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WRC 7 review

Kevin Dooley On October 20, 2017

Developers for officially licensed racing titles often have the arduous task of releasing a product with as little as 12 months development time. Needless to say, this is an extremely short time frame and with the ever-high expectations from fans: to say development teams are under pressure is an understatement. After many years belonging to Milestone, French developer Kylotonn secured the official WRC licence and released their first effort in 2015. Although flawed in many areas, WRC 5 showed promise and set the groundwork for future titles to follow.

WRC 6 released 12 months later with improvements in just about every area. Clearly, the development team listened to fan feedback and got to work accordingly. Improvements were vast and plentiful, car handling, graphics and audio all received attention, and stages were noticeably longer and narrower, resulting in a more challenging game that appealed to more seasoned racers. Sadly, WRC 5's frame rate issues were still present in WRC 6 which tainted an otherwise commendable effort from Kylotonn.

With another year's experience under their belt, can Kylotonn Games strike it lucky with their third officially licensed title and truly compete with their rivals?

Same old, same old

Anyone familiar with previous WRC titles from Kylotonn Games will be at home with the content on offer. The solo menu grants you access to the career mode (which is remarkably similar to previous titles), quick game mode, custom championship mode (where you can essentially create your own championship from your favourite rallies) and the driving test which recommends game settings upon completion.

WRC 7 screenshot

Also returning are local split screen and the hot seat mode, (the latter enables turn-based racing for up to eight players) as well as online multiplayer which will see you racing simultaneously against as many as seven others. Finally, challenges are back, as is a heavy e-sports focus which should entertain the most competitive fan-base for many months.

Obviously, Kylotonn Games haven’t spent their admittedly short development time on creating new modes or adding more depth to the career mode, so where has that development time been spent, you may wonder? Fortunately, all becomes clear when you take part in your first rally.

WRC too extreme?

Straight away you can feel just how different the handling model is in WRC 7 compared to earlier titles. It's very clear to see that the developer is going after the ever-growing simulation market with WRC 7, which is a risky move considering it has to appeal to enough players to pay for the costly license.

There's a believable sense of weight to all of the cars: rather than whipping a car side to side on a whim, you have the feeling that you are throwing around some heavy metal. It's this feeling of weight to each car which makes playing WRC 7 satisfying and intuitive.

While the vastly improved and enjoyable handling model is arguably reason enough to pick up WRC7, the real stars of the show are the environments which represent all 13 countries in the WRC calendar. Continuing on from WRC 6, the 51 rally stages keep increasing in length and decreasing in width and comprise of locales rich with detail complete with impressive lighting that makes them feel authentic. If the vast stages weren't challenging enough, the surfaces are noticeably bumpier too, (I have been punted off the road due to these menacing bumps) making them a formidable challenge at times.

Kylotonn is not shy at placing objects very close to the edge of the road either: crowds of people, rocks and fences are only inches away at times, making the margin of error very small. Do you risk nibbling the apex of the upcoming turn avoiding the protruding rocks to shave that extra few tenths of a second, or do you play it safe? WRC 7 asks you these questions a countless number of times during a rally.

New for this year's game are the “epic stages” which are essentially existing rallies cobbled together to make a giant behemoth of a rally. These epic stages present the biggest challenges in WRC 7: their sheer scope will test even the most experienced of sim racer. Indeed, you may be in need of a short break after you've crossed the finish line which can take as long as over ten minutes: you have been warned.

WRC 6's Super Special Stages make a welcome return for the seventh iteration. These short head-to-head courses are 1:1 recreations of the real-world courses complete with ridiculously tight and technical sections. Here you'll get a good perspective of what the real-world rally drivers are up against.

Dirt showdown

The career mode once again kicks off with you signing a contract with a team as you start at the shallow end with the entry level Junior WRC cars. Teams have various focuses, some require out and out speed from you, whilst others prefer you keep the car in one piece at the expense of some speed. Satisfy these team requirements and you'll be in good standing with them, increasing morale and team efficiency.

WRC 7 screenshot

The front-wheeled drive Junior WRC cars might not pack as much punch as their older thoroughbred WRC brothers, but they are still fun to drive thanks to the depth of the much-improved handling model: go into a tight turn too quickly and you'll understeer nudging a barrier on route; hit the brake too hard and you'll lock the wheels and be acquainted with the local flora. These relatively underpowered, but still very capable cars prepare you well for faster classes further into the career mode.

