Racing games are one of the cornerstones of the gaming industry, and Nintendo Switch has amassed quite a few in the four years that it’s been on the market at this point. While its list of super-realistic racers still isn’t huge, there’s a decent selection on offer. One series that has remained consistent is Nacon and KT Racing’s WRC franchise. Now, WRC 9, the latest entry, has come to the hybrid, albeit a few months late.
WRC 9 follows in the footsteps of its predecessors by continuing to be a super challenging and overall hardcore rally racing sim. These titles are not for the easily annoyed, and that certainly hasn’t changed here with WRC 9. Even with the ability to turn driving assists on and off as you please and even alter the difficulty while in the middle of a career season, this sim is as rough and rugged as the harsh terrain it has you driving on.
WRC 9 claims to have improved physics and redesigned environments to enhance the gameplay experience. That said, I still found myself getting beat up by this rough-and-tough racer.
Wearing many hats
For the uninitiated, the typical WRC experience starts you off in the Junior division before letting you loose in the full WRC league. But they both function just about the same; the Junior division is simply limited to one type of car and they’re less powerful. Regardless of which league you’re competing in, a regular career season (which takes place during a full in-game year) will involve you not only taking part in events but also handling crew management.
Crews consist of different specialists like a meteorologist, engineer, agent, and more. Hiring these different specialists will enhance your performance throughout the events you undertake as they will perform different tasks like speeding up repairs, making your car more reliable, giving weather forecasts, etc. However, crews come with the added headache of making sure that you perform well enough in each event to keep earning money, as you’ll then have to pay their salaries. You also need to keep track of their form throughout the season, remembering to have at least two specialists of each kind so they can be swapped out to avoid overworking one member.
Another thing to keep in mind while competing is that manufacturers, which sponsor the team you drive for, are keeping track of your performance. If you’re not winning, then your reputation with the manufacturer will plummet, increasing the chances of your getting ejected from the team. You’ll also need to complete regularly changing objectives (that you don’t pick) in order to keep your manufacturer happy. These aren’t really that hard to fulfill and completing them nets you small monetary and XP bonuses, so it’s a nice thing to have. Speaking of rewards, money is obviously for car and crew expenses, but earning XP will gradually net you skill points that you then use to unlock more enhancements for your crew.
Now, let’s talk about the actual driving.
No room for error in WRC 9
The actual racing experience is quite the package. WRC 9 features environments from all over the world in countries like Sweden, the United Kingdom, and Finland, as well as three new areas: Kenya, Japan, and New Zealand. These environments each have different climates, resulting in different weather conditions and terrain. That said, regardless of whether you’re trudging through thick mud or streaking across rain-soaked asphalt, these courses are designed to be challenging in just about every way. While your car does respond differently to each terrain type, some being a little easier to handle than others, your work is basically already cut out for you.
The courses are narrow and laden with objects on each side that will not only bring your car to a halt if you hit them, but will damage the vehicle and result in reduced performance. It’s a careful ballet of maneuvering through tight corners, blood-pumping jumps,, and trying hard not to careen over a cliff side or slam into a barrier — all while trying to beat the clock. There’s this constant feeling of wanting to go fast in order to get the best time, but also still trying to be careful so you don’t end up crashing and losing precious seconds.
Trying to fight this fight on Nintendo Switch is even more of a challenge because its lack of analog triggers continues to make games like WRC 9 less than ideal to handle. You can map the throttle and brake to the thumbsticks, but I found this to be uncomfortable for me using the Joy-Con. At least the vibrations feel nice, as they react strongly to all of the on-screen action.
Nevertheless, this is still not a racer that I’d recommend to anyone who’s not too big on sim racers. It can quickly become monotonous and frustrating if you’re not engaged in the competition aspect. The majority of events take around five minutes to complete. That may not sound like much, but when you consider that you may find yourself restarting constantly due to making a mistake, it can quickly end up taking somewhere around 15 or 20 minutes just to finish a single race. It doesn’t help that there’s no rewind feature; there’s only a “respawn” button that will slam you with a five-second penalty for using it. My best advice is to pay close attention to your co-driver’s prompts for what lies ahead on the track, tap the triggers to simulate gradual throttle and brake inputs, and just breathe.
Gotta clean the windshield
Even with the several years that KT Racing has been bringing its titles over to Switch, its engine optimization hasn’t improved that much. Despite the delay behind the other platforms, WRC 9 on Switch is still underwhelming from a visual standpoint.
While the handheld mode is decent, docked mode reveals all of the imperfections like low texture quality, huge lack of post-processing effects, reduction in lighting, and very low draw distance for rendering details. Tree branches look like cotton balls in the distance and only look somewhat okay when extremely close to them. Track details are minimal and some textures (like in Wales) just look plain ugly.
While some of this has to do with Nintendo Switch’s lack of horsepower, it’s still notably disappointing to see the cutbacks that were made. And while this was likely done to maintain the 30 FPS cap the game has, some slightly more complex areas do still manage to bring the frame rate down into the 20s, which is not a great experience at all.
Down, but not out
Even with these concessions, WRC 9 on Switch isn’t terrible. Really, this is just a niche experience. You’ll either be totally engaged with its sim mechanics or turned off by them. If hardcore racing is more your speed, then I’d say jump for it. But don’t go into this thinking that you’ll become a master overnight, especially with the drawbacks in terms of muddy visuals and limited controls.
It’s still nice that Nacon and its studios are supporting Nintendo Switch with the likes of WRC 9, but I hope future entries can try even harder to maximize the hardware’s potential.
A review code was provided by the publisher.