Going to a stage rally to watch cars—with more aero than a jetliner—fly through the air on jumps and slide sideways on narrow mountain roads is fun. Now, driving one of these top-level WRC cars at this level is both financially and technically out of reach for most of the sport’s fans. However, the WRC video game series gives you a taste of what these teams experience on a race weekend. And the latest installment, WRC 9, gives the most accurate digital recreation yet.
With WRC 9, the team at Kylotonn worked with publisher Nacon to expand on the experience of last year’s game. Naturally, the tracks follow what you’d see in the actual WRC calendar. That means you’ll experience classics like Monte Carlo and Wales. But, it wouldn’t make sense for the folks making this to not include new races in Kenya, Japan and New Zealand. Essentially, the tracks on the game follow the WRC’s original 2020 calendar. While some of the events in real life were canceled, events in the WRC 9’s digital landscape go off without a hitch.
Expectedly, each rally and its individual stages offer unique challenges to players. Fighting for grip in the snow at Rally Sweden feels different than the gravel, tarmac, and mud you see at other events. That level of immersion is almost expected from the official game of WRC, but it’s also comforting to see that the development team worked at making the physics engine of the game respond to the different surfaces.
You might imagine that this game would be full of, well, rally cars you see at a modern WRC event. And, that would be correct. In WRC 9 you get the full gamut of cars. From front-wheel-drive Ford Fiestas running in Junior WRC to the top-ranking WRC entries from Toyota, Ford and Hyundai. It also wouldn’t be a rally racing game without including legends of the sport, like the Lancia 037, Lancia Stratos, and Lancia Delta HF Integrale Evo. Ford’s beloved Escort Mk2 RS1800 is there, alongside other legendary WRC champions.
The cars are expertly rendered inside and out, and handle just as you would expect. For instance, the Lancia 037 is brutally hard to drive in this digital landscape, which seems like it tracks with its real-life Group B counterpart. Whereas the Ford Fiesta that you wheel in Junior WRC feels, well, like a solid starting point for rookies in reality and in WRC 9.
Of course, there’s more to WRC 9 than just driving cars at rally stages around the world. The game offers a handful of different ways to play the game. You can run your own WRC team in WRC 9’s career mode, you can hop right into a rally in quick play and you can do various online challenges and seasons as long as you have access to online play. Career mode uses a grid-based upgrade system to advance along your journey to a WRC championship. It’s very similar to the career mode from last year’s title and is a great way to develop your skills on stage.
Speaking of on-stage skills, this is not an easy game. There are various difficulty levels, sure, but you can’t just jump into the seat of a rally car and dominate at the top levels. While you want to hop into your Lancia 037 or Toyota Yaris WRC and carve up Sweden, you’re just not going to do that successfully. That challenge gives the game a barrier that can only be broken by, well, getting good at the game. That gives the player incentive to keep playing and gain the skills required to compete in a top-level car.
Overall, WRC 9 is a great addition to the franchise. If you’re curious about what it's like to hit a stage in a powerful, all-wheel-drive race car, it doesn’t get much better than this. However, if you’re a longtime WRC player and you don’t want to jump onto the online modes, that might make WRC 9 a harder sell. Having played both, I still think jumping into WRC 9 is worth it. Then again, I also bought Madden ‘04, Madden ’05 and Madden ’06, so your mileage may vary. The game is available on Xbox One, Playstation 4, Nintendo Switch and various computer-based platforms.