With a season in each of Junior WRC and WRC 2 categories completed, you'll have the option to sign up for the pinnacle of the sport with the WRC category. This year's new WRC regulations have spawned more powerful cars compared to recent years which can probably out-perform the group B monsters of the 80's. These rapid rally cars are more challenging to drive than last year's cars: p. As a matter of fact, piloting these WRC cars can at times feel like you've strapped yourself into a roller-coaster, hanging on for dear life with only the co-driver as your guide. Turns come thick and fast and driving these new powerful WRC cars will certainly test the skills and reactions of even the most seasoned of rally racers making for a truly intense experience.

Gravel presents a big challenge, particularly when coming from the more predictable world of tarmac. Your car will often dance from side to side as it struggles for grip. Dust will collect on your windscreen too, so in between applying opposite lock to straighten the car you'll need to hit your windscreen wipers button, and again shortly after to turn them off. It's in these moments where WRC 7 feels its most intense.

Transitioning from gravel to tarmac is a joy: you can hear the wheels screech as they hit the tarmac and begin to take grip. Going from tarmac to gravel is an altogether different prospect: you'll get a sudden loss of grip which is amplified if it's raining.

WRC 7 screenshot

WRC 7's audio has multiple layers of depth which provides an authentic backdrop to the intense action: pockets of spectators can be heard cheering, tyres skid on tarmac as they try hard to grip out of tight bends, engines sound aggressive as they punch through the gears in record speed, the wastegate valves can be heard fluttering away, and stones pelt the underside of your car on gravel.

One complaint that many WRC fans had was the robotic-sounding co-driver from recent titles. Sadly, he makes a return in WRC 7, and although the calls are spot on, they do still lack that natural sound which we've seen other titles such as DiRT Rally or DiRT 4 get right.

The replays are perhaps WRC 7's weakest point. Rather than going for a TV-style presentation, you'll often find the cameras on the car itself which, in most cases, fails to capture the intensity of the gameplay. Not only that, the car-mounted cameras also display some low-resolution textures on the cars, and the odd graphical bug to boot.

Technically, the PlayStation 4 version of WRC 7 is vastly superior to the previous two titles on the same platform. Gone is the variable frame-rate in favour of a locked 30 frames per second and the title is all the better for it. Throughout my time with the rally racer I only noticed an obvious drop in frame rate on a few occasions.

On top of the new and improved WRC cars this year, (as well as the WRC 2 and Junior WRC cars), Kylotonn has also thrown in four of last year's WRC cars as a bonus. WRC 7 doesn't feature any classic cars though, sadly, so you're stuck with the usual modern offerings from the same handful of manufacturers.

The damage model in WRC 7 needs some attention as it is far too forgiving currently. Granted, you'll see bits of bodywork fall off and flap around, and you'll also encounter an occasional tyre puncture, but the mechanical damage is minimal unless you crash a ridiculous amount of times. Future WRC titles would benefit from a more punishing system which makes the action as much about survival as outright speed.

Taking the competition online gives you the chance to battle with other human players simultaneously. Once you've connected to a lobby (which can be a bit hit and miss at times), games come thick and fast, so you're never waiting too long between the action.

Other players can be seen in real-time via car ghosts (which can be turned off), your progress relative to others can also be seen in real-time via the course progress bar. The gameplay plays out smoothly, and racing against human opponents gives you that heightened sense of pressure to make the already tense action that little more exhilarating.

If racing against others isn't your bag, the game's weekly challenges may just be your calling. Here you'll race against the clock at a predetermined rally with different car and score modifiers applied. Your time is ranked on the online leaderboards, and as you have the opportunity to view replays of the top drivers, pushing for a faster time can be addictive.

WRC 7 is an intense rally game that will test the skills of racing game veterans thanks to its long and sometimes narrow stages which feature plenty of bumps and hazards that will often catch you out. Car handling feels fun and intense, and you get a great sense of the car's weight, which is complemented by decent force feedback, (should you be using a racing wheel) that helps make the action even more realistic and intuitive.

The career mode hasn't really evolved since 2015's WRC 5 and is in need of a refresh for next year's offering. WRC 7 also sorely needs a presentation revamp: we'd love to see video introductions to each country along with some real-life WRC footage to help add context and the feeling that you are travelling across the globe, not to mention more TV-style replays. Criticisms aside, there's no denying that WRC 7 is a fun, intense and satisfying racing game and is easily one of the best official WRC titles released to date.

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