The thrill of slipping around corners at breakneck speed is hard to beat. But it's best when you never know what to expect. Rally games are our favourite because they're so unpredictable, with a variety of different surfaces and conditions demanding acute attention.
One moment you'll be bumbling over uneven gravel, the next sliding onto rain slicked tarmac. The second official rally title from unknown Italian developer, Milestone, might feel stuck in the last generation for large portions of its presentation, but at least it provides an accurate recreation of the sport portrayed on its front-cover.
But while it's racing model is good, WRC 2 struggles with the finer points. Its Fun Fax inspired lime green menus look a million miles away from the slick unfolding diamonds of DiRT 3, and its in-game visuals — while improved — are still sitting on the subs bench in the Sunday Cup when compared to the Champions League winning appearance of Gran Turismo 5.
It's perhaps a little unfair to be comparing the clearly low-budget WRC 2 to a heavy weight like Gran Turismo, but when they're both competing for the same shelf-space at the same price-point it's hard not to. And while Gran Turismo 5 doesn't technically do rally to the same level of detail as WRC 2, there's enough in Polyphony Digital's game to satisfy the requirements of casual fans.
It's the niche sub-set of rally die-hards that Milestone's aiming to capture then, and even though the game's production values are low, it's certainly packing a rich library of content to satisfy its niche. The official license ensures the inclusion of all of the vehicle classes from the 2011 season, including: WRC, SWRC, PWRC, FIA WRC Academy, WRC Group B and WRC Safari.
Game modes span the surprisingly in-depth "Road To The WRC" career mode, as well as single-player, training and multiplayer components. The "Rally School" is one of the game's most prominent new features, allowing you to compete in a sequence of short scenarios in order to hone your racing skills. These tutorial-esque sub-missions are often a little too short to provide any real context, but as a quick entry into the action appropriately get the job done.
While the single-player allows you to create rallys, championships and time-trials at your own leisure, it's the career mode that provides the meat and bones of the package. A pseudo RPG management simulator, the campaign has you creating a team of crack-pot engineers and PR managers — which we lavished with inexplicable SEGA fan-fiction when asked to think up a number of unique names — in order to transform your childhood motorsport ambitions into a reality. You'll need to negotiate sponsors and assign mechanics to various R&D tasks in order to improve the performance of your vehicles and increase your finances.
It's all a little bit dry, but WRC 2 does a good job of gradually introducing the game's multiple elements during an elongated tutorial mode. While you'll do a lot of management, your actual progress will come down to your performance on the track, as you participate in a variety of events, completing objectives set by your sponsors in order to gain money and enhance your reputation.
With progression tied to two unique progress bars, rewards can feel a bit slow coming. After the initial tutorial period it would be nice if Milestone simply let you free, rather than control what you can and can't do with your money and R&D teams. Instead the game locks you out, either demanding an insane deposit of money or an unreasonable reputation level.
The variety is good, with each of WRC's individual car classes explored across the campaign. You'll also compete across a range of locations and routes, but the game's visual presentation lacks personality, with a drab colour palette giving the game a sombre aesthetic even when in tropical locations.
While WRC 2 accurately recreates the feel of racing on the road, there are still areas Milestone could tweak for a better feeling experience. Feedback from the track is not well replicated through the controller, with bumps and bobbles barely registering and creating a disconnect between the car and the ride. The cock-pit view is surprisingly static too, with the camera fixed firmly in a central position rather than swaying naturally inside the car.
Audio too lacks the punch of its competitors, with vehicles rasping rather than roaring, and the voice samples of your co-driver getting awfully repetitive after more than a couple of hours play.
The multiplayer is buoyed by a new Quick Match option dedicated to the game's new Super Special Stage mode, making it a much more accessible experience. Progression is tied to a wide variety of meters and gauges, which can be a little bit daunting at first sight.
The netcode is good, with races running smoothly in ghost mode. We didn't encounter any instances of lag or frame-drops, with WRC 2's heightened sensation of speed holding up assuredly throughout. If you'd rather play offline, a new Hot Seat mode allows you to compete against friends gathered around the same console.
With a wide variety of tracks, cars and vehicles to master there's a wealth of things to do in WRC 2. It's just a shame that the package lacks the polish and nuance of its peers, creating a functional and accurate driving experience without any of the pizzazz. The campaign at least tries something a little different, serving up a career mode as much about the managerial aspect of a rally team as it is the driving. But it's a shame that Milestone hasn't managed to stamp its personality on other aspects of the experience, with the empty minimalistic menus and sombre presentation giving the game something of a down-tempo feel throughout.