There’s something distinctly unnerving about rally games. For starters, everything tends to feel just that little bit... lonely. The tracks you’re racing around are effectively ghost towns, with buildings but no people, bar a few odd fans waiting round the corners. Most of the time, the only real company you’ve got, bar the disembodied voice of your co-pilot barking out the direction of corners as you approach them, is that of an unusually rigid cow, observing from a distance in a nearby field. Without any of the pomp and circumstance of the other games – or, indeed, even any other cars or you to sabotage/use as a makeshift brake as you approach the corners, these games put a pressure on you like no other – it’s just you, your car, and the road out there, and no-one in front to guide you.
And, when you first start playing WRC 3, things can feel more than a little bit hairy. The officially licensed game of the World Rally Championship, as you may expect, the game features all the official teams, and more importantly, cars and tracks that make up the real life series. From the low fjords of Finland to the valleys of Wales, it’s a race against the clock – not other cars – down those narrow, winding country roads that you always hate driving down in real life, as you crawl carefully forwards, foot covering the brake because you’re always expecting to find a bus the size of a small country coming the other way. But, oddly, when you’re behind the wheel of a car in WRC 3, things don’t feel quite as tense as they do in real life – or, indeed, in the other prominent rally series, DiRT. While DiRT provides heart in mouth moments abound as you come within mere inches of a tree, WRC 3 instead feels a lot more light-hearted – more airy, less meandering, and with a more arcade bent. While it may not be quite what you expect from an officially licensed game, it’s not all that unwelcome from us – especially as it comes with a number of assists for making the journey that much easier.
Try to take your car out on the open road to begin with, and you’ll likely find yourself coming a cropper pretty quickly. The cars here don’t handle quite how you’d imagine a rally car would in real life, with (perhaps overly) sensitive steering, and an uncanny ability to both stick to a racing line like glue, and spin out at any given opportunity. Despite the official license, too, when you play in the cockpit view, the car’s roaring engine sounds like it’s been recorded from a hairdryer, while even the slightest sight of a Mexican kerb is enough to make your car flip onto two wheels.
Luckily, you do have a few tools at your disposal to help tame your easily excitable car. Head into the menu, and you can enable stability control, to put a stop to your constant pirouetting, while the auto-brake option actually works a lot better than you’d imagine. Again, while the idea of an auto brake sounds great in concept, it’s not something we’ve had the best of luck with whenever it’s been attempted before – the F1 games, as a prominent example, ended up actually making themselves harder with the assist turned on, as it was so overly cautious, it ended up slamming your brakes if you even thought about approaching a rival car. Of course, this being a rally game, there are no cars, so we’re pleased to say things work a lot better.
That’s not to say that there’s nothing left for you to do when you’ve turned the options on, of course. While auto-brake helps as you’re approaching corners, it doesn’t do all the work for you – you will still need to take your foot of the accelerator, and it doesn’t give you a carte blanche to whizz round corners without any planning. As you approach each bend, you still have to eye everything up – how tight is it, when should you start turning, are there any obstacles to avoid – like rouge stones, lying in weight. Helping to reduce any frustrations with spinning and cornering, though, the assists help make the game that much more accessible.
Much of your time with the game will be spent in the game’s “Road to Glory” mode, where you’ll take on a series of races across nine different countries, as you work towards a showdown with the best racer in each region, and move up the rankings to become world number one. Most of the events you’ll take place in here are single races, with the odd multi-stage rally, and a few other minigame style modes being thrown in for good measure (such as one that sees you smashing through awkwardly placed stacks of boxes to earn points). You’re rewarded with stars for your performance in a race, that are split into two categories.
With a total of ten stars available, seven for your position in the race (1 for seventh, 7 for first), and three for your “style” (finishing sections in first place, drifting, and, more oddly, rolling your car and crashing through scenery all earn you points which count towards your style), the stars you earn for each race total up to unlock new tracks, and, more interestingly, upgrades for your cars. Without having to worry about technical know-how, each upgrade can be applied across entire categories of cars that you own (70s, 2000s, etc), with an engine upgrade adding a few points to your top speed, while brakes improve your handling, etc. Simple, yet effective, the upgrade system, and the countless unlocks, give you that little bit of persuasion to go back to improve your rank, and push yourself that little bit harder, knowing some funky new sticker, or a vital upgrade is only a few stars away.
With a decent mix of realism and arcade accessibility (and plenty of assists to help beginner drivers learn the ropes), WRC 3 is an accomplished rallying game, even if it is, admittedly, lacking that little bit of polish. While it may fall short of the lofty standards set by DiRT 3, WRC 3 is a solid game nonetheless – even if its cars do sound like hairdryers, and flip onto two wheels at the mere sight of a Mexican kerb.