The WRC as a sport has had way better days than today. Sure, it broke a particularly cool TV viewer record in the 2019 season, but considering that Skoda, Peugeot, Subaru, Citroen, and Mitsubishi have all abandoned the sport where they have all been incredibly successful (once upon a time), I think the future looks pretty bleak for the WRC. Something else would need to happen here. Something quite drastic, I would have to say.
I have personally always loved the WRC but have for the past five years been getting less and less interested, sadly. Fortunately, the official games developed by KT Racing are only getting better and better and this year's edition has, despite a few frustrating points, impressed me quite a bit over the past week. Already five years ago, with WRC 7, it was clear that KT Racing was serious about trying to build a credible and deep rally experience and even though the experienced producer Diego Sartori (GTR and GTR 2) left the team shortly after the premiere of WRC 7, the studio has worked hard to constantly make the necessary updates / to approach and compete with the brilliance found in especially Dirt Rally and Dirt Rally 2.0.
However, WRC 9 is a rather modest update. The game is more well-stocked than WRC 8, but it is noticeable that KT Games has invested in more game modes and deeper settings to tailor the gaming experience rather than any major changes. Three new countries/rallies have been added, which means that there are now as many as 16 to choose from (the new countries Japan and Africa are brilliant) and the car range is also good. The career has been stifled further and it is as much about reading emails from sponsors, obeying rules and orders from your car manufacturer as it is about reviewing one's team and keeping all staff happy between each rally. Personally, I think the career becomes a bit rigid and the whole thing with detailed resource management feels more like an actual job than entertainment. This has made me rather throw myself into other parts of WRC 9, and fortunately, there are plenty of game modes here.
KT Games has taken it in stride regarding the depth and variety in this game and it is now possible, for example, to create your own competitions to participate in, post them online, and invite friends to try them out. "Club Mode" is a lovely little add-on that I put a lot of time into and I believe and suspect that this game mode will become popular now that the game is rolling out on store shelves. It is now also possible to do more detailed set-ups and test them in different types of training courses, which I also appreciate. Split-screen is included, too. And works very well, I think. Just like the ability to drive single rallies or just test single stages in specific cars. Nothing is locked, nothing is hidden behind payment walls and for this, KT Racing should have tons of appreciation.
The car physics and driving feel is really good, too. The developers have continued to polish the tire physics and the friction simulation from WRC 8 and I say that they have done several nice upgrades here. The feeling of speed is brilliant. The balance between torque and peak power is brilliant and the feeling of how to move the center of gravity and how the tires work against the different surfaces is also really good. Sometimes, however, it feels like the car floats on top of the gravel in some places. Other than this, the steering wheel support for Fanatec's products is really good here and the feeling in my DD2 is great.
The graphics are perhaps the part of this game that I like the least. Sure, it looks more realistic than previous games. KT Racing has invested in "photorealism" straight from here and some countries (Italy, Greece, Mexico) are gorgeous, but there is a pixelated quality that I have problems with. The graphics look almost luminous in how sharp it is in some places, and it feels like the anti-aliasing does not work in several places in WRC 9. It simply looks crunchy, in motion. Especially for the consoles. Especially if you compare with, for example, WRC 7, which was cleaner, simpler, tidier, and softer in the graphics without looking too unrealistic. I also have problems with the scaling of how big cars are compared to the environments themselves. Cars sometimes look like miniatures in some ways and I do not understand the reasoning behind that. However, this isn't apparent at all if you drive from the inside of the car in the cockpit view.
In addition to everything that I have praised so far, I would say the sound is the single best part of this game. WRC 9 sounds so much better than, for example, Dirt Rally 2.0 that it sometimes feels downright creepy. The way the cars wine, scream, the way it slams into the gearboxes, the way the gravel slams against the chassis, and up the wheel arches is hard not to love. The co-driver is great, too. Good pacing, great voice over quality.
WRC 9 is not perfect, but it's a really good game that mixes WRC 7 with WRC 8 and peppers it with a little bit of Richard Burns Rally to create a really tasty main course. If only the real version of the WRC was so entertaining now, this sport would have no problem attracting a wider audience and more interest from car-manufacturers.
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