Upon starting WRC 7 in search of some rumbly racing action, you’ll be thrown into a quick assessment of your ability to handle an overpowered Ford Fiesta on shaky terrain; after all, no-one’s having fun who’s playing above their limits. Luckily if you plough through a crowd of spectators you’ll only get a nine second time penalty, instead of a charge of multiple manslaughter. You can then either accept the game’s harsh but fair difficulty recommendation, or toss it back in their faces and choose your own driving destiny. The cars themselves feel solid and responsive; each of the many models handles just differently enough to feel distinct, and with enough practice you’ll soon find one that gels with your own driving style. Once you’re in the zone you get that special rally driving feeling like the car is doing the work for you, and you’re only making minor course corrections on the path to victory. An array of accomplishments to bolster your cred are awarded for all manner of driving-related milestones. Your entire rallying progress to-date is encapsulated in your DriverCard, a handy at-a-glance reference to share with other players.
Career mode allows for the selection of a racing team that reflects your own approach: are you a hard-drivin’, risk-takin’, power-slidin’ raker, a safety conscious respectable motorist, or somewhere in between? Choose accurately, as your team’s morale and performance are linked to your playstyle. Starting in the junior leagues with the less impressive vehicles, a string of wins and a contented crew will soon see you propelled into the WRC proper. Progressively fewer points are awarded each time you attempt a course, so make the first attempt count. Your beat-up jalopy can be repaired between stages, but as per the rules your techs only have forty-five minutes to work on it, so if you’ve foobared your Ford or have driven your Mini like a ninny, some compromises may have to be made. If the decision is tough you can always have the clued-in engineers make it for you.
Aside from the requisite plethora of stats on your performance, you’ll get a reading on your team’s satisfaction with your driving, and as is becoming more de rigueur with sports titles, fake social media pop-ups from fans praising you and competitors goading you to match their times. These brief messages are the only humanising element however, there are no story cutscenes developing your character or anything like that. Some find such things frivolous distractions from the task in hand, but when present they can help draw new players into the game. Often the case in sports games, having the strength of the official license helps immeasurably; as well as the courses from the complete 2017 WRC season and impeccably reproduced four-wheeled stallions from Toyota, Citroen, Skoda, Mini and more, there are bonus special and epic stages to contend with for those seeking a greater challenge. The epic stages in particular can last well over ten minutes and will seriously test your mettle (and your metal).
Quick mode skips all of the build-up and provides the immediacy of racing any course from the thirteen available rallies with any car, right now. Junior WRC, WRC2 and the main WRC are all present, with a choice of drivers for most cars. Racers bored with the preset options can string together their own grand challenge in custom championship mode. Outside of single-player shenanigans there are fairly decent online options, including a daily challenge to try. Local players can compete head-to-head in split screen, or up to eight can take turns racing for the best time.
While if inspected too closely the graphics can look ever-so-slightly dated, if experienced as intended, whizzing past your side mirror at seventy plus miles an hour, they’re rather lifelike indeed. The lighting effects deserve particular recognition, from the orange glow of the sun setting in the hills to the defined xenon pulse of the headlights in the night stages. The particle effects also heighten the realism, with a rich patina of dirt forming on your bodywork over time on the gravel stages. Off the track, players can view each vehicle in a “showroom” mode, allowing fans a close examination of their favourite racing mobiles. Sound design is likewise subtle but detailed; crowds cheers as you pass, and over time your co-pilot’s constant stream of directional lingo becomes calming, like the shipping forecast. This being a serious endeavour there are no cheesy overproduced rock songs littering the soundtrack, although there are some suitably stirring orchestral strings swelling as you take your place on the podium and the confetti pops.
Delve deep enough into the options menu and you’ll find that almost everything can be tweaked or amended, from steering sensitivity to weather effects and co-pilot language. The defaults are just fine, but obsessives might want to spend a little time here getting things just right, especially if you’re using a wheel peripheral. The difficulty curve can be a little punishing for newcomers, but after a little graft and greater familiarity with the tracks, taking the gold won’t seem quite as lofty a goal.
This is French developer Kylotonn’s third stab at the sport, and although it doesn’t throw up many surprises and sometimes feels a little dry in tone, WRC 7 is a well-presented and exciting new iteration of the series. What it lacks in pizazz or showmanship it makes up for with accuracy, feel, and a solid license. One for fans and newcomers alike.