EA Sports WRC Review: A strong start with some bumps in the road

EA Sports WRC Review

EA Sports WRC Review

The official WRC games have a long history of developers. Driveclub’s Evolution Studios handled the PS2-exclusive 2000s era before Milestone’s short stint in the 2010s. More recently, French studio KT Racing took over the series for seven years, culminating with last year’s underrated WRC Generations. It’s now Codemasters’ turn to take on WRC, with the release of EA Sports WRC ushering in a new era of rally games.

While the venerable racing game studio is best known for its official F1 titles, Codemasters is no stranger to rally games, having helmed the acclaimed Colin McRae Rally and DIRT Rally games.

As a result, it’s fair to say expectations are exceedingly high for EA Sports WRC. Is EA Sports WRC the game rally fans have been waiting for? Find out in our EA Sports WRC review.

Built from the ground up

Following a similar structure to WRC Generations, the career mode sees you working for a privateer team, hiring staff, managing budgets, and buying cars while keeping the mysterious benefactor Max Lucre happy by staying within budget.

You work directly with your Chief Mechanic Keith, who guides you through the career and reacts to your performance. The dialogue can grate, but the personable voice acting sounds more natural than the robotic assistants in other racing games (we’re looking at you, Cara). 

EA Sports WRC Review
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Progression is non-linear, with a calendar letting you choose events you want to enter, from official WRC rounds to historic car challenges and staff talent scouting. This variety prevents the career from getting repetitive. Some events require specific cars, but the generous budgets mean it doesn’t take long to afford them. If you don’t want to worry about managing teams and budgets, the Championship mode lets you drive for a factory team in the 2023 WRC calendar.

In a welcome change, the career mode doesn’t force you to start in the bottom WRC Junior class, unlike past games, so returning players can jump straight into the Rally1 class. If you’re new to rally games, however, we recommend starting with the tamer Junior or WRC2 class.

While the career modes in KT Racing’s WRC games were largely unchanged in recent entries, EA Sports WRC lets you build your dream rally car from scratch in the career, from choosing the engine layout to customising the exterior and interior.

EA Sports WRC car builder
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The level of customisation here is unprecedented. You can buy mechanical components like the differential, gearbox, and clutch, change the front and rear fascia, and customise the exterior right down to the door mirrors.

Interior customisation is equally comprehensive - you can even install a gear shifter with a skull head. You’ll need to consider each part’s quality and condition though as this affects the price, making you think about which areas to prioritise.

The resulting designs can look like a hideous Frankenstein monster with mismatched front and rear ends, but building a car and making it your own adds to the rags-to-riches feel of the career. It’s a great and unexpected addition, and you can swap between custom and factory cars you’ve bought in each career season.

Learner driver

Rally games are notoriously difficult, with the DIRT Rally series earning a reputation for being the Dark Souls of driving games. Fortunately, EA Sports WRC is more approachable than DIRT Rally 2.0.

Codemasters has done an excellent job easing new players in. Along with an assortment of driving assists that lower the difficulty, the co-driver calls can be simplified to make them easier to understand. Instead of numbers indicating the severity of a corner, your co-driver will shout calls like “easy left” like in Sega Rally.

EA Sports WRC review
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Harking back to Colin McRae Rally, EA Sports WRC also introduces a Rally School that teaches newcomers the basics of rally and advanced driving techniques. These 12 lessons vary from navigating a stage without hitting cones to controlling powerslides by feathering the throttle, with further guidance provided in the intros.

It’s a useful entry point for players who have never played a rally game before. However, there's a UI bug that needs fixing where the first lesson menu shows the wrong course map. The map prepares you to turn right at the start when it should be a left turn, which throws you off.

While it’s more accessible than most rally games, EA Sports WRC is still challenging, punishing you for the slightest lapse in concentration. Unlike in the F1 games, you can’t rely on flashback rewinds to recover from mistakes whenever you smash into the scenery.

Damage can be repaired in service areas between rally stages but at the cost of time penalties, capturing the brutal nature of the sport. Disappointingly, the damage modelling has been downgraded from DIRT Rally 2.0, however, possibly due to the official WRC licensing. Doors flap open, bumpers hang, and bonnets fly off (perhaps too easily), but the bodywork barely dents during hard impacts.

Engine swap

EA Sports WRC sees Codemasters replace its in-house EGO engine, which has powered every Codemasters racing game since F1 2010, with Unreal Engine 4. This engine swap is a blessing and a curse.

On the upside, switching to Unreal has resulted in significantly longer stages lasting up to 30+ kilometres (18 miles). These gruelling stages can take around 30 minutes to complete in a tough test of skill and endurance. For comparison, DIRT Rally 2.0’s longest stages were around 13km (eight miles).

EA Sports WRC review
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From the fast-flowing forests of Finland to the treacherous mountain passes of Monte Carlo, EA Sports WRC features 17 locations and over 200 stages at launch. All 12 locations in the 2023 WRC calendar are represented, with the Central Europe Rally coming in a post-free update.

Fictional locations carried over from DIRT Rally 2.0 bolster the stage list, but it’s a shame that Rally Wales hasn’t returned. The Welsh rally was removed from the WRC calendar in 2021, but it could have been added as a bonus stage.

Super Special Stages are also missing, unfortunately, but not surprising considering this is Codemasters’ first WRC game. They will probably be back in next year’s inevitable sequel. WRC license restrictions mean that DIRT Rally 2.0’s hillclimb and rallycross are less likely to return. 

