What if someone made a Rally game where you didn’t have to think about anything except how you’re driving? That would certainly kick things in reverse for modern driving games and make the focus of the game purely on the purpose of it — driving.
As my past driving history when reviewing Rally games notes, I usually don’t actually enjoy these games too much. I appreciate the fact that you can go off-road, are challenged with achieving the best time and avoiding obstacles such as crowds, walls and death. There’s certainly a lot more skill and decision-making involved in Rally games, which makes them unique when compared to the likes of Gran Turismo, Forza and F1. That’s not say those games don’t offer such things, but they don’t bring into focus those particular gameplay elements as much as Rally games do. Those are also elements that are too difficult for my lightweight Rally tastes, which is usually why I stay clear of such games.
That said, WRC 7 was the first game that balanced out bringing those difficult Rally elements to the gameplay design, while still providing a more focused arcade feel that I haven’t seen since Sega Rally debuted on the Sega Saturn. I usually have to juggle a lot to get a race to work my way, but that is not the case with WRC 7. It loosens those restrictions and complications that Rally games carry with them these days and opens up to entertainment and the thrill of the drive.
Typically in Rally games today you are required to keep up with upgrading your car and specific parts to make your chance of winning the Rally much better. These types of games are geared towards hardcore Rally gamers and leave little room for lightweights like myself. I do find it interesting that Rally games require you to be involved in car upgrades and such, but having that load taken off of you is a much better situation when a gamer truly doesn’t give a shit about said upgrades. WRC 7 takes all of those car requirements away and only asks you to focus on three things: Repair, Crew happiness and winning the Rally.
The repairing of the car is simple business. While you don’t have to deal with too much hindrance of damage on the course, because either your car works or it doesn’t after crashing it so many times, you do have to worry about the repairs when the Rally is finished. The game simply outlines the damage on a scale and ask you what piece of your car (engine, tires, body) you want to repair. You can pick what you want to repair with a certain amount of repairability at your disposal. Nothing more or less is required of you. The car will upgrade/change with the Rally and will be better or worse depending on the next element, which is crew happiness.
As you progress through a Rally, your success/failure determines the morale and happiness of your crew. They will help out and respond better when you are doing well, but if you start drifting off a bit then crew will become unhappy and so will their work. It’s an interesting way of doing things in the game, but if you know any sport, then you will understand why this gauge makes sense. I can’t remember anyone in any sport that enjoys losing and responds well after a series of losses. Well, maybe the Cleveland Browns, but outside of them probably no one.
The final piece to the WRC 7 puzzle that the game requires you to deal with is how you drive. The driving is actually not too bad. Usually in Rally games I’m all over the freaking place, generally fighting with controls and dealing with high blood pressure when trying to keep my car on the road (lack of borders and railing can be scary). This is the first game that I found myself in firmly in control of during a Rally and, oddly enough, focused in. It does one helluva job with making your enjoy the game and it does little to distract from that, which is so nice. I honestly didn’t think I would enjoy this Rally game as much as I did, as I tried convincing myself that this is the game that gets me in the mood for Gran Turismo Sport. Thankfully, my pre-conceived notions were complete crap and I actually enjoyed the hell out of the racing experience. It still does bring some difficulty, though, so don’t discount that at all, but not fighting the controls, which are silky smooth, nor worrying about damaging my car brought an entirely new gameplay feel to this Rally game. Simply put, I’m playing this game to win and that’s all it is asking me to do. What more could you want from a Rally game?
Now, I fully understand that this game has a solid arcade backbone to it. It does less than other Rally games in terms of gameplay depth and design, but what it lacks in depth in actual design, it offers up more in quick fun. The modes it contains go along with that notion and are broken up into the following:
Quick Game: It’s exactly what you would expect from a quick game – A quick game! For those of you not wanting to get into a lengthy career mode where you prove yourself, and in true quick play fashion that is along the same lines as Madden’s, you can jump right into a race and enjoy life. It’s a good mode to get your feet wet in with no consequences for doing poorly.
Career: This is where you will reside for most of the game. It will be the bread and butter, as well as the reason you own this game. You start a career with your own name and nationality of your choice. You go from there and balance winning and keeping your crew happy. You also get to tour some famous Rally locations, such as Mexico and Argentina (13 countries in total), which are for the most part really gorgeous. Like I said before, you will probably spend the most time in this Solo mode.
Custom Championship and Drive Test were the other two modes in Solo, but honestly didn’t intrigue me like Career and Quick Game. I know that there were some improvements in Custom Championship in comparison to past WRC titles, so if you’re into that, then you have something to look forward to in the game.
Online and ready to go, including a split screen option. It’s a brutal way to go head-to-head with other gamers. Bring your best or you’re going to get left in the dust. I often got left in the dust.
Challenges that test your skills. You’ve seen things like this before in other sports games and this is no different (you know, other than you’re in a car racing). You compete for best time and challenges are given for that, so it’s pretty straightforward.
There’s a lot of options here to play, but, again, the career mode carries the most weight of entertainment in comparison to the others. That’s not a bad thing because, as in other sports games (specifically Madden/NBA Live 18), the career mode is THE featured mode. It’s meant to be and it has just enough involvement and depth to make this game as deep as an arcade-esque game can go. It’s certainly worth the journey and the time. The balance between hardcore Rally gaming and arcade action will keep gamers occupied and motivated to keep going to improve. Leaderboards help with that also.
With all the above said, is that balance between hardcore and arcade really something you want in a Rally game? For most hardcore Rally gamers I can see it being a bit empty for their taste, probably even going as far as to some say that it’s lazy gameplay design. It’s not, though. It’s purposeful and it works on a lot of levels. Just because it’s meant to attract non-hardcore Rally gamers doesn’t mean that it isn’t a worthwhile time. It’s certainly not going too deep in the gameplay department, but it goes deep enough to satisfy, at least in my opinion, and even balance gameplay styles. You can not understate what good balance does for a racing title (or a sports title for that matter).