Career mode runs out of surprises but the stage design is excellent.
WRC 7 is an improvement in many areas from last year’s decent WRC 6. The stage design continues to get better and better, the sound has been given a kick in the trousers, and the lighting impresses. However, the weather effects are still underwhelming, career mode lacks life, and it remains focused exclusively on today’s rally cars and categories (there’s no retro rallying content at all).
WRC 7’s strongest feature remains its exceptional stage design. They’re only spread across 13 countries this time around (as opposed to the 14 in WRC 6, as China was nixed from the official championship calendar for 2017) but they’re extremely varied and feel very authentic. Farmland and vineyards, tall forests and rocky, rolling hills; WRC 7 is always changing up the backdrop and it makes every country feel very distinct.
Even at low speeds the sense of danger is high due to the challengingly claustrophobic stage designs, and they’re all peppered with obstacles and devilish sections devised to unsettle your car and strain your reflexes. There’s a really good feeling here of these stages being genuine roads first and racing environments second, which is of course the actual case when it comes to real-life rallying. It makes the whole thing feel very genuine and credible.
The stage selection for 2017 has been bolstered by the inclusion of an extra-long course for each country. Beyond the 1:1 stages (like the Panzerplatte from the Rally of Germany) these 15- to 20-minute long Epic Stages are the closest the series has come to replicating real rallying as a true test of endurance. These stages often feel like three stages in one as the environment shifts around us, with entire towns giving way to rolling countryside, and vice versa. At the end of an Epic Stage I always feel as if I’ve ended up far, far from where I started.
Of course, the price we pay for these bespoke, hand-built stages is the fact that there are a limited number of them – just four for each country, total. In career mode they’ll begin to be repeated during your very first visit, albeit under different lighting or weather conditions. It starts to lose its shine after a full season, and I find I’m no longer tuning into the pace notes because I’m remembering sections of road wholesale from half a dozen previous attempts.
The stages are the best looking part of the WRC 7 package.
The stages are the best looking part of the WRC 7 package, well-lit and packed with a very generous level of detail. Time-of-day lighting is generally very good, too, though the wet weather effects are still quite poor compared to the competition. There’s no sense the rain has any real, physical properties as it hits the windscreen; it’s a really basic, superficial effect that looks about 15 years out of date.
WRC 7’s stages may have more character and individuality than Dirt 4’s procedurally generated ones, but the latter are in endless supply. The perfect solution here is probably a mix of the two approaches – a couple of hand-built staples to tackle on return visits to the same rally, broken up by fresh auto-generated stages to change things up each year throughout your driver’s career.
The cars are fine, though, with sharper liveries and clad in the 2017’s season new bodywork. Like this year’s F1 season, the real-life 2017 World Rally Championship has seen a number of changes to car regulations. The result is cars that are lighter, more powerful, and fitted with wider and more aggressive aerodynamics, and that’s all accurately reflected here.
It’s still a homogenised field of small Euro hatchbacks, but they’re the best-looking WRC cars in many years and developer Kylotonn’s adept stage design places these exciting, revamped models in a terrific testing environment. They definitely feel faster, especially on the narrowest and most perilous stages, and there’s a good sense of grip and weight, as well as a tangible difference in friction levels across the range of surface types. It’s not too taxing, even without the driving assists, but it’s fun to drive. I find it a shade too twitchy on a control pad, but with a wheel it’s nice and direct. The awkward chase cam is a wash, though; I don’t know how people will put up with it. It shimmies side-to-side too rigidly as the car swings into corners, making it tough to straighten up cleanly.
There have been improvements to the sound also, with noisy brake pads and more kick-up under the chassis. The exhaust notes aren’t too shabby either; not on par with Codemasters’ Dirt games and still a bit soft around the edges, but convincing enough.
The biggest problem in the garage is the fact that WRC 7 is still singularly focused on the current era of competition.
The biggest problem in the garage is the fact that WRC 7 is still singularly focused on the current era of competition. It’s not clear whether this is a resource issue or a licensing requirement, but it continues to keep WRC 7 well behind the curve in this department compared to rally games like Dirt and other single-series racing games like F1 2017.
WRC 7 features the top-tier WRC championship, plus the WRC 2 and Junior WRC championships (a Porsche 911 from the current WRC R-GT championship is available via DLC). But unlike Dirt 4, Dirt Rally, and Milestone’s Sébastien Loeb Rally Evo, it comes with no retro content. This year’s F1 2017 was a fine example of how to integrate iconic, fan-favourite older cars into a racing game that is otherwise based on the modern championship, and the WRC game series would do well to follow suit if it wants folks to upgrade again next year.
WRC 7 is still the only place you can play through a full season of proper, WRC-level rallying, but there’s not much creative spark here, and it’s all a bit one-speed. After a few years in the championship there’s little reason to keep coming back, particularly for those who’ve already squeezed WRC 6 dry last year. There’s a modest set of multiplayer modes available for when the solo career runs out of momentum (plus local splitscreen) but there’s nothing groundbreaking about it. We can host or join rallies and compete against up to eight players, or participate in revolving asynchronous challenges to climb the leaderboards. It’s competent, but nothing any racing fan hasn’t already done hundreds of times.