This year we've seen a multitude of rally titles released to the market, some new and some continuing franchises. From the ultra hard and realistic Richard Burns Rally, to the truly superb Colin McRae Rally 2005, they've all been up against each other. However only one continues to carry the official license and that is the WRC series from Sony. With the fourth iteration now available, this is probably the toughest year for this successful game and while it is a quality rally game, it's not the best of 2005.
Being the only official licensed WRC game, the main focus is on exploiting that to the highest possible degree, but sometimes it doesn't make for the most interesting gameplay. In terms of modes you have a career mode, championship mode, individual rallies, test driving, super special and online play. So the game does have quite a bit to do, although really when it boils down to the basis all you will be doing is driving cars, as is to be expected.
One thing that has to be noted, and we made this mistake ourselves somewhat, is that the career mode and the championship mode are completely different. In the championship mode you select a current manufacturer and relevant real world driver before taking on the rallies one by one to complete the championship season. However in the career mode you begin as a rookie driver at the very bottom with a set number of tasks to impress the teams. This is by far the lengthiest mode of the game and where most time will be spent but it's also great that the developers decided to allow players to jump right into a championship if they want to.
Of course the main crux of the game tasks you with getting from one point to the other as quickly as possible. The thing about WRC is, it just does not seem that fun to drive. The enthusiasts of the genre will like the incredible depth the game shows and how you can tweak your car, race on the proper tracks etc but for those wanting an experience like Colin McRae then you best look elsewhere. WRC4 is a very technical game focusing on a technical challenge so rather than having to negotiate a huge, unrealistic jump, the challenge comes from slowing down enough to take a corner properly. Of course this will be some gamers cup of tea, but others just will begin to fall asleep.
The official license that Sony has entails everything about the WRC. Not only will you find the real cars, teams, drivers and tracks but the technology which is used to track the cars in the real world has also been emulated. Known as Inmarsat the technology is one of the main focuses of the real world championship so for the developers to emulate that is fantastic. They do this in a number of ways. From the aesthetic style of watching a replay from behind the two passengers, through to some insane level of telemetry for those who know about rally cars and can make modifications based on their performance.
The game as mentioned before is the only official game and therefore features all the teams such as Subaru, Mitsubishi, Skoda, Renault and others. The drivers are also featured but it doesn't seem to affect your performance and is basically there just because the license allows it. The cars do take damage and this does affect the performance and of course throughout the rallies you do have the opportunity to repair this. The AI, or rather the times the AI set are fairly challenging even on the lowest difficulty and one thing which is a bit ridiculous is that unless you come first the teams will fight amongst themselves even if they come second or third.
The thing about this game is because of the WRC license they have been able to recreate all the tracks from the official rallies around the world. Unfortunately because this is rally at the highest level the tracks focus on a technical challenge rather than something fun to race. Colin McRae franchise seems to have the balance between fun and realistic right and also the length. Despite the fact the tracks in WRC are about four to five minutes long, by the end you will be just wanting to get to the end. This is definitely the game for rally enthusiasts.
One of the most impressive aspects of the game is definitely the graphics engine. The visuals are crisp and clear and there is not much pop up to speak of. The cars are all highly detailed and take a great amount of damage, all reflected on the screen. The game moves at a fairly quick pace but in comparison to some of the other games available, the speed just does not cut it. The tracks are all detailed quite well and hitting objects is going to damage the car. The sounds are quite good with a decent soundtrack used for the menu, clear co-driver pace notes and unique engine sounds for each of the cars featured in the game.
WRC 4 is probably the choice for gamers looking for the ultimate simulation of the actual championship because that's exactly what you get with the game. This is by no means a bad thing for the game but when you compare it to games such as Colin McRae Rally 2005 which are much more exciting to play then it does become an issue for most people.