2010 has been a big year for motorsport and that's reflected by the level of interest generated by the gaming industry, there is now more variety within the racing genre than ever before and all competing for your hard earned cash. Indeed WRC has seen some big names sign up for the 2010 season, including Ken Block of ESPN sports fame and Kimi Raikkonen who exited F1 for a sabbatical 2009, joining the WRC for an undetermined amount of time. With drivers of this caliber and fame opting for a slot, the status of the sport couldn't be higher. That status also reflects on the pressure for Milestone to do a good job, the world is watching and the size of the development team or restricted budgets is no excuse, this game needs to perform.
First shown at E3 VVVGamer missed out, so it came as welcome news that VVVGamer were to be invited to Milan to play the latest build, interview the developers and visit the development studio. A great opportunity to see behind the scenes and have a rummage under the bonnet. Arriving at Milan airport, it's one of those places where you step off the plane and the heat immediately hits you, 37.5 degrees Centigrade, I was thankful for air conditioning, so after a nontraditional Italian meal of meat and chips it was time to return to the hotel avoiding some colourful activity on the street and get some sleep.
Moving into the presentation and Fabio Paglianti-Game Director notes that WRC is returning to consoles after a 5 year break, noting too that this represents the first time an official WRC title is being released on XB360 and PS3 formats. He continues to mention the game will include all locations, classes, cars and drivers from the current season, forming a comprehensive package. Fabio notes “our aim is to make a realistic and accessible racing experience” give the opportunity for players to feel the sensations of a rally car, while letting beginners get to grips with the experience and the ability to improve their trade.
Work behind the development has been considerable, focusing on the track, artists and photographers have been visiting each location and building up a considerable base of information in constructing all 13 rallies, 78 special stages, 40 different surfaces and more than 500km of gameplay. While 'The road to the WRC': Career Mode is made up with 55 events and cups. Start from the beginning with a slower car and work your way up over several seasons improving your skills to take on better opposition..
Michele Bertolini – technical and track artist takes to the stage and gives an idea on the level of work involved in recreating such an expansive sport, revealing some impressive screen shots and improved lighting models. Milestone are keen to impress graphically and these shots are much improved over any previously seen. An entertaining slide reads 'Track development – how your enemy was made' going through more of the process before a closer look at 'Lighting and Mood, Track as a character' explaining the considerable steps forward, this extending to dynamic lighting, dynamic dirt and a technique new to my technical know-how called Spherical Hermonix? This all supported by real time environment reflections and mapping, while cars will contain at least 50,000 polygons per model.
So an encouraging start, this is followed by Irvin Zonca, Head of Physics Designers, Irvin kicks off by mentioning his own passion for racing games, he also has real rally driving experience and using that he hopes to bring a greater realism to WRC. He explains the considerable detail in building an effective physics system and the problems initially encountered, this requiring a complete rebuild from Milestones previous efforts, suspension and differentials required a lot of focus in finding a correct balance, anti-lock system for a turbo charger, delay lag in the acceleration, suffice to say corners have not been cut in making sure key details are all as you would expect in every aspect of the handling. Concluding Irvin reveals a few more screen shots looking at the different weather conditions “Look that this because that is beautiful” he comments in that enthusiastic Italian accent, as we look at some of the recent screen shots of the game and development team testing the many steering wheels on the market.
Following the brief presentation is was time for our first hands-on, walking into a room with 8 demo pods covering XB360, PS3 and PC. It was instantly apparent the game visually had moved on leaps and bounds since it's E3 debut just a few short weeks ago. First sitting down to play the XB version using a Fanatec 911 wheel and Playseat, selecting Ken Block on the Finland stage the game felt ok but still very early, a dreadful run my dashboard wasn't working, Fabio reassuring this was a small issue of many to be fixed in the QA testing.
Moving to the PC with G27, ah this is more like it, working properly and it instantly feels fantastic, the traction effortlessly conveyed, still a bumpy run the wheel makes for an exceptionally physical experience. Progressive acceleration worked well while more aggressive use of the power makes for a far greater level of risk. As ever rally is always balancing on that knife edge and WRC is no exception, I'm looking to find more speed, cut a corner, use the positive camber, making the best of it. Alas again I push too hard, clipping a barrier (which is damaged in the incident) and damaging my car, this having a profound effect on the handling and effectively ruining my stage time. But it's great to feel a game that's so intuitive at this stage, every mistake is my fault, visually matching the effects of gradients exactly.
As I drive the graphics continue to impress, highly detailed environments and a great visual hue combine in a superb atmosphere and supported with some nifty motion blur effects. Though on this early version graphics between stages can vary, Germany has a very cartoony look with details popping in very close to the player, this distorting the feel of realism, though again this is expecting to be rectified in the coming weeks.
Now a chance on the XB360 with a pad, and I'm finally handed some head phones, an instant difference now I can hear my co-driver and actually predict the corners. From struggling with understeer, suddenly it clicks, I'm really starting to feel the handling. If I was to compare it, I would say it reminds me of Colin McRae 1 and 2 releases in the late 90's, the inertia feels right, especially on the looser surfaces. Then there's the judicious use of the handbrake, critical in hairpins and some negative camber corners where understeer can really affect section times. Racing in Sweden, Finland, then Jordan, each stage have their unique challenges and it will be interesting to see how the settings affect the skill required. In a perfect world the sim setting should prove the greatest risk/reward, ultimately making for better stage times with experienced gained, that's something we'll have to test on a later version.
Sound also plays a big part and Milestone have long had very high standards in the sound department, WRC is no exception. Great engine sounds combine with the constant natter of your co-driver, besides directions he'll comment on your progress and can become quite irate if he feels you're not pushing hard enough. Of course he also works well to motive you and congratulate success.
Already at this stage it's clear WRC is going to be a solid effort, and to many including myself it comes as a great relief. Milestone have long had good automotive experience but their skill of developing a top class high quality, high cost development was still to be proven. With a package of considerable scale WRC is on track and on the pace, more info as and when we get it and we'll have an exhaustive review in the coming weeks.