Italian developers Milestone are back with another brutal world tour of dirt and gravel tracks.
If rally is the most challenging discipline of racing, then the FIA World Rally Championship is reserved for the best of the best. Through thirteen countries from Sweden to Argentina, man and machine are put to the test. If you want to climb to the top of the podium you need the help of a professional and trust in your co-driver completely. Quick reflexes and thinking on the fly are key along the narrow paths as you never see the same curve again.
At the start of WRC 3 we enter the new career mode "Road to Glory". As the new kid on the block we're tasked with making a name for ourselves in the championship. Across 83 stages in 13 countries, in cars from various different time eras. Between each stage we can repair our car with exactly one virtual hour on the clock. In the workshop we can improve our cars with upgrades and new parts.
One thing is quickly becomes apparent with WRC 3 - rally is insanely difficult. This is partly due to the fact the stages are based on actual real-life WRC stages. One curve follows another, and the road is just barely wide enough for the car. It's enough to make even veteran drivers sweat.
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For the beginner it's pure murder. Especially since the game doesn't offer any visual guidance such as an ideal line. The only helping tool available is your ability to rewind the action a couple of seconds, but you're penalised for doing so. Why the developers included a rewind feature, but no ideal racing line remains a mystery.
Instead we're stuck listening to the commands our co-driver shouts. Our friend in the passenger seat shouts out instructions without break and is often one or two instructions ahead of the actual driving. The sheer amount of information to digest require a high degree of concentration, and eventually we would simply lose the plot and take a right instead of a left.
The directional symbols at the top of the screen aren't much help either. A "left 4" curve is of a colour that is almost indistinguishable from a "left 3", and given that the next symbol is already being displayed, you have to look twice in order to know what's around the next bend. This can be fatal as any distraction, thanks to the detailed and well crafted damage model, results in a dent at the very least.
The driving physics, however, are remarkably indifferent. Driving down a dusty dirt road in Kenya is hardly any different from driving down a frozen mountain road in Sweden. As we stumble along at 35 miles an hour in a river bed, we thought we'd feel it - but we don't. The cars behave a bit more differently from each other, the front-wheel drive cars understeer, the rear-wheel ones overdrive, and the four-wheel drive are the most balanced. It's a wonderful game of inertial forces - where you keep your finger on the accelerator, to try and perfectly time the exit of a curve.
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WRC 3 does a good job in the sound department. The engines roars, stutters, roars, and roars again. The transmissions sings and braking is sweet music. But as anyone who has experienced a group B monster in real-life will tell you, the game can't fully emulate those sounds. Nevertheless, sound is an area where WRC 3 excels - even the sound of wrecking your car is beautiful.
From a visual perspective, however, WRC 3 falls short of the competition. The stages are well crafted, but not visually appealing. Due to lacking lighting and particle effects, the visuals come across lifeless and artificial. One beautiful detail are the icy puddles that plague the arctic stages, even if they make no actual difference in terms of the driving.
Generally speaking the winter stages are the most visually pleasing in the game. But as we conquer the 80+ stages of the game it would be nice to see a bit of dust blowing in the wind as you race through the arid deserts, and a bit of splash from the puddles would also be appreciated. Something that hits the windshield. Rally is a brutal form of racing - dirty and ruthless - and the game has to look the part.
The detail is also lacking when it comes to the cars, for instance the shock absorbers disappear in the gray nothingness of the wheel wells. We can paint the cars to our hearts content in the workshop, but the customisation tools are nowhere near the ones found in Forza Motorsport 4 and Need for Speed. As far as the parts go, the changes aren't even visibly detactable.
WRC 3 is a mixed bag that may offer too much realism when it comes to the challenging stages and overwhelming co-driver instructions, but it lacks the degree of realism when it comes to the driving physics. As the game only offers rewind and no other aids - it can be a nightmare for beginners, who have no means of gradually advancing their skills. The poor visual fidelity and lack of details also disappoint. Regardless of the WRC license this game still resides in the shadows of Colin McRae and Codemasters.
6 / 10
+ Realistic tracks and plenty of challenge. + WRC license. + Well crafted sounds.
- Driving physics disappoint. - No visual aids, such as ideal driving line. - Frustrating for newcomers.