Sunday, 26 September 2010

Game Preview: WRC 2010-Xbox 360, PS3

It’s been five years since the last WRC title, and during that time the reigns have been passed to Italian based developers Milestone, with the title being published by Black Bean Games. While the small developer has predominantly produced racing games since founding in 1996, (most notably the SBK: Superbike World Championship), given the success of the series with previous developer Evolution Studios, landing the WRC licence has given Milestone quite a hill to climb when delivering a next generation rally simulation worthy of the sport.

As WRC 2010 carries the official WRC licence, all the tracks, drivers and cars are the real deal, right down to the decals on the tyre trims. In the demo you’re presented with a choice between taking the wheel of a Ford Focus RS driven by Mikko Hivonen or Sebastian Loeb’s Citroen C4. Once you’ve made your selection there are two courses to choose from; the quick, open, gravel and tarmac wooded lanes of an overcast Finland or the [infinitely more difficult] searing heat of Jordon with its tight, winding, loose gravel mountain roads. Whilst the front-end isn’t the most important aspect of any game it is important to note that – like the promise of a delicious meal – the first bite is always with the eye, and here Milestone have failed to deliver that all important first taste to get the juices flowing. After the impressive, three-dimensional design of Codemasters front-end in CMR: Dirt2, Milestones’ effort seems a little bland, offering not much more than a scrolling bar at the bottom of the screen with some rather flat, colourless option tabs. Whether this is down to it being early code is unknown, but with only two weeks or so before launch Milestone have to deliver something punchier to keep up with the competition.

Thankfully, moving into the game proper, WRC 2010 turns out to be well drawn, very smooth and extremely well detailed with some excellent use of lighting and effects. Thundering down open straights chunks of gravel and dirt kick up around the car as you throw your vehicle into tight corners, hairline window screen cracks appear and grow with time, headlights shatter and body work crumples and deforms realistically. Milestone have also put a lot of painstaking work into the sound of the vehicles and the surrounding environment, clearly believing that sound is as much an important part of the quintessential rally experience as any other aspect; the roar of the engine as you power out of a corner, the whistling of the turbo as you shift through the gears and the crunch and pop of gravel, dirt and rock beneath your racing machine built to take on all that Mother Nature can throw at it is very satisfying.

After playing this short trial it’s clear that WRC 2010 leans more toward the simulation side of proceedings than that of previous iterations, and as such can be quite arduous and may even prove a challenge for rally veterans keen to step into the shoes of their heroes. Even without the presence of rain, mud, ice or snow, not feathering the breaks at the correct points in time or putting to much-or not enough-emphasis on acceleration, or simply the slightest lapse in concentration can quickly find you spinning out of control after clipping that rock hidden on a blind corner, or send you hurtling sideways unerringly toward a firmly planted tree, your wheels locking up tight as you desperately fight to gain control. Matters aren’t helped by the fact that such errors will garner a swift rebuke from your co-driver who, as quick as he is to commend your racing ability is even quicker to condemn you.

If there’s a concern to be had then it’s that the cars at this stage arguably feel a little light, especially at high speeds. Having said that, the steering is tight and concise with the transition between tyre and road surface being – for the most part – satisfyingly tangible as you shift and move across varying grades of gravel and tarmac. How this will pan out in the full game when the WRC takes you over ice covered mountain ranges, rain swept roads or muddy woodland areas remains to be seen, but as it stands this trial run fills one with more confidence than not.

With F1 2010 already on its way to retailers shelves, Sony’s Gran Turismo 5 just around the corner and Codemasters promising to serve up a more rounded off-road experience early next year with Dirt 3, WRC 2010 certainly has its work cut out for it. But if this promising early glimpse is anything to go by, (and that the WRC licence is already an established brand in video games), then publisher Black Bean Games could find themselves in a good position in an otherwise saturated market. At the very least, certainly for the rally enthusiast, WRC 2010 is already looking like it might very well raise a few smiles.

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