The stages are wonderfully designed, varied, and thrilling, with noticeably narrower roads than DIRT Rally 2.0 as you hurtle across gravel, snow, and asphalt at breakneck speeds. Many are modelled on the real-life stages but they lack the atmosphere of WRC Generations' locations.

Crowds are sparse and there are no helicopters or drones following you overhead. There are also no staggered starts with competitors, and you never see damaged cars stranded on the side of the road. These are minor details, but they made the environments feel alive in WRC Generations.

EA Sports WRC review
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Switching to Unreal Engine has a significant downside, however. Unreal is notoriously difficult to optimise, and it shows in EA Sports WRC. While we didn’t encounter any major issues, players are reporting severe stuttering on PC. Even on low graphics settings, the PC version is plagued with performance issues. The issues you encounter will depend on your setup, but it’s not ideal in a rally game that requires lightning-quick reflexes. It’s no wonder that Assetto Corsa 2 is switching from Unreal to an in-house engine.

Thankfully, these technical issues are less severe on consoles. Aside from stuttering in pre- and post-rally cut scenes and occasional screen tearing, EA Sports WRC runs at a smooth 60fps on PS5.

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EA Sports WRC review
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Unfortunately, this comes at a cost of visual fidelity, with the console versions suffering from noticeable pop-ins and murky textures. Codemasters is aware of these technical hiccups and plans to release a patch update soon, but it’s clear that EA Sports WRC needed some extra time in the service area. With a free VR update coming to PC next year (Codemasters has yet to confirm PSVR2 plans), EA Sports WRC needs a lot of optimisation.

The visuals look like a downgrade from DIRT Rally 2.0 and WRC Generations at times, but the longer stages are a worthy trade-off. It may not be the best-looking rally game, but it’s certainly the best-sounding one. EA Sports WRC’s audio is sensational and a big step up from KT Racing’s feeble exhaust notes. From the Impreza’s signature growl to the throaty Ford Escort Cosworth, cars sound raw and remarkably accurate. 

If in doubt, flat out

Spanning the whole history of WRC, the car list is comprehensive. EA Sports WRC features 78 cars spread across 18 classes, including fan-favourites like Colin McRae’s 1995 championship-winning Subaru Impreza, Group B monsters, and deep cuts like the H1 Vauxhall Nova Sport, F2 SEAT Ibiza Kit Car, and Colin McRae R4. Aside from a few omissions like the Toyota Corolla GT4, it’s a rally fan’s dream car list. Best of all, none of them are locked behind DLC packs, season passes, or deluxe editions.

Returning from WRC Generations, the current Rally1 championship cars from Toyota, Ford, and Hyundai are also represented. Introduced in the 2022 season, the Rally1 cars are ferociously fast thanks to a hybrid boost that recharges under braking, offering high levels of downforce and grip.

EA Sports WRC review
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While the engine under the bonnet is brand new, the handling phyiscs are transferred and improved from DIRT Rally 2.0. Whether tearing across rough gravel or slippery snow, driving feels fantastic on a controller or wheel, with responsive handling as you slide around tight corners and jump over crests.

One of DIRT Rally 2.0’s weaker aspects was its tarmac driving physics, which is thankfully improved in EA Sports WRC. Cars feel more planted on asphalt, but the feeling of traction loss is less progressive than WRC Generations. This makes the cars twitchy to drive on tarmac using a controller, but the added precision of a wheel helps combat this.

With detailed force feedback and improved physics, driving feels more intuitive than DIRT Rally 2.0, yet more involving than WRC Generations. Striking a perfect balance between accessibility and realism, it's the best-handling rally game in a long time.

While a wheel is the best way to experience EA Sports WRC, the DualSense controller implementation is excellent on PS5, allowing you to feel the road surface, grip levels, and tyre punctures through the controller’s strong haptic feedback.

Capturing every moment

Rounding off the substantial package is WRC Moments. This new mode lets you recreate iconic scenarios from the WRC, with actual WRC footage providing context and new challenges added daily. One challenge, for example, sees you drive as Colin McRae, making a miraculous recovery in the 1992 Rally Finland after a rollover.

It’s brilliant fan service, with EA planning to add 300 moments over five seasons to keep players coming back including a tribute to Hyundai WRC driver Craig Breen, who tragically died in a crash earlier this year. The only downside is some Moments are restricted to subscribers. This along with cosmetics included in the VIP Rally Pass is the only extra paid content you can buy – there are for in-game currency or XP boosters, thankfully.

The only downside is some Moments are restricted to EA Play subscribers. This along with cosmetics included in the VIP Rally Pass is the only extra paid content you can buy – there are no microtransactions for in-game currency or XP boosters, thankfully.

With 78 cars, a lengthy career mode, and hundreds of stages to tackle, EA Sports WRC is an enormous package and exceptional value for money – especially considering its low price.

Codemasters has once again raised the bar for rally games – the WRC license is in capable hands. With Codemasters retaining the license until at least 2027, EA Sports WRC is a solid foundation to build on providing the performance problems can be fixed, paving the way for a promising new era of rally games.

EA Sports WRC
With a comprehensive rally car roster, thrilling stages, incredible handling, and improved accessibility, EA Sports WRC is an essential rally game, let down by performance problems on PC at launch and subpar visuals.
8 out of 10

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