To WRC 3’s credit, it captures the spirit and technicalities of the sport well. The emphasis is ostensibly on control and adaptability, underlining real-world rally drivers’ improvisational driving skills. The selection of locations reflects the full calendar for this year’s events, and the heroes of the sport, including reigning champions Sébastien Loeb and Daniel Elena, lend their names to the proceedings. All the teams competing and the cars they’re using are included, plus a wealth of other vehicles available in special modes. It feels involved and accurate, and that alone can be applauded. But last year’s entry did this too, so there’s little sense of improvement.
Unfortunately WRC 3 also makes the near-fatal mistake of presuming that everyone playing the game will be well-versed in the rules and culture of the World Rally Championship. There’s no real tutorial, nor any explanation of what’s going on. This isn’t too much of a problem if you want to jump into a quick race via the WRC Experience mode, where you just hold down the accelerator and make the best of it, but in the ‘Road to Glory’ career challenge the lack of preparation is damning. Something akin to WRC 2’s Rally Academy, which trained players how to get the best out of the cars, would improve things no end. As it stands, if you’re coming to the game entirely raw, you’ll wonder why your car isn’t quite doing what you want it to and why a disembodied voice is yelling out “right 5”, “left 3,” throughout your races.
The career mode itself is a bit of a conundrum. It’s more streamlined than its predecessor, entirely focussed on placing you behind the wheel of the world’s top rally cars
WRC 3 FIA World Rally Championship
WRC 3 features all the rallies in the 2012 WRC calendar, complete with all leading WRC teams and drivers in the revamped career mode.and letting you prove yourself the best driver ever. It’s faster and a touch more adrenaline-fuelled, or at least it’s least trying to be. Yet unlike last year’s ‘Road to the WRC’ career, the absence of background minutiae – hiring team staff and negotiations for sponsorship deals, for example – makes it feel bare and stripped down.
Prior to each race, you’ll have the option to tweak cars in four areas – front and rear suspension, gear, and body. Each section has enough customisations to give seasoned fans a feeling of precision, but aren’t too complex as to overwhelm novice players. For what it’s worth, those changes can have a discernible effect on performance, most notably the bounce on suspension. For the most part though, the handling of the vehicles is poor. It’s all too easy to turn a drift into a spin, or throw the back of the car out when attempting a corner, or any number of other driving sins that would lose you your license. It ruins any hope of living up to that goal of control and adaptability when any time you need to adapt, you lack the necessary control to do so.
As a result, trying to win races with the lower tier vehicles is always a chore, never a pleasure. You’re likely to have to make numerous passes at any track before you conquer it, swearing ever more profane obscenities at the screen as you do so. It doesn’t get much better when you progress to the meatier, full-power WRC class cars, which feel too light around the tracks for their power class. Track conditions don’t seem to impact handling in any way – you’re as likely to lose control on dry gravel as you are in slippery mud.
Also, and perhaps this will only bother more pedantic players, there’s a general lack of organisation within the menus. It might seem logical to have the freely selectable tracks sorted by ascending difficulty or any other recognisable categorisation but they’re not. They’re just there, waiting to be muddled through – a surprisingly apt analogy for the game as a whole, actually.
One particularly nice touch is the inclusion of retro-styled races, with classic cars from the 70s, 80s and other eras. It definitely adds a nice vintage feel, a celebration of the sport as it approaches its 40th anniversary, and automotive aficionados will get a kick from seeing the beauties of yesteryear in their digital prime. Pure nostalgia is where the enjoyment ends though, as handling is no better with the classic motors than the contemporary ones. It’s no worse, either, but that’s not saying much.
Visually, it’s all pleasant enough – PS3 marginally outperforms 360 in the looks department, and PC trumps both if you’ve a decent set-up – but, as with the rest of the package, there’s nothing that astounds. Mountain vistas and forest tracks are pretty but blur into one after a while, and track-side spectators seem lifeless.
At times WRC 3’s sheer averageness almost feels deliberate. For every good point it has, there’s a frustrating or bewildering counterpoint eerily positioned to rob it of any potential greatness. Ultimately, it simply doesn’t offer enough of an improvement on its forebears to warrant much attention.