Players of all skill levels will enjoy World Rally Championship for what it is: a fun racing game with just the right amount of realism.
The fact that the rally mode in Gran Turismo 3 has been the most compelling rally racing experience on the PlayStation 2 so far says something about the genre's popularity. The simple fact is that this king of extreme sports doesn't have the following in the US that it does elsewhere in the world. To be fair, though, the few rally games that are currently available for Sony's console haven't really done the sport any justice. Evolution Studios' World Rally Championship, however, does. The game believably re-creates the thrill of speeding over impossibly rough terrain, and while an exceptional level of driving talent is required to successfully negotiate the game's many turns, bumps, and dips, players of all skill levels will enjoy World Rally Championship for what it is: a fun racing game with just the right amount of realism.
Like many realistic racing games, World Rally Championship is officially licensed by the FIA, the sport's governing body, which allows the game to boast actual teams, drivers, cars, and racing events from last year's world rally season. The entire game largely revolves around a career mode that re-creates an entire season of rally racing. Here, you'll pick from seven cars from real-world manufacturers like Peugeot, Ford, Subaru, Citroen, and Mitsubishi and race throughout the entire season with that car. You'll play as one of several famous drivers like Mitsubishi's Tommi Makinen or Ford's Carlos Sainz, and you'll be guided through each turn and bump by that driver's real-world navigator, who'll tell you how sharp and how far away the next turn is and warn you of any impending adverse road conditions. While a selection of seven cars might pale in comparison to the number of vehicles in other driving games, every car in the game is one that rally fans will instantly recognize, and any differences in performance between them are included to give the cars character, not handicaps.
This career mode spans 14 individual and completely unique rally events, each of which is split up into five segments, which means that the game has a whopping total of 70 tracks. These events span the globe, including rallies in New Zealand, Cyprus, Corsica, Italy, Finland, Sweden, and other exotic global locales. There are also five hidden bonus tracks that you can unlock by finishing the game on its hardest setting. Just like the real thing, you race against the clock, not other drivers, so you'll never actually see your competitors on the same track as you. Instead, you're timed on each segment, and at the end of each event, the quickest driver is crowned the winner and given 10 points for placing first. The driver with the most points at the end of the 14 rallies walks away with the championship. Interestingly, the game also tracks manufacturer points, so even if you don't end up being the overall winner, other teams from your car's manufacturer might have scored enough points to earn the constructer's cup. Of course, that also means that skillful drivers have the opportunity to post a perfect victory: a personal championship and a manufacturer championship.
The sheer number of races in the game's career mode reflects the attention to detail that you'll find in other aspects of World Rally Championship. The game's 70 racing events all take place during different times of day, they'll have varying weather, and they'll consist of courses made of asphalt, gravel, or even snow. What's more, all these courses stay true to the characteristics of their real-world counterparts, and they never get repetitive. Cyprus' many turns, rocky roads, and elevation changes make it a particularly slow race, while Finland's long dirt tracks make for extremely fast (and harrowing) drives. You'll have to employ all your driving skills to navigate some of these areas, as most of the courses require you to take the best driving line throughout every turn in order to finish with the quickest time.
Before entering any race, you're allowed to perform a shakedown to get a better feel for the course. These trial runs become handy once you start fiddling around with your car performance elements. The game lets you modify your gear ratio, brake strength, steering speed, tire compound, and suspension stiffness, and any change you make results in a tangible difference in performance on the track. Some of these changes can be severely detrimental to the way your car behaves, though. For instance, choosing a stiff suspension setup on unpaved roads will slow you down significantly. Likewise, choosing a soft setup on asphalt will hinder your steering ability noticeably.