asked if you play a lot of racing games. In all, there are something like four to six such questions you're asked. Then, you go through an evaluation race that sees how well you handle things, including getting a flat tire. Using all of these factors, WRC 6 will pre-populate your settings with it's recommendations. You can change those settings at that point or later, through the Settings Menu, to tweak your experience as you see fit. Personally, I found that the default settings led to a frustratingly challenging game. In fact, I played quite a bit of the game with these settings, leading to a lot of frustration and a feeling of hopelessness, until I realized that I could change the difficulty. Changing the difficulty affects several things, including the times that your opponents get. This, effectively, increases the times for all opponents, making it easier to place higher in the lineup. When I went from Semi-Pro to Amateur, I went from finishing in the last three places to finishing first. If you find you're frustrated, you might want to adjust the difficulty downward.

In addition to simply lowering the bar to get higher placements in races, the difficulty levels also will alter the number of retries you get per race, whether the game helps to stabilize the car, whether your car is Semi-Automatic or Manual, and whether it helps your starts. Without the assistance for the race starts, if you accelerate without holding the parking brake, you could get penalized for a false start when your car jumps before the countdown finishes. If you find yourself unhappy with the preset difficulty levels, you can also select Custom, which allows you to set some of the settings similar to higher difficulty levels (such as practicing your takeoffs), while keeping other settings as they would be in lower difficulty levels.

One thing that vexed me for quite a while was trying to get the car to drift. It was very spotty as to whether I would jump in to a drift or simply slow down. While you can get into a drift by tapping the normal brake when at high speeds and in a low friction scenario, such as gravel or hard tires on tarmac (asphalt), it's much easier to start a drift using the e-brake. Further, I found I could pull off a drift in a turn with almost Mario-Kart reliability by letting go of the accelerator and then jumping back on the accelerator at the same time as the e-brake.

If you're having a problem in a given race and get your car smacked up, the damage will affect how your car performs. Additionally, you only have a certain amount of time allowed for making repairs between stages in a given rally. That means you'll have to choose between replacing your tires, repairing your bodywork, or addressing your engine issues. You have 45 minutes of work that can be performed without penalty, but you can go up to 60 minutes worth of repair at the penalty of... you guessed it... additional seconds added to your overall time. There is an option to let your pit crew select what work is most needed and I generally use that option and haven't had to go over the 45 minutes... not that I'm all fixed up for every race, mind you.


Game Mechanics:

While I found it refreshing for a game to ask me what I wanted it to be when I first began playing, it felt like WRC 6 may have lost something by trying to be the rally game for everyone, regardless of what they want. WRC 6 is never an "arcade" racer, but the difficulty can be reduced to the point that it's at least somewhat accessible to gamers who aren't die-hard simulation fans, but it's still a rally racer; there's no getting away from that.

If you're a die-hard rally fan, much of this might make sense to you. However, I wanted to point these things out for the racing gamer who happens to spy WRC 6 and consider picking it up as a new racing game. Rally racing is not like street or track racing and WRC 6, in particular, is more interested in simulating the rallies it covers than providing being approachable to a casual (or even non-rally) gamer.

If you're looking for a rally simulation game, complete with co-drivers, penalties for falling off the road, and mechanical failures and limited time in the garage to fix them between races, and you're not looking for customizable liveries and or over-the-top eye candy, WRC 6 might be for you. Personally, I want more say in my cars' appearances and prefer the Rally-lite racing experiences of Gran Turismo games gone by.


-Geck0, GameVortex Communications
AKA Robert Perkins

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