EA Sports WRC review: An adrenaline-filled thrill ride

EA Sports WRC lets you experience the rush of racing through the world's rally tracks one crest, hairpin, and sheer drop-off at a time.

EA Sports

I've been playing racing games and simulators for many years, but have never dabbled with a rally game before. The prospect of going as fast as possible through snow or gravel tracks, with sheer cliff drop-offs, spectators and tree lines just mere feet from the road, is quite daunting. So when I first loaded up EA Sports WRC, its first official FIA World Rally Championship title, I was rather nervous. Developed by Codemasters, the team behind the DiRT Rally series, as well as the F1 series, EA Sports WRC ended up pulling me into this sport much more than I had anticipated.

Time to get strapped in

A rally car speeding along a dirt road, kicking up clouds of dust as it maneuvers through the rugged terrain.

Source: EA Sports

It takes a special kind of person to strap themselves into a seemingly ordinary car, separated from all its usual comforts and outfitted with a roll cage and reinforced body, and then put the pedal to the metal in a dark and snowy Swedish night. This was one of my first experiences with EA Sports WRC and its career mode. The sights were strange and frightening, the snow falling hard and visibility almost non-existent. My co-driver kept yelling things at me. Some things were self-explanatory, such as "slight right" and "hard left", and some downright terrifying, such as "caution, long jump into hairpin right, don't cut." After an all too predictable, yet visually satisfying, crash resulting in terminal damage, it became clear that whatever open-wheel racing skills I may possess don't carry over to a rally game. It was time to go back to school.

Fortunately, EA Sports WRC includes a rally school mode for those that are not yet familiar with the rules and intricacies of rally racing. The lessons range from basic instruction of how to navigate the various surface types of gravel, snow, cobblestone, or asphalt, to understanding the co-driver's instructions. A wide variety of driving assists and options exist to allow you to tune the experience to your skill level. Starting with simple co-driver instructions, I eventually became used to the idea of relying on someone else to draw a visual of the track in real-time. Eventually, I switched to the regular instruction styles, which provide additional information to the driver about the severity, speed, and distance to the next turn or point of interest on the track. Once I got the hang of this system, the on-track experience became a lot more enjoyable, and it is well worth your time to experiment and become familiar with these options.

When I felt reasonably confident that I knew what I was doing, I headed back into WRC's career mode. You're put in charge of not only delivering results in over 200 rally stages included, but also the management of budgets, staffing, and general approval of the team's benefactor. Here's where things got confusing again. The event calendar in WRC took some getting used to. Instead of following a set lineup of events, you are in charge of deciding what to do each week, along with some guidance from the team's benefactor. My initial confusion over not being able to participate in the suggested week 1 event due to lack of staff was further exasperated by the fact that I didn't own a vehicle for any of the other events available. A bit more explanation on this would have been helpful. I ended up purchasing or renting a vehicle required and headed to my first event. Being unfamiliar with the usual structure, it once again took some time and overcoming of initial frustrations, but eventually I managed to experience the thrill of rallying while only causing some damage to the car's bodywork and exhaust. Good thing the reward for this event was a new exhaust system. However, this wasn't really my car, so again, some confusion set in.

It was tempting to give into that initial confusion and frustration, but I'm glad I stuck it out. Once I understood the career mode's budgeting features, the fact that you just add vehicles to your garage, hire staff only during specified job fair events, and enter multiple championships in different classes, I was able to focus more on the racing itself. And this is when things got interesting, in a sweaty and exhilarating kind of way.

Don't forget to blink

A rally car speeding along a dirt road, kicking up clouds of dust as it maneuvers through the rugged terrain.

Source: EA Sports

Visually, EA Sports WRC is quite stunning. The variety of locales that its over 200 rally stages are set in is vast and wonderfully imagined in the Unreal Engine. Whether it's a snowy nighttime race in Scandinavia, or a dusty gravel track eventually taking you through a small mountain village at high noon, it's extremely beautiful outside the car. It's almost a shame that so much of your attention is required to keep the vehicle on the road that you won't get to enjoy the scenery much. Fortunately, performance on my PC was excellent, conveying a real speed outside the cockpit. By the way, those spectators are more insane than the drivers who partake in rally racing.

The 78 vehicles in WRC are also meticulously rendered and include 10 current WRC, WRC2, and Junior WRC vehicles. On the outside. I found many of the interiors of the vehicles to be lacking in details. Yes, rally cars are stripped and gutted to focus on safety, but the textures seemed to be of much lower quality on the inside than the outside of the car. A vehicle builder mode allows for a near limitless variety of custom vehicles that you can build yourself. A robust livery creator lets you put a splash of personal touch on your vehicle before you destroy it on track. Damage modelling is very much real in WRC and ranges from visual damage to the bodywork to fundamental systems damage that will impact your ability to drive. There's no holding back here to appease sponsors. No spoiler, hood or trunk, or even tire is safe from the environment and abuse you choose to put it through.

