Kylotonn has been doing a lot for Nintendo Switch in terms of bringing over realistic racing games. Its latest title WRC 8 reminded me a lot of their project last year, V-Rally 4, primarily since both feature rally racing. Even so, WRC 8 strikes me as being the more intense experience.
Rally racing is no easy feat, and WRC 8 attempts to recreate that same adrenaline-pumping feeling of speed and danger. It requires a rhythmic dance of braking, steering, and throttle control, all while charging through harsh terrain on roads that are just barely wider than the cars themselves (and often on the edge of a cliff). Different real-world manufacturers host various teams that you sign with at the start of each racing season. Your goal is to keep your team happy by placing high in the ranks, maintaining your crew members, and not leading the team into financial ruin by carefully balancing money with wins.
Races take place across various real-world courses in countries like Sweden, France, and Kenya, and geography and meteorology play a huge factor in the racing experience. Some tracks are dusty and full of gravel; others are paved but will have you racing through torrential downpours. Then there are the snow-covered tracks that put skills to the test in a different way.
WRC 8 sports a new dynamic weather system, which means while a race can start in the middle of a storm, it may end dry (or vice versa). Each terrain type behaves differently, so rallying requires a lot of adaptation. There are various tire types that can be swapped out to aid your driving experience, but you also have to worry about the health of your vehicle as a whole. Tires wear out and parts get damaged, thus affecting the performance and handling of your car. Repairs can be made once per rally, and you have to be careful not to spend too much money or have your crew spend too much time fixing your car, as that would create a time penalty. As a result, banging it up during each race is the last thing you want to do, though that’s far easier said than done given the harsh nature of each race.
You don’t race directly against other drivers in WRC 8; rather, it’s a race against the clock. The goal is always to get the best time over the other racers. Falling off the track can result in a time penalty. Just a few seconds can make the difference between a podium finish and coming up at the back of the pack. Unlike in V-Rally 4, WRC 8 doesn’t tell you exactly how well you’re performing until the very end of the race.
There are various checkpoints scattered along each track which will indicate “green” or “red” for a good time or bad time, respectively. And that’s your only indicator for how well you’re performing. I wish there were specified time goals for each track though. I got very acquainted with the restart button since just a minor spin-out can cost a few precious seconds that result in coming in a low position. There’s no rewind feature like in other racing games like GRID, so mistakes are costly all around here in WRC 8.
Losing a race will cause your relationship with the manufacturer for your team to plummet. This also happens if you fail to meet the objectives that are posted every few in-game weeks. While your finances are allowed to go into the negatives, this will also drop the relationship status. Maintaining a bad relationship could result in getting cut from the team, which did happen to me during my first career playthrough. When this happens, you have to start a whole new season from the very beginning. Each race is already several minutes long, so meeting this fate could result in a lot of the game time you’ve invested being fundamentally worthless.
Not a cakewalk
If keeping track of all of this weren’t daunting enough, then there are still the crew members you have to take care of. There are various professions like a metrologist, financial director, and mechanic, all of which help to assist you throughout the season. At the end of each rally, active members become fatigued and need to be swapped out with others. The team’s morale is also affected by wins and losses. And of course, your crew needs to be paid.
Indeed, WRC 8 is a complex experience all in all. The races are dangerous, the rules are strict, and there are a lot of factors you need to watch in order to have a successful season and proceed further.
If this all sounds intimidating, thankfully, you can play in a separate Career-style mode that takes out the crew management features and keeps you focused on just worrying about winning the races. Still, WRC 8 boasts a package that casual race fans may find too overwhelming, or just straight-up annoying. This isn’t as forgiving as games like GRID or Foriza Horizon 4, which have a lot of handicaps in place to simplify the racing experience for those who want/need it.
Rather, WRC 8 is very much in line with its sibling V-Rally 4 in terms of forcing players to adapt to a strict racing regimen in order to see any real progress. As a result, if you’re a sore loser, then WRC 8 has a pretty big chance of frustrating you. This game is muddy and maddening, but it’s rewarding when you have those moments where everything clicks and you zoom through a course and come out in first.
Playing a game like this on Switch still has its drawbacks due to the technical shortcomings of the system. The visuals look noticeably blurry, especially in handheld mode. It’s a step up from V-Rally 4 and the resolution does stay relatively sharp, but this is no GRID. Trees fade in and out of detail as you approach, as do shadows. Weather effects like rain look okay but still pretty basic. Even so, performance stays pretty solid at an almost completely consistent 30 FPS (another improvement over V-Rally 4).
Lighting and particle effects are simple but can look good at times. It would be nice if more Switch controllers had analog triggers, as the precise throttle and brake control needed for a game like this cannot be properly replicated with the digital triggers of the Joy-Con and Pro Controller. I had to learn to “feather” them by rapidly clicking the gas and brake triggers, which did work (especially when playing with the Joy-Con for some reason), but having analog controls would still have been nicer. What is pretty nice overall is the audio quality. The lack of music while racing allows you to hear the authentic-sounding roar of each car engine, along with little details like skidding tires in the mud, and the crackling sound of the gravel bits as they bounce off the chassis.
Despite the drawbacks, I still find WRC 8 on Switch to be a cool experience for race fans who are craving a more raw, complex experience. It’s nice that the KT Racing team sees so much potential in the Switch considering the fact it has yet to skip bringing any of its recent projects over. Here’s hoping the team’s support continues and their mastery over Switch hardware continues to improve.
A review code was provided by the publisher.