A loading screen in WRC 3 sports a quote, a jibe on more traditional race types. “Track drivers see the same corner thousands of times, rally drivers see a thousand corners one time.” True, in its essence, but not for WRC 3.
This is a second tier rally racer, a budget-minded title that reuses identical corners thousands of times. Seven geographical locations span the world, but those hairpin turns share rock formations and ground textures. Only the color saturation is tweaked in a meager attempt at hiding the design constraint.
WRC 3 is routine, its sole namesake a repair system between race stages. With one hour of allotted time to make repairs, the team manages to doctor stupendous amounts of body damage (and paint), realign tires, splice broken coolant lines, and mend engine cracks. Take a car in this condition to a dealership and you won’t see your vehicle for a week. For WRC 3, this is underpaid labor.
Maybe the crew is used to it, the nature of rally races are often harrowing, with cliffsides and rock faces serving as inopportune brakes. As if by default, Bandai Namco’s racer carries a superior sense of speed, mostly because picking up the pace on these curvaceous courses is deadly. Strewn roadside hazards are the norm, from trees to icy pits of doom. Weather sprawls the globe during the career mode, titled Road to Glory, as a chosen stock persona earns stars to take on all comers.
Stars are everything to WRC 3, though not in reference to anything the license is doing. Most tracks can spit up 13 of the gold stars, players gunning for the greatest prize in all of grade school. Finish first, 10 stars. Amass trick points, a maximum of three stars. These unlock all elements, from arbitrary sponsorships that exist for logo placement only, to additional challenges, and car parts that are simplistically applied.
Herein lies the eternal struggle of WRC 3: ludicrous times. You are on the course solo as with any rational rally event, and all eyes stick to the clock. Here, it counts in tenths of a second, and via miraculous chains of events, the first place off-screen challenger takes the pole by such an amount with alarming frequency. Sitting in first should be an accomplishment, yet often feels like the design chose that moment not to restrict the top spot. A second place finish adds up over time, lessening stars to a point where future events are locked behind a grayed out wall. Sending someone back through to pick up one or two additional first place spots is cheap, much like the unseen AI. Level a tad and you have a chance.
A handful of race types add minimized pizazz to a game lacking energy, barrier smash a rare alleviation to the boredom. The trial boasts colored blocks that award points of varying levels, and a few that delete bundles of bonuses when hit. It becomes a swerve-happy dodge fest that toys with the general want for safety on these courses, all the while satisfying the urge to break things.
None of this truly matters without the engine itself proving sufficient to handle the needs or complexities of these off-road locales. In the end, WRC 3 is a stiff, unforgiving car ride that fails to slip into a unique skin. A subset of menu options sell the idea of simulation, degrees of assistance allowed without much need. The thrill of having the rear of the car spin out in a magnificent corner is lost. Physics keep the car tight to the track, bumping up against the core ideals of the sport.
Then again, when perfection in body work is achieved in less than 10-minutes, WRC is hardly a beacon of realism.
WRC: FIA World Rally Championship 3 is rated E (Everyone) by the ESRB.