Milestone sent over an early version of their latest rallying game, WRC 3, for us to take a look at. Jim put on his (viking) helmet, and sat down at the
wheel gamepad for a quick handbrake turn.
Largely irrelevant preamble: I used to have a wheel and pedals – lovely, plush Logitech ones - but they did not survive the transition to my latest office. Partly because this current research crater is inside a shoe, but also because these days I only really play about one racing game a year, and then only for a couple of weeks at most. Don't get me wrong: rallying is super, and I even watch the real deal on TV, but gaming for me doesn't tend to put me behind a wheel. A few weeks of commitment seems like it'll be true of WRC 3, too, which – speaking as someone with a casual interest in racing - is shaping up to be the sort of dependable rallying experience that I enjoy enough to put time into. A pleasingly predictable thing, without any nasty meta-game surprises.
Of course the point-to-point rallying game was, for many years, a busy fixture in my game-reviewing schedule. In recent years, though, it has faded away like a Ford Capri in a scrapyard. Even Codemasters have partly abandoned the field, and established the DiRT games as an “extreme offroad” series, rather than actual rallying in the classical “dirt track in Wales” sense of the word. WRC 3, then, stands alone, and does so bravely.
I bounce through the menus and set off: a familiar experience of drifting my car around snowy hairpins. And it feels good.
This is an early and unfinished version of the game, of course, but I got a positive vibe from pushing a varied selection of contemporary motors around its tracks. The handling lands somewhere between immediate playability and realism, leaning heavily on the side of just allowing you to throw any car round the course and survive. There is a damage model, of course, so really being silly and pushing things is going to do more than make the bodywork flap: it's going to end up ruining the car. More pressingly, though, yhe damage to your car also matters at a campaign level, because there's an associated score, and so making a clean stage will be more important to the overall success of your racing campaign than simply coming first. There's also a time-rewind function, so the worse prangs can be handily erased from the record. Hardly a brittle simulation, but a good concessionary balance for the treacherous nature of racing on dirt and snow.
And while the bulk of the game remains safely within that point-to-point rallying world, there are also a bunch of mini games that allow you to do silly things with the car, and to test your skills, hone your reactions, and that sort of thing. It's hardly DiRT's full fairground of car-spinning attractions, and there's no massed ranks of racers, but it does add a little to the overall lane-hurtling.
Visually I can't really fault it, although there's not a great deal of gloss or visual feedback. That detracts a bit from the overall feel of it, and I think Milestone could probably have done more to make things a bit more intense behind the wheel. There's a small set of visual options in the setup, which gives some adequate control (although little fine detail in terms of controlling specific options outside of “on or off”) and it looks decent enough in motion. It doesn't quite manage the splendour and style of other racing games' shader-washed lighting and particle storms, but it's perfectly capable. I know that the PC under my desk can do better, of course, so being able to max it out and run smoothly on my rig was little compensation for the feeling that it could well have supported sharper textures and more visual noise.
That scarcely matters, though, because at least it support an in-cockpit view, and so I'll be able to tackle the dozens of stages from the correct point of view for a racing game. Hell, I don't know if it's some effect of actually knowing how to drive, but I find myself a much better driver when actually “inside” rally cars in games. It's not that my skills are less, but somehow when I am in a third-person perspective I am less cautious, and throw the car around with less care. I tend to behave in that classic videogame way of “driving as fast as you can and then figure out how to slow down” rather than the way we actually drive for real: not bouncing off the crashrail as we go.
So yeah: cautiously cautious, tentatively saying that this will be a capable (if unambitious and slightly bland) rally game. I think we're probably still awaiting the return of a master to the genre, but for now this seems set to keep the dream alive.
WRC 3 is out on 12th October.