Most of what I know about racing, I learned from video games. Before I started playing various racing games, I’m not even sure if I could have told you what rally was—but it’s probably one of my favorite types of racing now. With the exclusion of a proper rally mode in Dirt 5, I thought I had to stick with Dirt Rally 2.0 for my rally fix. That is, until I got the chance to play WRC 9 on Xbox Series X. WRC 9 is an impressive step into next gen, and a surprisingly good rally game.
WRC 9 is all about rally—and it’s the official game of the 2020 World Rally Championship. It’s also a series that is almost as long-lived as the Colin McRae Rally series—which has been going by Dirt recently. There’s no rallycross and beyond in WRC 9, just traditional rally across over a dozen countries each with nine or so tracks. There’s a career option for those who want to simulate every aspect of racing for an organization, or you can forget all of that and just worry about racing.
While most racing games are more about fun and fast than realism, WRC 9 strives to be more of a sim—and it succeeds to an extent. Driving in WRC 9 is a challenge, but an adjustable one that you can fit to your realism preferences with settings like starting assist, traction control, anti-lock brakes, etc. Different weather conditions effect the feel of the drive as you would expect, as does various types of terrain, like gravel versus asphalt. WRC 9 isn’t the most intense sim out there, but it’s a good entry-level for those who want more of a sim-like experience.
One of the best things about WRC 9 is its track selection. At first, I thought it would be a lot of filler, but there are some impressive courses. Set over thirteen countries, each with about nine tracks each, there is a lot of variety. You’ll be driving in snow, gravel, asphalt, dirt, and plenty of mixed material courses. These tracks are challenging, interesting, and super fun. I found myself more often forgetting about career mode so I could run a quickplay through some of these great courses. Of course, if you want to get into the meat and bones of a rally career, WRC 9 has a pretty extensive option for you to try.
WRC 9’s career mode is perhaps the core game mode, and certainly has a lot of visual appeal. While you’re in career management view—usually between events or training—you are presented with an overhead view of your offices. From there you can manage your crew, review objectives, test your car, review statistics, and put points into research and development. I love the design and the top-down perspective that makes it feel like a management game. The management aspect isn’t the deepest I’ve played, though it does give you some options to maximize your team’s output on the track, and input financially.
There are plenty more ways to play WRC 9 than career mode. If you want to skip career mode, and get straight to the racing, there are a bunch of options. Season allows you to take part in a series of races without having to manage a crew. But if you want faster options, quickplay lets you jump right into the action—and even customize weather, time of day, etc. Quickplay also gives you the ability to play as racing teams from the real world—and their accompanying car. There are also online multiplayer modes where you can try to get better times than your opponents remotely, and even a splitscreen mode to play locally.
I didn’t play WRC 9 when it released earlier this year—but I have had a chance to take a look at their graphical differences. Next-gen may be here, but the Xbox Series X isn’t as impressive as I was hoping. The load times are certainly much better between the two, but in a side-by-side comparison, my Xbox One X and Xbox Series X look almost identical. The Series X obviously looks a little better, but the main difference it the performance. WRC 9 on the Xbox Series X runs great. I can’t say WRC 9 isn’t a good looking racing game, though—it may not be the most graphically impressive out there, but it definitely has its moments.
Since WRC 9 is the officially licensed game of World Rally Cross, there isn’t room for the fantastical. Car selection is exactly what you would expect. You do get some historic options, and a couple of non-conventional options—but car selection is about as mundane as you can expect in a game firmly rooted in its license. It would have been fun to have a wider selection of historic cars, but there are less than a dozen.
This is my first time playing a game in the WRC series, but I won’t miss the next one. While WRC 9 doesn’t quite unseat Dirt Rally 2.0 as the rally standard, it’s a pretty damn solid rally game. I missed out on having a authentic rally experience in Dirt 5, and I’m glad WRC 9 is here to fill the gap. It runs great on Xbox Series X, even if its graphics weren’t as exciting as I hoped—but they are certainly an improvement. If you’re looking for that game to get your rally fix this year, WRC 9 is your best option.
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