It’s a much-needed new racer for the Vita, but is this latest entry in the WRC series worth the purchase?
“That’s a bit dodgy” declared my co-driver as I fired up WRC 5 on the Vita for the first time. To be fair I wasn’t sure what he was referring to; was it my driving ability (or lack thereof) or the quality of the textures surrounding me?
Yes, it’s another new WRC installment; the third to grace the Vita actually, and this time around it has a new developer with French studio Kyloton Games (as opposed to the previous two which were produced by Milestone). The previous releases were solid, if unspectacular, and certainly weren’t without their issues… so I thought it would be interesting to see what a new take could do for the series.
The first thing that will strike you when playing is the visuals. At a glance they may pass as decent – especially when considering that Vita screens don’t always look good on a PC screen due to pixel density – but there really isn’t much to shout home about.
My understanding is that the Vita version was done on a limited budget, and you can see where cut backs have been made. Textures on your surroundings are bland, low-resolution and at times seem to not have rendered correctly. The car interiors are laughable, and the game suffers with some pretty poor pop-in in places. You can clearly see that the game is struggling to keep up with what is going on at times; things like the barriers around turns are continually drawn in as you approach them, as are the various flora and fauna (though bushes seem to have had an upgrade). It’s very disappointing to see parts of the environment popping up in front of you, and more than a little distracting – the Vita is capable of so much more than this, as even Milestone has demonstrated before.
Thankfully it’s not all bad graphically, and Kylotonn Games have clearly focused their efforts on the car models. Designs are more than passable and actually look pretty good, the surfaces of your mobile powerhouse emblazoned with all the official liveries and so on as you’d expect from an official license. Tyres also make pretty effective track marks on the terrain, leaving a convincing black trail behind you as you brake all over the place – attempting to stay on the road.
The poor presentation continues with the sound, as the audio is also pretty ineffective. It’s almost as if these people have never actually heard what a car is supposed to sound like at times. Well, either that or they recorded the sounds on a Fisher Price tape deck before then playing them down a phone line to be added into the game. Muffled engine noises (more akin to a lawnmower than a car) and the exhaust popping are going to be the sounds you hear the most, though you’ll also be trying to ignore some pretty awful guidance from your co-driver.
What really matters though, aside from how a game is presented, is the gameplay. Thankfully this is an area that Kylotonn Games have managed to execute pretty well. You’ll be racing an a huge variety of tracks, and along with Quick Race and Quick Rally modes (as well as a pretty pointless Rally School) you’ll find a pretty comprehensive Career Mode available. With a maximum of 13 different countries to race in you’ll be spending the vast majority of your time in this mode; attempting to rise up the levels and become the WRC champion. You will start off in the juniors with your first contract, and as you accumulate more success you’ll attract bigger teams allowing you to join a bigger team – which means that you will likely be playing through the campaign at least three times.
With so much racing expected of you, you’ll be pleased to hear that the car really moves and handles well, and you get a sense of speed and control that you never really experienced in the predecessors. The settings allow for a pretty intensive level of control should you so desire.
You will also be able to play around with many of the car settings if that’s your thing, and selecting the right tyres will also be crucial – driving off road with the wrong rubber attached will have a serious impact on your time.
Speaking of times, as you play through each stage you’ll notice the sector markers… but the game won’t actually inform you of where you are in the standings. This is all seemingly calculated at the end of the race, and although you won’t be seeing some laughable distance between you and your rivals this time around, it takes away from the experience somewhat. I must also point out that the second stage of the French Rally – Francardo Sermano – seems to have a glitch which will have you 20-40 seconds off the pace, no matter what you do. Regardless, knowing that you are clawing back some time, or that you have to drive a perfect sector to clinch that win (and championship) really instils a sense of tension that is ultimately missing here.
What is also missing from previous releases (and present in other versions of WRC 5) is online multiplayer. There is a “couch” mode for playing with others – allowing you to play locally by passing and playing – but the lack of online racing with others is a massive oversight, and severely impacts the replay value.
I must also point out in my closing observations that the game does also appear to falsely represent itself, both on the official website and on the Vita box itself. The game suggests that night rallies are available in the Vita version and they most certainly are not. A lack of night racing doesn’t detract much from the experience in my view, but suggesting it’s there when it isn’t is more than a little naughty, and Big Ben will do well not to get into a spot of bother about that.
So, should you pick it up? If you don’t have either WRC 3 or 4 then I would suggest that you pick up either of those instead. Despite the improvements in the car performance, what’s here isn’t really that much better – and those games also have online. If you need to have the latest game (and online isn’t a deal-breaker), then you may well enjoy WRC 5 as Kylotonn Games have a good base here to improve on for future installments, but the presentation issues in this edition may annoy you.