EA Sports WRC, the first officially licensed FIA World Rally Championship sim from developer Codemasters, will feature 18 rallies out of the box when it launches on November 3. Five of those aren’t even part of the official WRC calendar, but fictional locales were added on for good measure. It’ll also boast 78 cars—10 current machines from the 2023 season as well as 68 from the sport’s past.
If that’s not enough for you, you can build your own, deciding engine placement and component selection, as well as interior and exterior styling. And if the ever-relentless pursuit of speed starts wearing you down, you can opt for a regularity rally instead, where the consistency of your pace, rather than the pace itself, will decide success.
If that sounds like a lot of content, particularly for the first entry in a properly licensed series based on a sport, that’s because it is. The original Dirt Rally launched with three rally locations, while Dirt Rally 2.0 featured six before downloadable content. The single-player careers in both games were rather barebones, with some rather simplistic staff management elements that were a brief distraction in between driving, and the longest special stage in either title ran for 10 miles. By contrast, WRC’s longest trials sniff at 20 miles. You can chalk up Codemasters’ switch to Unreal Engine, from its long-running, proprietary Ego Engine, as the move that made those lengthy routes possible.
There’s no getting around it: WRC is a massive game. It’s certainly the largest that the team formerly responsible for the Colin McRae Rally and Dirt franchises has ever crafted, and it’s made even more impressive because really, Codies didn’t have to do any of it. Ship the rallies on the 2023 calendar and the cars that contested it, and your golden. Coast on the name recognition of and association with the top flight of rallying. From NBA 2K to EA’s own Madden NFL, this is how it typically goes in sports games. Thankfully, the team had other ideas.
“We’ve got the 14 official locations from the WRC calendar—13 on disc and one via update—and then we’ve got these five bonus locations as well,” Codemasters Senior Creative Director Ross Gowing told The Drive in an interview. “And the bonus locations were sort of things we’d started working on, and then the WRC license came in and we went, ‘We should make a game with all of it in!’ And then here we are some years later.”
It had been reported by Tom Henderson in Exputer in 2021 citing “sources familiar” with the publisher’s plans that EA chose to cancel a third Dirt Rally, which had already been in development at Codemasters, sometime in 2021 to focus the studio’s efforts on the first WRC title. That would explain the wealth of extra content. It’s led to a game that figures to be making exactly the sort of splash rally-racing gamers have been hoping for. Codemasters is undoubtedly an expert in the trade going back the to late 1990s, renowned for the physical prowess of its off-road racing simulations, even despite lacking the WRC seal of approval. Until now.
But the addition of the WRC license brings with it a spotlight that perhaps Dirt Rally never enjoyed—and Dirt Rally was infamous for its difficulty. Many of the stages in EA Sports WRC are real, with the sorts of narrow paths, blind crests, and copious trackside obstacles that make rallying the formidable sport that fans know it to be. It’s led some to wonder if the first game in this new era of Codies’ rally will go easy on players. Fortunately, while the team has gone to great lengths to court and coach new drivers, it seems like the experience we’re slated to get is every bit the cruel, real article a sim racer could ask for.
“We’ve brought along many of the assists we had in Dirt Rally 2.0, but we’ve got a couple of new assists as well,” Game Designer Jon Armstrong told me. “One of them being the throttle clamp, which effectively helps new players who come into the game and just go full throttle from the get go. It sort of stops them from being able to do that.”
Armstrong is a unique and key member of the WRC development team. Not unlike Colin McRae himself many decades ago, Armstrong is a real-life rally driver lending his expertise to Codemasters’ digital replica. The Northern Irishman has competed in the Rally3 category as of late, with an eye to move up the ladder. As a designer, he’s provided feedback to improve the game’s Dynamic Handling System, the accuracy of its real-world stages, and implement the sort of advice that a new player might actually benefit from.
“We’ve done a lot of work adding our Rally School mode,” Armstrong said. “So we’ve got 12 lessons in Rally School, which are basically focused on new players to rally games and rally in general. That’s focused on the very basics of how to drive a rally car, how to listen to pace notes, and all the different techniques that you need to know how to do. And yeah we’ve also put things in like the simplified pace notes system, which strips down some of the, shall we say, harder-to-understand aspects of the pace note system and replaced the numbers with descriptive pace notes. So instead of ‘six right’ you’ll have ‘easy right’ and ‘medium right.’”
The tools are all there if you need them; the mastery is up to you. That was a formula that made Dirt Rally something of a surprise mainstream hit when it launched seven years ago. Typically, punishing racing sims turn away newcomers, rather than inspire them. But the game’s satisfying driving model and the singularity of its challenge—just you against nature—made it addictive, and found it a relatively broad audience despite its hardcore leanings and limited content. With WRC, Codemasters appears to have taken those learnings in stride.
“It’s following it up,” Gowing said, with a laugh. “That’s the real challenge, eh?”
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