The World Rally Championship roars back into life later this month with the season-opening Monte Carlo Rally serving as one of the highlights of the early motorsport calendar.
This year the long, storied history of rally games enters a new era with the WRC licence now officially exclusive property of EA in 2023.
But before the newest iteration of the official WRC game franchise launches off start line, the previous one must first cross the flying finish for the final time. And so WRC Generations, the last official WRC game to be developed by KT Racing, has been released – but does this underrated series bow out on a high?
Unlike when most other official motorsport licenses change hands, KT Racing and publishers Nacon knew their 2022 WRC game would be their last long in advance. And so they decided to make WRC Generations a true ‘last hurrah’ for the series, packing in as much content as they can think of into their final game.
As well as the new-for-2022 hybrid cars in the WRC class and all the teams, drivers and the 13 rallies from last year’s championship, WRC Generations also features a wealth of historic and additional content.
First are eight additional rallies from previous games in the franchise that return for the final game – including Wales Rally GB, Germany, Argentina and Mexico. That makes WRC Generations the richest official WRC rally game ever released in terms of the total volume of rallies and stages in which to enjoy. Beyond that, a wealth of historic cars is also included, spanning the infamous Group B era to the legendary Subarus and Mitsubishis that battled it out in the Nineties all the way to Sebastien Ogier’s championship winning Volkswagen, Ford and Toyota of the pre-hybrid era.
While the level of content is impressive if you’ve played any of the more recent WRC games, you’ll likely already be very familiar with the special stages featured. Knowing the layout of stages may take away some of the challenge of rally driving – reacting to the terrain and driving on instinct more than memory – but given the large number of total stages available, it’s hard to have any complaints.
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WRC Generations offers plenty of gameplay options, from a detailed career mode and single season options to individual rallies and stage time trials, as well as an extensive multiplayer offering. As with any major motorsport game, the career mode is likely to draw the most interest. But if you’ve played any of the recent WRC games, you’ll feel a strong sense of déjà vu.
With the choice of starting in the junior category of WRC3, entering as a private team or teaming up with an existing manufacturer in WRC2 or even WRC, the career mode strikes an interesting and enjoyable balance between driving and team management. From hiring your own staff, switching sponsors and choosing how to spend your time through the calendar to earn the most money and XP in events without exhausting your crew, the career mode is appreciably more involved than it easily could have been, even if it can feel a little like a mobile game in how it’s designed and presented.
When you’re behind the wheel, the handling is fairly impressive. While not attempting to provide the same realistic feeling of Richard Burns Rally, cars have a noticeable weight to them this year that makes momentum more important than ever to keep up. Rightly, you cannot take the same driving approach to every car and every kind of surface – you have to adapt. And with variable weather and time-of-day for every stage, you can be really kept on your toes in the career mode.
As ever, KT Racing’s stage design is excellent. Every location is unique. No two gravel rallies feel the same. Environments look like they’ve been traced from actual onboard footage from real life WRC events. The stages are comfortably the most impressive aspect of the game and KT Racing’s franchise as a whole.
In terms of authenticity, there are no flashbacks in the game, so if you make a mistake – and you will, regularly – you’re stuck with the consequences. You can limit your stage retries to add more difficulty, but the best challenge is to remove retries and enable ‘permacrash’. This option means you have only one shot at a stage – no retries. And if you wreck your car bad enough to retire, that’s it. This is definitely the best way to play WRC Generations, even if the damage model can still be a little on the forgiving side.
Beyond single player, the online multiplayer options are among the most interesting to be found in a modern racing title. Competition is set across seasons, like many other competitive games. After receiving an initial ranking, players compete in individual leagues based on their skill levels. Each week, only a limited number of players earn promotion into the league above, while those who sit near the bottom are relegated to the league below. Points are earned through completing daily special stages and a weekly rally event, lasting around 30 minutes. Players can also form and join Clubs and even individual Teams within those Clubs and compete against other teams in a separate league system with every member contributing towards their team’s total.
While the system sounds interesting, the game is asking for a major commitment of players with two daily stages every single day. Also, both daily stages and the weekly rallies allow for three attempts at each, which only serves to benefit the players either most familiar with the special stages or who have the time to practice or attempt multiple times.
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There are some other welcome features that may seem small to some but will be sorely missed should Codemasters fail to carry them over to future editions of the franchise. The first being the livery editor, which allows you to edit liveries for every car in the game and share and download other players’ designs online. While it is not quite as slick as the editor in Gran Turismo or Forza, if you have a livery design idea, you will be able to replicate it.
The other is the training and open-world test area, allowing you to take any car and put it through its paces around a large open area with no restrictions or time constraints. It’s a great way of playing around with settings, controls and driving aids to work out what combination is most comfortable for you as a player.
Unfortunately, there are some hard to ignore issues with WRC Generations. While the game has been patched multiple times since release, there remains some strange throttle behaviour with many cars where the engine does not seem to apply power until the throttle is pressed beyond a certain threshold, no matter what revs the car is pulling. While a KT Racing developer has posted on the game’s subreddit that this is by design, it just feels off and unnatural, particularly exiting tight hairpins at slow speed.
The difficulty level is also inconsistent. Some rallies will see you comfortably win on 120% difficulty and others you will be 15 seconds or so off the pace even with a clean stage on others. While it is undoubtedly a challenge for developers to set AI levels that will be consistent to player abilities across different locations and surfaces, the fluctuation here is just too wild to ignore.
Stage pace notes are also not as good as those found in Dirt Rally. While they function well enough, there are too many times your co-driver will tell you to “cut” when there’s no obvious way of cutting or will not warn you of a potential hazard that you feel should have been obvious to call. The audio quality of the co-driver calls also sounds like it’s been compressed compared to previous years.
There is also very minimal feedback on the DualSense controller on PS5, with only minor environmental feedback rather than constant feeling of the car over surfaces. If you head into the in-game menus to adjust settings mid-gameplay, the game will automatically switch your co-driver voice against your will and, if you want to try and improve the vibration feedback on controller, trying to do so will result in a consistent full-game crash – especially frustrating when you have resets turned off and are penalised for not finishing a stage when you reload a game.
Those issues keep a good rally game from being a truly great one. This is a shame, given how excellent the stage design is and the clear effort that has been put into providing players with as many cars and locations to drive as this. Hopefully some of the more annoying problems will be patched, but with no further WRC games to come from them, it’s hard to see the incentive for KT Racing to focus on supporting Generations long after launch.
What’s left is a game that is ultimately difficult to recommend to WRC10 or even WRC9 players. But with EA now deep in development of their rally franchise, hopefully they can match WRC’s core gameplay and content while providing a more polished product.
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Platform(s): PS4/5 Xbox Series S|X, Xbox One, Switch, Steam, EGS
Developer: KT Racing
Released: November 2022
Price: £39.99 (PS5)