There's no challenge quite like rallying, and there is no challenge quite like making an annualised sporting title feel fresh.
It's that time of year again, as WRC 10 has finally arrived. The latest official video game for the best off-road racing series around is once again developed by KT Racing, its home for the last few years.
WRC has been among the best racing titles over the last few years, so can KT raise the bar again, or has the impending license switch to Codemasters stunted development?
100% concentration required
Rally is a brutally unforgiving discipline. There's not safe run-off area to save you, and no kerb to allow you to just push a little more. It's a bumpy, tree-lined thrill ride from start to finish, and KT Racing do a great job of emulating that.
From the roar of the engines in the valleys to the sliding of gravel and the crunch of hitting a tree, the gameplay experience is what we have come to expect from the WRC series: An absolute joy.
Playable on controller or wheel, it's a game that requires intense concentration and effort. It's no easy ride getting to the end of any stage without taking a dive off a cliff or hammering the car into a barrier. All of that means...
Accessibility is a problem
This is not an easy game to play, and the series hasn't been for a while. There are no flashbacks to help you undo an accident, and there is no mid-session save to allow you a break from a 21km stage. It's a flatout, take no prisoners, game.
That means it is not for the faint of heart. Even with our trusty Thrustmaster TMX wheel it is tricky to get a good feeling for WRC 10. You really need the full range of clutch pedal, handbrake, and shifter to feel like you are getting the most out of it. It's also the kind of game that rewards you for having invested in your setup. The more responsive the wheel and immediate the feedback, the better time you will have with WRC 10.
That's not to say you can't play on a controller, you absolutely can. But the game still lacks a true automatic gear mode and traction control is either on or off, without any middle ground to help players adjust.
If you are a new player wanting to take on rallying then this game will require serious dedication to stick out until you are comfortable. Where other racers like F1 and Assetto Corsa can help you get along, KT Racing rather throw you in at the deep end.
That's something that will undoubtedly please the hardcore fans of the series, but for those wanting to try out the game it's a hard journey.
Career mode looks very familiar
It's always hard to make an annual title feel fresh, but WRC 10's Career Mode presentation looks and feels incredibly similar to last year. From the way you build your crew to the spending of resource points and the layering of your calendar.
It means veterans can dive right in and feel at home, but it also makes purchasing a fully priced game to get the same UI experience a bit of a gut-punch.
Of course, the journey through your career has changed a little, with anniversary events rather than extreme challenges and some new locations to explore like Croatia. The handling and physics have been refined, and you can feel the difference. It won't feel like a huge change for those that struggle to make it to the end of stage anyway, but better players will need to adjust slightly.
The introduction of classic stages and the iconic cars of the past is very welcome, but there is one problem. It's all locked away! To play the second rally you have to beat the first, that's fine. But the time to beat doesn't move with your skill level.
The same 6:44.359 time is there if you race at 60 AI level or 140. That makes it an easy ride for the highly skilled and a tough battle for newer players that many will be unable to overcome. If you want to take on the Acropolis Rally with the 1987 Lancia Delta you will have a lot of hours of practice and patience to get through the previous challenges first.
There's nothing wrong with making players unlock content through in-game achievements, but it needs to be flexible for ability levels. Hopefully, this is something KT Racing will patch in.
KT Racing don't make bad racing experiences. WRC 10 is everything we've come to expect from them when it comes to this series. The cars feel and sound alive, the surroundings are wonderful, and the pure racing challenge of WRC 10 is unparalleled.
Its downsides of poor accessibility and flexibility for new players are a hindrance. There's no easy way to get into WRC 10, making it far from a casual racer. It's also eerily familiar to last year. The main menu layout is much improved, but diving into the game it all feels just like last year.
WRC 10 doesn't make a monumental leap forward, and while Anniversary mode is nice unless you are desperate to race around in older cars it isn't a game-changer.
All that said though, it is a great driving experience and one that players will have great fun with.
RacingGames Rating: 8/10