When EA acquired Codemasters a couple of years ago, the UK-based racing specialist came with a couple of extra perks. It already held the licences to produce official games for Formula One, which it had been doing successfully for a good while, as well as World Rally Championship, which had yet to bear fruit. The latter always seemed like a perfect fit for Codies, which has been making off-road racers for decades, and now with secure backing from a major publisher, it's produced EA Sports WRC. As expected, the game is a best-of-both-worlds situation, where the developer's rally expertise and all the official cars, teams, and stages finally coalesce.
Essentially a sequel to DiRT Rally 2.0, EA Sports WRC will feel quite familiar to those who've dabbled in Codemasters' straight-faced rally series. The physics model has successfully been brought over from the studio's own Ego engine to Unreal Engine, where it's undergone some extra enhancements. Most noticeable is better handling on tarmac, though it isn't perfect; cars generally feel more rooted on the asphalt, but depending on what you're driving, you may find your car slipping fairly easily. Still, it's a big improvement on what came before.
Moving off-road, all other surfaces feel fantastic to drive. Wrestling for grip on gravel, gliding across snow and ice, and praying you just make it to the end in the wet — the handling is incredibly fun to tackle. The default settings feel great to us, but it's worth noting you can tinker with assists (as well as tuning individual cars) to suit you. However you play, though, EA Sports WRC is intended to be challenging. Between the immense sense of speed, loose surfaces, and the constant threat of rally-ending hazards, you'll need all your concentration to get through a stage unscathed — and it feels amazing when you do. We played entirely using a DualSense, and it's perfectly playable on a controller; in fact, there's some decent haptics and trigger usage here. A steering wheel setup will no doubt be optimal, but rest assured it's still a great drive on a pad.
You can get acquainted with the handling thanks to Rally School, a short series of lessons similar to Gran Turismo's licence tests. We'd have liked for this mode to be more expansive; at only 12 steps, it provides the basic rally driving principles to get you going, but some more nitty gritty teachings would've been nice. Still, it's a great addition for newcomers, and you can play each lesson on three surface types, so it's far from useless.
Rally School might be slight, but the rest of the game is jam-packed with things to do. The Career mode will be the go-to for a lot of players, and we're pleased to say it's pretty good. Starting in your choice of Junior WRC, WRC2, or full-fat WRC, you go through a season by picking events from the calendar. Each week has a handful of options, be they rallies in the WRC itself, alternative championships, Talent Scout events where you pick up new engineers and a teammate, and so on. You won't be able to do everything, and there's an element of strategy in picking what to do and when.
The benefactor is your barometer for success in the career. Providing you weekly budgets to adhere to, they also give you various objectives to meet throughout the season — placing high enough in the WRC standings, or attending a certain number of manufacturer invitationals, for example. Fulfilling these extra tasks will net you a lot of favour with the benefactor, leading to increased budgets and potentially better contracts in later seasons. Balancing all your budgets and ensuring you're keeping the benefactor happy is a little different from your usual Career mode, but it's a fine structure that still lets you live out the fantasy of ascending the rallying ranks.
If you don't want to deal with any management stuff, Championship lets you progress through a season of WRC with no filler, moving straight from rally to rally, in any of the three competing classes. Much like in Career, you can choose how long a championship lasts, as well as how many stages each rally comprises.
Moments is an interesting take on daily challenges. Each moment is a unique scenario, with most taking inspiration from real events in WRC's history. It can be tough to achieve the gold medal on some of these, but they're a great way to get a glimpse at the variety of stages and cars on offer. Finally, Quick Play and Time Trial are self-explanatory, letting you set up events, select a car, and get going.
Speaking of difficulty, we'll quickly say that, even as relatively casual racing fans, the AI generally seems very easy. Obviously your mileage will vary here, but if you've played rally games like this before, we'd recommend turning up the difficulty a touch if you want some competition.
Whatever your appetite for challenge, though, EA Sports WRC will put you through your paces with its long list of brilliant stages. Spread across 17 locations — 18 once the Central European Rally is added post-launch — and with some over 30km, the 204 stages are almost uniformly great. They run the gamut from Kenya's rough dirt roads to Japan's unforgivingly tight tarmac trails. While some are easier rides than others, all are technical, demanding, and seriously fun to navigate. Again, getting through a stage having pulled off some heroic hairpin slides and thread the needle through deadly routes is super rewarding.
There are some great cars to drive on them, too. Of course, the current WRC monsters are the stars of the show, and they're terrifyingly quick, but they're joined by dozens of others from the motorsport's history. Group B beasts like the Audi Quattro and Metro 6R4; Group A classics like the Lancia Delta HF Integrale; no less than four Subaru Impreza models; and many more. The best part is they all drive as you'd expect — rear-wheel drive rockets are super tough to control through corners, and early front-wheel drive motors understeer for England.
Oh, and if you think you can build a better rally car, the game's Builder mode lets you do just that. After picking a base class, you select a drivetrain, all the mechanical parts, then customise it Need for Speed style. The customisation options are quite limited, but it's still a neat feature — especially when you can use your own vehicle in conjunction with Career mode.
So, this rally game is pretty much the whole package, right? Well, it is, but there are one or two causes for concern. Visually it can be a little weak in places. The cars look great, but some of the stage detail can be lacking, and character models are pretty poor. Arguably these are acceptable as you're blowing past them at high velocity, and that's fair enough, but you may not be so forgiving of the game's technical hiccups. It hits its 60 frames-per-second target the majority of the time, but it stutters fairly frequently, which can really mess with your run, and screen-tearing rears its ugly head quite often as well. Hopefully some fixes for these problems are on the way, as at the moment they're taking the shine off of what's otherwise a great experience.
EA Sports WRC combines Codemasters' off-road racing pedigree with officially licensed cars, teams, and locations. The result is a confident and robust rally game that boasts super-fun driving, intense and challenging stages, and all the modes you could expect. It's only really let down by technical and performance problems. Here's hoping those will be ironed out in due course, because this is otherwise a rewarding rally game that gets (nearly) everything right.