I should start this WRC 9 FIA World Rally Championship review with a disclaimer: I know next to nothing about the World Rally Championship or rallying in general, and when it comes to racing games, I lean heavily towards the Mario Karts and Burnouts of this world. I say this in part to set expectations—there are plenty of other reviews out there that’ll give you detailed analysis of how well WRC 9 captures the minutiae of the sport, but this won’t be one of them—but also because I think it underscores one of the things I find most impressive about this game. I know next to nothing about rallying, but I know more than I did a few weeks ago, and I owe most of my (moderate) success in WRC 9 to how well it uses the PlayStation 5 controller’s feedback mechanisms.
Driving surfaces and driving conditions all have their own haptic feedback signatures—driving on snow feels different to driving on gravel, which feels different to driving on tarmac, which feels different to driving to driving on dirt. Driving on a wet surface feels different to driving on a dry version of the same road. Driving on a section littered with little rocks and whatnot feels different to driving on a section that’s been freshly swept.
WRC 9 isn’t unique among PS5 in this regard, but it’s the most practical application of haptic feedback I’ve encountered to date. It didn’t take long for me to start intuitively reacting to the controller’s vibrations and using those to guide my driving: braking a little earlier because of slippery conditions, letting the extra drift of a gravel road help carry me around a corner, and so on. These are things that experienced players would be doing anyway, and have been doing since long before PlayStation 5, based solely on visual and aural feedback. I’ve never been great at that, but in WRC 9, the haptic feedback makes the reaction seem to almost bypass my brain entirely—my hands feel the surface, and instinctively respond as necessary.
The adaptive triggers play a similar role, the brake in particular. Whether you’re playing with ABS on or off, you can feel the feedback of the brakes in the L2 trigger’s resistance: rapid-fire bursts of tension when ABS kicks on, or the whole trigger locking up when your non-ABS brakes do the same. Again, it’s a neat feature from an “immersion” perspective, but has the far more practical effect of providing that sensory feedback of your car’s behaviour directly to your hands, which then lets you react accordingly.
When you change gears, you can feel a subtle little kick in the accelerator; when your gear changes cause a backfire, that kick is bigger and more noticeable. When your engine is damaged, there’s more tension on the accelerator. When your tires are getting worn, you can feel the loss of traction in the controller’s vibrations. When your brakes need some attention, you can feel that in the brake trigger. So much of real-life driving—even just regular driving, never mind rallying—relies on feeling the physical feedback of your car, and WRC 9 on PS5 is the first game I’ve played that’s been able to capture that sensation.
WRC 9 also benefits from the PlayStation 5’s power upgrade, now able to run at up to 4K resolution and 60 frames per second. I’m not one to care a whole lot about frame rate, generally speaking, but racing is one genre that clearly benefits—when you’re trying to shave milliseconds off a section time, those extra frames make a big difference, so having WRC 9 running smoothly at 60 is a godsend. The game looks phenomenal in motion, too, with a level of pristine detail in everything from the sweeping vistas you’ll see on the horizon to the texture of the surface beneath your tyres.
That picturesque scenery really gets to shine in the selection of rallies and courses available to race in WRC 9. Based on the pre-pandemic plans for the 2020 World Rally Championship, the game takes you to everywhere from Monte Carlo to Kenya, from Turkey to Japan, and even to little old New Zealand. Each location is brought vividly to life, providing a perfect backdrop to race against, but also to just slowly cruise through in a Quick Play session to take in the sights.
There are 50-odd different World Rally Championship teams to choose from, with around 25 different cars between them. Compared to other racing games, that’s not a huge number of different rides, but collecting vehicles isn’t really part of WRC 9‘s focus—rather, it’s about reflecting the real-life make-up of World Rally Championship teams. Still, there’s a decent assortment of cars to choose from and manufacturers to try to sign contracts with (and as someone with a particular fondness for a Yaris, it’s nice to see the Yaris WRC getting a piece of the spotlight). Among those are a handful of WRC Legends, too, like a 1970s Alpine A110 and Lancia Stratos.
WRC 9 comes with the usual assortment of modes, both online and offline, though Career Mode is where I suspect many people will spend most of their time. This mode sees you forming your own team for the World Rally Championship and trying to work your way up from WRC3, seeking out manufacturer contracts that’ll (eventually) let you get behind the wheel of the world’s best rally cars. There’s a light crew management element and some RPG flourishes—levelling up, R&D skill points that let you improve performance and develop your team—but the main appeal is simply in working through event after event, season after season, to try climb your way to the top of the rally world.
WRC 9: FIA World Rally Championship is a solid rally game, one that’s aimed squarely at diehard World Rally Championship fans but that still has plenty to offer for the more casual fan. But more than that, it’s one of the best showcases in the PlayStation 5 launch line-up for what the DualSense controller can achieve, beyond “immersion”. WRC 9‘s use of haptic feedback and adaptive triggers convey crucial driving information in a quick, intuitive way is impressive, to the point that it can make an almost-competent rally driver even out of me.
WRC 9 FIA World Rally Championship is developed by KT Racing and published by Nacon. It’s available now for PlayStation 5 (reviewed), PlayStation 4, Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, and PC.
A review copy was provided to Shindig by the publisher.