Simulation racers are not for everyone. Settle down for a casual round of Gran Turismo 5 with the folks from the cricket club and you’ll spend more time staring at barriers than the actual road ahead. It’s with that in mind that Italian developer Milestone has concocted WRC Powerslide, an isometric riff on its hardcore licensed franchise which aims to repurpose the thrill of rally cars in a format that everyone can enjoy. Unfortunately, for all of its admirable intentions, it fails to get out of second gear.
The single biggest issue with the arcade racer is its sputtering lack of energy. Vehicles chug along desolate dirt tracks, bumbling about like a hesitant Sunday morning driver off to collect a posse of spoiled brats from soccer practice. In order to infuse some excitement into proceedings, the developer has incorporated a limited selection of power-ups which encompass riveting projectiles such as, er, hailstorms and horns. These fruitless excuses for firepower cannot be dodged, making them more of an exercise in patience than their intended supercar savagery.
It says a lot that the game gives you an option to turn all collisions and weaponry off, but without the impulsiveness of the irritating artillery, the action amounts to little more than a knackered Scalextric course running in slow motion. To its credit, the title does have the appearance of a high-budget production – but much like a supermodel, it’s mostly flash without substance. The greenery of Wales, sandy dunes of Portugal, and snowy streets of Monte Carlo will stun you like a rabbit caught in high-beam headlights at first, but the novelty won’t persist.
The awkward progression system will be one of the first things to shake you from your slumber. With an impressive roster of licensed vehicles, crews, teams, and tracks, the title had no need for padding. And yet it commits the cardinal sin of forcing you to replay routes over and over in order to see everything that the game has to offer. To its credit, the title always tells you what you need to do to unlock the next event in the single-player campaign, but playing the same stages multiple times to obtain every ride on offer is something that only hardcore completionists will find the heart to do.
For the most part, the camera keeps a good perspective of the action, but it does struggle when faced with a series of dastardly hairpin turns. Fortunately, the handling model makes slipping in and out of these satisfying; it nails the balance between basic simulation and arcade racer fairly well. It’s just a shame that accelerating out of corners makes you feel like you’re sitting in the cockpit of a Sinclair C5 rather than a Citroën DS3 – the title can be tragically slow at times.
The lack of modes is particularly jarring, too. As an arcade racer, it could have benefitted from different challenges and game types, but it sticks rather rigidly to point-to-point races set to clumsy guitar riffs and dreary engine samples. There are online leaderboards to add an extra layer of longevity, and these are snappy and well implemented – but sadly we’re beyond the stage where working scoreboards can be considered a plus point for any game.
A decent online multiplayer component is also on offer, but we’re not convinced that its lobbies will be bursting with competitors for very long. Bafflingly, there’s no option for couch competitions, so you’ll be limited to pass the controller sessions with the aforementioned folks from the cricket club. You’ll be back to staring at the barriers in Gran Turismo 5 before too long.
And unfortunately that’s the problem with Milestone’s debut downloadable racer: it fails to really make a compelling argument for either of the audiences that it’s coveting. Hardcore racing fans who are likely to be lured by the license and roster of real rally cars would be much better served by the studio’s more reliable retail offerings, while casual gamers will quickly find their head turned by better arcade racers already available on PS3.
WRC Powerslide is a visually attractive experiment with an unclear purpose. Its hopes of appealing to a more casual audience are undone by its dreary power-ups and inexplicably absent local multiplayer options, while its monotonous campaign and occasionally clumsy camera will deter hardcore players. There’s perhaps some enjoyment to be sucked out of the title’s stunning visuals and enormous roster of licensed vehicles, but this is a supercar that's running on empty and sputtering unceremoniously at the back of the pack.