Off-Road Racing, On and Off the Big Screen
I have a pretty wide gamut of hobbies to keep me busy in my downtime. Though video games are primarily one of them, I have a habit of getting into fixing things. I’m an aircraft mechanic by trade, but I also love working on cars. By extension, I love racing them. Though I’ve only personally participated in Autocross competitions, the thrill of driving your vehicle as fast as you can to beat out your competitors is a thrill no matter what venue you take. Among motorsports, Rally Racing is about as thrilling as it can get. Racing through backwoods roads and the random small country villa, the speed that the small, lightweight, and turbocharged cars muster on tight turns and even tighter roads is impressive, to say the least (don’t get me started on Group B races of yesteryear). Numerous games over the years have capitalized on the excitement of the world of Rally Racing. In particular, I have fond memories of the Codemasters Colin McRae series of games. In recent years though, the World Rally Championship game series (WRC for short) has been at the forefront of Rally Racing representation. Though the series has bounced from license owner to license owner, publisher BigBen Interactive and developer Kylotonn have held the reigns for the past 3 entries in the series. WRC 8 recently released on the PS4, Xbox One, and PC to positive reception – and now it’s time for the series to go quasi-portable on Nintendo’s little Switch.
Wait, where’s my turn?
WRC 8 might not look the prettiest on the Switch, but it plays very well – after you get past the learning curve, that is.
Let’s get the elephant in the room taken care of right away. Yes, the Nintendo Switch is by no means a technical powerhouse in comparison to its’ competitors, especially PC. As such, WRC 8 on Switch looks tremendously poor in contrast to its port siblings. Long load times, reduced foliage, low resolution, dynamic resolution scaling, and pop in are all in full effect here, especially when you play the game in handheld mode. Thankfully the game is noticeably better looking in docked mode, but taking a hit to the graphical department is one of the things you’re going to have to accept if you pick WRC 8 for your Switch library over other platforms you may have at your disposal. That being said, with the game’s graphics being scaled down, that’s made room for more stable performance. WRC 8 runs far better than I was expecting it to, with the framerate maintaining a mostly stable 30 FPS even while playing in handheld mode, even while blazing down a forest trail at 160km/h. The dynamic weather and lighting effects present all still look great as well.
You’re going to need that stable performance too. Like any Rally Racing game, you’re going to have to pay close attention to your navigator to make your upcoming turns properly. Unlike traditional course racing you’d see in the likes of the GT or F1 worlds, Rally courses are road courses spread out over multiple miles of wilderness with not much in the way of clear markings. That’s where your navigator comes in. He has a map of the course and reads off the directions (colloquially called “pacenotes”) coming up so you know how to react. There’s a lot of jargon here which will absolutely throw off newcomers (you’ll have to catch on to terms like “Left Five into Right Three” really quick). The co-driver calls become fairly easy to pick up the longer you play, so practice definitely makes perfect here. Not listening to your calls properly will inevitably result in damage to your vehicle, which can hamper its performance or, depending on the robust settings WRC 8 offers, outright incapacitate it. WRC 8 is a simulation through and through, so knowing how to properly handle your vehicle and what its limits are goes a long way in getting through a race unscathed.
“Samir, you’re going to wreck the car!”
Rally racing is incredibly dangerous stuff, better listen to your navigator if you wanna save yourself some costly repairs!
WRC 8 offers a host of control options to attune the game to your skill level. Settings like Antilock Brakes, Stability Control, and Semi-Automatic or full Manual transmission modes turn up both the difficulty factor of the game as well as the simulated feel of the game. I’m a “manuals only” kind of guy with my racing games, so turning those settings on was a no-brainer for me. I tested turning ABS and Stability Control off as well, and the game was tremendously difficult to control, due in no small part to the orientation and ergonomics of the Switch’s control layout. The Pro Controller made this far better, but it still felt kind of off compared to the feel of a DS4 or XB1 controller. The controls overall is serviceable, but coupled with the game’s speed along with the Switch’s lower resolution, it can make it a little difficult to play well, especially if you’re playing in handheld mode.
Like the real world of racing, building a racing career extends far past getting a car and racing on a course. There’s an entire team of varying professions behind a successful driver, and WRC 8 does a great job of making managing a full-fledged racing team engaging and fun. WRC 8’s career mode is robust and deep, featuring a calendar to fill with events to keep yourself trained and positions to hire staff to help you along your career path. Team members like navigators, mechanics, and even meteorologists are a boon to make your driver as successful as they can be. Though more skilled teammates require higher pay taken out of your winnings, increasing the demand for finishing first more consistently. Additionally, you earn XP for a multitude of tasks which go towards unlocking nodes on a skill tree that make your team more effective. When you start the game, you can choose between the lower powered, front-wheel drive only offerings of the Junior WRC or more powerful, all-wheel drive WRC 2 circuits. Coupled with over 100 stages set over 14 unique locales, WRC 8 has plenty of content on tap for racing fans to take advantage of. There are also online leaderboards to participate in if you’re feeling extra competitive, though split-screen multiplayer is missing on the Switch version of the game.
Despite the noticeable hit to the graphical fidelity, less comfortable controls, and strong simulator-based learning curve, WRC 8 is still a really nice offering of some good racing fun on the Nintendo Switch. The robust career mode, admirable performance, great feeling physics, and heaps of content should provide plenty of entertainment for players looking for some more “hardcore” based racing action on the plucky little Nintendo hybrid console. If you’ve got the patience to get some jargon and handling down, this should prove to be a good buy for you. Provided you want to stick to mainly docked mode, of course.
Final Verdict: 3.5 / 5
Available on: Switch (Reviewed) ; Publisher: BigBen Interactive ; Developer: Kylotonn Entertainment ; Players: 1; Released: September 10th, 2019 (PS4, Xbox One, Microsoft Windows), November 14th (Switch UK/EU/AU), November 19th 2019 (Switch US/Canada); ESRB: E for Everyone ; MSRP: $49.99
Full disclosure: This review is based on a copy of WRC 8 given to Hey Poor Player by the Publisher.