I haven't taken to any rally game I've played since Colin McRae Rally 2.0 on the original PlayStation.
All the ones I've played - including sequels in the Colin McRae franchise - have been adequate and accurate representations of the sport, but they've never quite captured the essential spirit of a rally game: the tightrope walk of control and chaos
WRC 4 captures that feeling superbly, and in doing so is an exciting and uniquely tense racer, making for another strong addition to the Vita's catalogue.The edge
If you're new to the world of rally sport then all you need to know is that a bunch of very brave and/or foolish people drive cars through mud, dirt, sand, snow, and more in an effort to get from point A to point B in as short a time as possible.
As with the real life sport, you don't compete directly with other drivers. Stages are instead time trials over a series of sections of course, and the driver with the fastest time across all sections is declared the winner.
Pelting it down the side of a steep cliff side route with a sheer drop to your right and no barrier to keep you safe, slamming on the handbrake to swing the back wheels out and powerslide round a hairpin turn, before flooring it and accelerating quickly to the next turn - this is exciting stuff, and it's commonplace in WRC 4.
The controls are well-calibrated - twitchy but masterable. There are multiple options to tweak the racing experience to suit your proficiency, too, but the default should serve long-time racing fans with a difficulty level that's surmountable while still providing a challenge.
But should you screw up a turn you can tap the Triangle button and rewind the action a few seconds to correct your mistake. You can't do laps of the end-to-end Special Stages, so this limited-use feature makes for a nice addition while you're getting the hang of things.Never quite loses control
There's an authenticity to the game that's rarely matched - especially on portable devices.
Just driving over different surface types has real impact on the way you approach corners, acceleration, and braking, for example.
But in a wider sense, the presentation creates the illusion that you're taking part in a real rally season. You have your own trailer to catch up on emails from team-mates or read about the goings-on from the world of WRC, and when it comes to race day you'll be in the paddock looking over your vehicle and helping the mechanics to make the tweaks you need to get the performance you desire.
There's plenty of video and audio, too, including clear and concise co-driver assistance while driving.
But all these niceties take their toll. With excellent graphical fidelity, a solid frame rate, and good draw distances, something had to give, and that thing is the load times. I was simultaneously reviewing CSR Classics when I played this, and I'd play whole events in CSR while waiting for WRC 3 race sessions to load.
There's also not enough grime for my liking. Tracks have detailed geometry and undulating surfaces, but you'll rarely kick up any dust in the process of bombing along a dirt road - your car might be battered by the end of a race, but it'll usually be clean as a whistle, too. WRC 4 is almost clinically clean in comparison with how dirty real rally racing can get.
These are substantial flaws, but ones that you'll learn to look past as the racing action grabs you season after season. With plenty of content, lots of challenge, and even an online multiplayer mode for added longevity, WRC 4 is a crucial purchase if you're a fan of realistic racing, and a strong recommendation for anyone with even a passing interest in speed.