Milestone is a developer who specialises in motorsports, having already released two titles in the genre this year: SBKX and Superstars V8 Next Challenge. Both games were perfectly playable, but suffered from production values and structure well behind the times, and this is sadly the case with the studio's latest offering, WRC: FIA World Rally Championship. Once you get past the dated presentation and uninspired career mode, there's a decent rally game here, but even compared to the original DIRT from Codemasters it comes short on almost every level.
Maybe it's the fact that I've played a fair few Milestone racers in my time, but the career mode on offer here feels rather familiar. You get a number of chapters, each consisting of a collection of race events. Each event lists three levels of achievements, with credits handed out according to difficulty. Passing any of these will unlock the next event, but whereas a 10th place finish might earn a handful of credits, winning will earn a lot more.
Credits are needed to buy new cars across the three racing classes, and bizarrely also needed to acquire new sponsors - although unless I missed something, these sponsors don't differ much, if at all, in terms of what they give you. Initially you'll be competing in the regional championships, but the goal is to move up the ladder and get a job offer from a top class WRC team. This means you won't start in the WRC category, with your skills first being tested in the P-WRC, S-WRC and J-WRC sections.
WRC isn't a very forgiving game. I play a lot of racing games, but even on the standard difficulty the opening few events are punishing in the extreme. To unlock the next Chapter you're likely going to need to replay each event a handful of times, but things do start to click once you're more in tune with the way the cars handle on the various surface types.
Handling initially felt incredibly twitchy, which wasn't helped by the way cars don't exactly look the part on the track. It's an odd complaint, but something is off, whether it's the movement of the camera or the way the car pivots on the road surface. Things do get better, though, and you have to remember that this isn't DIRT, and as such isn't going to be as instantly gratifying.
Thankfully the game automatically loads car setup pre-sets for each road type, be it gravel, dirt, tarmac or other, but experts will want to get in there and create their own settings. To the game's credit, car handling feels suitably different when the weather changes, with snow and rain making fast driving extremely difficult.
WRC covers 78 tracks across 13 rallies, so there's plenty of content to work through, but unless you're really into the sport it'll be hard to get yourself motivated; as a modern racing game WRC is seriously lacking the kind of glamour and spark now commonplace in the genre.
Outside of the career mode there's the expected array of game modes, including single stage, single rally and championship, as well as the training mode Rally Academy, the obligatory Time Attack and 4-player Hot Seat. Online modes let you race against others, while a ranking system lets you know who's the best in the world.
Presentation is definitely WRC's weak point, with bland environments, muddy textures and plenty of ugly graphical glitches. Even saying it's a few years out of date would be doing it a favour, as in truth it looks more like an HD version of the PS2/Xbox era Colin McRae games. The voice of your co-driver does the job, but I did think my guy sounded quite grumpy. Readability of text in this HD era of games has often been an issue, but the menus in WRC are quite frankly terrible. Due to the chosen font, the menu text is verging on being completely incomprehensible, and simply reaffirms my general feeling that presentation wasn't a focus.
WRC is the best racing game Milestone has put out in quite some time, but it's woefully lacking in terms of presentation. With racing games it's not just about an authentic driving model, as you need the in-game visuals to put you in the virtual driver's seat. When playing WRC you'll spend more time wondering why it doesn't look better than you will just enjoying the gameplay. It's a solid effort, but a lot of work needs to be done if future titles are going to be anything more than niche hits.