Last year's WRC from Milestone was a so-so 6/10 effort, sorely lacking in presentation values while delivering some decent sim racing. This year's title makes some much needed tweaks to the difficulty, and attempts to improve the visuals, but the end result is still something that feels under par compared to the competition.
Structurally, WRC 2 is similar to WRC 1. Each event in the rally season has a list of objectives, with credits and reputation points being awarded depending on difficulty and how well you perform. Credits can then be spent on new cars, upgrades and more superficial things such as car paint jobs. There's an element of team management here too, with team managers, engineers and sponsors all having to be assigned, with your reputation determining who is available to you. While these management portions of the game offer a reasonable extra dimension to the rally experience, the core of the game is still the actual driving.
WRC wasn't a very forgiving game. I play a lot of racing games, yet last year's entry was punishing from the opening events even on standard difficulty. WRC 2 does a better job at catering to everyone, offering some decent driving assists and a far more balanced range of AI settings. Using the default medium racing setting I found myself easily winning the opening events, so was able to tinker with the assists to up the challenge to a level that was challenging but not impossible.
Handling feels a step up from last year's effort, with the cars no longer appearing to rotate around an invisible pivot as much as they used to. This is still a racing sim, though, so don't expect the cars to slide around as easily as they do in Codemasters' DiRT series. If you're after instant thrills I'd recommend you avoid WRC 2, as it takes some time to get to grips with how the cars handle, and the variety of road surfaces and weather conditions add to the complexity.
Milestone has thankfully added in rewind, letting you skip back up to five seconds if you've messed up a corner and ended up on your roof in a ditch. You'll know what to expect if you've used the system in any one of the numerous racers to offer the functionality over the past few years, but it's still an excellent inclusion that goes a long way to lessening the frustration experienced while racing, especially during the initial learning period.
WRC covers 78 special stages, 13 official WRC locations, five Super Special Stages, and introduces Urban Stages - although only Berlin is included from the off, with more coming down the pipe as DLC in the future. Cars span nine categories including WRC, Safari and Group B, and each can be upgraded through the game's research and development system.
On top of the lengthy career there are numerous other game modes: Single stage, Single rally, Championship, Time attack, Rally academy, and 4-player hot seat multiplayer. Online modes let you race against others with support for 16 players, while a ranking system lets you know who's the best in the world.
Presentation was WRC's weak point, and the same is true with this year's entry. While the game has been given a sepia-tone lighting filter, the environments are still bland, the textures are muddy and the overall appearance is extremely rough. Comparing it to the likes of DiRT 3 and Forza 4 is almost laughable, but even when put up against weaker genre efforts WRC 2 fails to come out on top.
With a lack of visual quality perhaps it was wrong to expect a solid framerate, but the general lack of fluidity makes an ugly game look even worse. The menu system is a slight improvement over last year's game, but it's still horribly dated with far too much on-screen text being overlaid in pop up boxes and some terrible lobby music.
WRC 2 is a minor improvement on last year's game, but that isn't good enough. Other than the official WRC license all the game has going for it is a decent (but not brilliant) driving model. Everything else here feels dated and pales in comparison to numerous other games in the genre.
Other than the official WRC license all WRC 2 has going for it is a decent driving model. Everything else here feels dated and pales in comparison to numerous other games in the genre.