For dedicated fans of real-life racing and real-hard racing sims, World Rally Championship 8 is all killer and no filler. It is the most authentic rally experience to date, complete with incredibly detailed tracks and punishing-but-realistic physics to match. If you’re into the window dressing that often comes with racing games, though, you’d better look elsewhere. WRC 8 has a pure and singular focus: fast, intense, and difficult-as-hell racing.
Let’s not beat around the bush: WRC 8’s defining feature is its difficulty. You’ll drive on stretches of road that are barely wider than your vehicle, and you’ll take them through winding forests, into treacherous mountain passes, and along slippery coastal cliffsides. It’s exhilarating, but above all it is challenging. If you lose focus for just a moment, you’ll find yourself flying off the road or crashing into a rockface. For fans of the genre, this is just the sort of stuff that will make them sing this game’s praises. For casual players, though, such difficulty can be a frustrating. Some of WRC 8’s tracks take more than 15 minutes to clear—keeping your eyes and reactions primed for such a long time is a serious test of willpower, and failure can be very disheartening.
The unrelenting, unforgiving attitude of WRC 8 is both a blessing and a curse. Yes, it makes the game a bit unapproachable and a bit frustrating. However, if you are interested in a deeper gaming experience that will continually reward you for your efforts, WRC 8 is firing on all cylinders. That’s not to say that it will reward you with cosmetics and new vehicles. No—your reward is self-improvement: the ability to finish a course faster than you could before. While a casual audience may see this as a failing, as thin incentive to play the game and get better at it, I’m certain there is a class of gamer that would relish the feeling of mastery that WRC 8 provides.
Anyway, maybe it doesn’t matter that there aren’t a lot of “extras” here. The developers nailed the things that really matter in a racing sim: the tracks and the physics. Simply put, the stages you’ll race on are incredible. They are long and full of rich complexity and nuance. You’ll find 14 different countries represented in WRC 8, and from the snow-covered passes of Sweden to the rugged peaks of Argentina, every countryside has local flavor and detail. It is a pleasure to drive through these courses.
Not only does every stage feel totally unique, each road feels handcrafted and responsive. Every bump, in fact, is informed by a delicate and complex physics engine, and the more you play, the more you’ll grow to appreciate WRC 8‘s commitment to realism. You’ll grow used to the slide of gravel, the comfortable stickiness of asphalt. You’ll notice that randomized weather conditions—a bit of rain here and there—can make a road play completely differently. The game is hard, and this level of detail doesn’t make it any easier. That said, even crashing won’t dampen your respect for this game’s incredible physics.
WRC 8 is about the profession of rally racing, and it’ll certainly teach you a lot about what it takes to compete at such a high level. The way it knocks you back a peg every time you mess up, for example, delivers a very clear message. WRC 8 also teaches you about the sport through its official connection to real-world’s WRC (World Rally Championship) leagues. You’ll take control of the actual teams and cars that compete in them. For some, I’m sure that this will mean a lot. If you’re like me, though, you’ll probably just pick the team that mean-mugs the best.
The career mode of WRC 8 maintains this connection to the WRC, but it’s still really simple and linear. You start at the bottom rung of rally racing, and you’ll eventually become a champion with loads of sponsors. To do so, you fill your calendar with two types of activities: rallies and events. Rallies are long races that take place over the course of several stages. Events vary in type—among other things, you might be asked to drive a broken-down vehicle through a thunderstorm, drive another manufacturer’s car through a stretch of road, or take a “legendary car” for a spin. Events run quicker than full-blown rallies, and they add a nice bit of variety to the experience.
You’ll also manage a crew during career mode. This means hiring meteorologists who predict the weather during rallies, an agent who lands you more events to participate in, and a physical therapist who keeps the rest of the crew happy and healthy. On the whole, I found the crew management aspect of the game tedious and under-cooked. I’d prefer to be keeping a closer eye on the cars themselves. Buying and installing parts for cars might allow me to see immediate and meaningful results in my performance. Hiring an agent, though, provides ephemeral, long-term bonuses. Your primary focus in WRC 8 is to improve your performance on the track, so managing for the future in this way just feels like a meaningless distraction.
Basically, you shouldn’t expect WRC 8 to innovate much on the formula established by other sports sims’ career modes. I will say, though, that the trappings of an official connection to the WRC are kind of neat; they’ll help you feel the gravity and pressure of a real season of racing. Furthermore, career mode is the only bit of fantasy in WRC 8, so you’d better cherish what it offers.
One bit of fantasy that is absent from WRC 8, for instance, is the ability to earn and maintain a menagerie of vehicles. In my opinion, car-collecting is a nice way to reward the time you devote to racing games. Unfortunately, WRC 8 isn’t really having it. As your career progresses, you do occasionally earn new sponsorships and therefore access to new cars, but such developments are few and far between. Furthermore, none of Paul Walker’s cars are in the game at all. WRC 8 features no hot-hatches, no Nissan Skylines, and no Dodge Chargers. You only drive vehicles that have been engineered, designed, and modified to compete in the WRC leagues. There are a ton of cool and fast cars out there, but if they aren’t real race-cars, they don’t make the cut.
There isn’t a practical problem with car selection, of course. You’ll find 45-odd vehicles in the game, and they all support different driving styles. Whether you like to Tokyo-drift around corners or prefer to keep it stable, there’s something here to suit you. However, the cars of WRC 8 all look similar—they are all professional-grade racing vehicles—so the issue here is more about cosmetics. Forza Horizon 4 lets you drive Lego vehicles at the same pace as million-dollar super-cars, but the lesson of WRC 8 is ever and always about realism: if it isn’t a real rally-racing machine, it doesn’t deserve to be in this rally racing game. Go play with your toys somewhere else. Once again, WRC 8’s commitment to its ideals is simultaneously frustrating and impressive.
Ultimately, WRC 8 is a simple game. It lets you race—a lot. You’ll find this premise dressed up a tiny bit in career mode, but don’t expect too much. Even those that enjoy carefully managing a crew will quickly find themselves behind the wheel again. Fortunately, the driving experience on offer is essentially flawless. Difficult yes, but flawless—and there are miles upon miles worth of road to conquer.
If you like tough-as-nails games that reward your effort with a feeling of improvement, then WRC 8 is not going to let you down. The high-quality courses are fun to drive on, and learning to navigate them more efficiently is a deeply satisfying experience. However, if you are someone who cares about the other bells and whistles you often find in racing games—customization options, a car collection, or even just the slightest touch of arcade-racing sensibilities—then you might want to steer clear and wait for the next offering from the Dirt franchise.