You're driving through the snow in Sweden, keeping your back wheels just about on the track while you're sliding around corners, jumping over crests and listening to a voice barking instructions at you. Then, out of nowhere your co-pilot says "square right", forcing you to think, "what's a square..." But before you can finish the thought, you've flown off the tracks and into some trees damaging your car and earning a time penalty.
Sound familiar? Then you're either a rally driver, or you're a fan of the rally racing genre. WRC 8 is the FIA official rally sim, with all the teams, tracks and drivers you'd find in the real World Rally Championship. Not only is it official, but it's also a detailed and exhilarating rally sim that gave us many hours of fun.
There are several modes to choose from, but probably the most thought and design has gone into the career mode. Here you not only race around tracks in different countries such as Turkey and Portugal, but you also manage your team, level up with experience, and deal with sponsors (among other things). The team office offers a really interesting level of detail. Each race provides you with experience and money, and your experience gives you skill points which you can use you in the R&D section, which manifests itself in the form of a skill tree.
This tree is split into four sections: team, performance, crew, and reliability. Your reliability and performance are more about your car, while team and crew skills will help you off the track with options to help you find new events or better weather prediction for races. The money can be used to enter new events, such as training sessions. It can also be used to repair your car after a rally, prompting us to wonder if drivers in real life have to pay for the destruction they cause.
Answering emails and dealing with crew fatigue might not be for everyone, and to be honest, the most fun we had was on the track, but things like sponsors offering you race objectives, or racing in-between rally events to impress a new manufacturer made career mode feel a whole lot bigger and more detailed. We liked it, even down to dealing with crew fatigue or hiring new meteorologists to predict the weather - it's just that every now and then all we wanted to do was race.
Luckily, there is another mode where you can just race the rallies and not worry about the team (more about this later). When you do head to the track, we can tell you that the performance is sharp. There's something exhilarating about having no mini-map and listening to your co-driver give you instructions. There are also arrows at the top of the screen that help you to follow the instructions of your number two, otherwise, it's all about your reactions on the track.
Something we like is the inclusion of the mid-rally repair session, where you can choose to fix your car for a time penalty or drive on in a damaged ride. It added an element of management that we thought was rather thought-provoking; repair your engine and you might stand a better chance in the next stage, but the overall time it takes to fix your car could lose you the race.
So, we've talked about career mode and touched on the racing, but now it's time to get down to the nitty-gritty: the physics. WRC 8 makes you feel like you're racing and the environments you play in has the biggest effect on the experience. The tracks have a range of surfaces from dusty to snowy tundra, while the blessing of asphalt will give you a feeling of elation. Your tyre choice is also really important when it comes to staying on the track. It feels authentic, but it's also just the right side of forgiving and that makes it more accessible than more hardcore sims.
Then, there's the weather. Try driving through heavy rain or a storm and your adrenalin will start pumping. It's so dynamic, with rain covering your screen as you try your best to see the track. That's not to mention the day and night options. When racing through the rain at night you've got practically zero visibility in slippery conditions. Race through a storm on a winding track full of tight turns and you might think it would be too much, but we found it exhilarating. The handling and feel of the car on each surface, even on a controller, is really satisfying.
When it comes to the visuals, we thought it was pretty good looking. Each stage has been beautifully designed, from the woods and lakes of Finland to the coastline in Wales. It really is breathtaking just how much detail has gone into the track designs (and there are plenty of them in there to keep things fresh). The lighting is also good and we must say the headlights at night look spectacular.
The roar of the engine and sound of rain hitting the trees was really impressive too. The only slightly annoying part of the auditory experience was some of the co-drivers, who sounded a little unnatural, but at least their instructions kept us on the straight and narrow.
If you don't want to try your luck in career mode, then there are other things for you to do instead. For example, you can head to the test area, which is basically a free-roaming session where you can test your car and hone your skills. There are also training sessions and challenges for you to take part in, and if you want to do the rallies without the bother of team management, you can do that too. Finally, there's multiplayer, where you can take on other players online, or race locally via split-screen (a feature we particularly appreciated).
All in all, WRC 8 has delivered. It's a deep rally sim with lots of modes and plenty of things to do. Managing your team and making business decisions adds an interesting dynamic, and the career mode is very deep and involving. It looks, feels and sounds great, with the weather making a particularly strong impression. If you're a fan of rally games then you should definitely take a closer look at Kylotonn's latest effort, although there's something here for less experienced drivers too.