Once I fully got the hang of co-driver instruction callouts, I was amazed how much I could navigate a totally unfamiliar track while relying purely on callouts. The speed combined with the instructions turned into a blur, but the understanding of what a "4 Left 60" required me to do behind the wheel quickly became easy. There's a real thrill and rush that I experienced while pushing the car and myself to a limit that is very different from my previous racing experiences. Each bump, pebble, rock, crest, and river that I crossed rocked my wheel so that I frequently had to release my death grip on the steering wheel just to give my knuckles a moment of relief. Fittingly, your driver avatar's hands will frequently do the same on the wheel in the virtual cockpit. Most of the rally stages I've participated in up to this point weren't longer than 15 minutes or so, after which I needed to take a deep breath and wipe sweat from just about everywhere. I might need a bucket for a longer stage. The immersion of speed and challenging tracks really make you appreciate when there's a long stretch of relatively straight road. Until your co-driver points out the next scary hairpin turn over a bridge, that is.

Tune your expectations

A rally car on a road

Source: EA Sports

While it takes a little getting used to EA Sports WRC's menu structures and intricacies around the career mode, many of which seem more confusing and poorly explained than necessary, the title is clearly aimed at expanding the fan base of the sport. Support for most common peripherals is in place, and you would expect nothing less from a title that shows clear signs of relationships to the F1 series by the same developer. It's easy to get into and the number of assists available make driving accessible and fun.

Wily veterans of rally racing, however, will likely lament the lack of depth in the driving model. As much as it's enjoyable and easy for newcomers, there's a distinct lack of challenging driving conditions for pros that are expecting a full-fledged simulation. Even with most assists disabled, the road never quite feels like it looks to the eye. Force feedback, while immersive, does not directly represent the terrain you're crossing over, something that a seasoned rally driver will immediately pick up on. Those drivers capable of pulling off intentional slides and exercising all their shifting prowess and pedal work will come away feeling unrewarded.

Similarly, hardware peripheral support is broad but basic. The average rally fan will be satisfied with the fact that their Logitech or Fanatec gear works right out of the box with minimal configuration, but the hardcore simmers will be left wanting. Multi-monitor support is touted as a feature, but in reality it won't satisfy those with triple monitor setups who need proper angle setup options. Sure, you can spread the screen out over three monitors, but you'll still be dealing with a stretchy mess and out of proportion corners that are more likely to make you motion sick than provide the experience your amazing setup deserves. Head-tracking support is suspiciously absent even though it's a staple of the F1 series, and VR support for PC is not available at launch. Given the way I drive, though, that may be a good thing.

If you go fast enough, you barely feel the bumps

A red rally car racing down a paved road.

Source: EA Sports

If EA Sports and Codemasters intended to create a WRC experience that is immersive, welcoming to newcomers, and a fun and reasonably faithful representation of the sport, then they have absolutely succeeded. As someone who enjoys racing but has never participated in the rally side of motorsports, the learning curve was manageable and the end result is that I can't wait to get back behind the wheel for another sweaty and adrenaline-filled session as soon as possible. The hardcore crowd that was hoping for a deep simulation of rally racing will likely be left wanting for more.

Perhaps the biggest compliment I can pay EA Sports WRC is that the experience in this game has prompted me to explore more of the rally sport in real life. I'll be checking out some rally championships in the future and strive to improve my driving skills on something other than a nicely asphalted racetrack with gentle flowing curves.

This review is based on a Steam code provided by the publisher. EA Sports WRC is available on October 31, 2023, on Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, EA Play Pro, Steam, and PlayStation 5.

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Jan has been playing video games for nearly 30 years and been a passionate geek for the better part of his life. When he's not grinding his way through Destiny in search of further lore, he can often be found neck deep in source code of various apps and websites. Feel free to ask him about whether or not Guardians are actually evil or not, and whether or not he'll give you some free SEO tech tips. You can follow him on Twitter @ChalkOne.

Review for
EA Sports WRC
  • Fast-paced, adrenaline inducing action
  • Gorgeous tracks and exterior car graphics
  • Huge variety of courses and vehicles
  • No paid in-game currencies or boosters
  • Confusing menus and odd calendar layout
  • Lack of hardware support for serious rally simmers
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