With Codemasters increasingly using the Dirt series as a platform to explore their gymkhana obsession, the field has been left open for a proper rally game to come in and nab its populist crown. WRC3 may be wearing the official FIA licence, but it's not that game.
While there isn't a pirouetting Peugeot to be seen, it's still too hopelessly enamoured with Dirt to break out in its own direction. Consider the evidence: a limited rewind that lets you course-correct crashes and mistakes? Check. Frequent special events containing foam barriers that must be smashed? Oh yes. There's even hilariously out- of-place dubstep backing the menus.
At least WRC3 is primarily about rallying. The WRC mode is no-frills racing that lets you queue-up stages from the competition as either single races or a full season championship. And while the Road to Glory career mode does make occasional forays into minigame distractions, you won't get near them without acquiring a firm grasp on how to handbrake through gravel first. But in positioning itself so near to such a refined and polished series, WRC3's issues come into sharp focus.
The career progression is one such misstep. In Road to Glory, you're awarded stars based on your performance in each race, unlocking new vehicles, courses and upgrades. The majority of the total is decided by your position, but each stage reserves three potential stars for 'Ability'. This confused rating highlights WRC3's hesitance to commit to either serious simming or casual fun. Points are awarded for clean runs and other displays of skill, but also for smashing barriers and driving on two wheels.
There are other problems. Your co-driver, who has the clipped, monotonous voice of a WWII era radio announcer (despite whatever nationality or gender you pick for him), and fires out instructions in a way that's nearly impossible to follow. Or there's the upgrade system, which is devoid of any choice or tactical thinking. Kit 4 is numerically better than Kit 3, so you'd be foolish not to install it. All minor issues, but they start to add up.
What isn't minor is the lack of feedback from the car handling. There's no sense that you're wrestling these machines across improbable terrain. It's worse on some surfaces than others – driving on tarmac in particular feels like taking a holiday from physics. You do get use to these shortcomings, but the lack of weight sensation or variation in an engine's sound creates a flatly sterile experience.
It's such a waste because, thanks to the official licence, the game is filled with wonderfully difficult courses. Each is full of hairpins, chicanes and really technical, challenging sectors. They'd be an absolute thrill to race on if they weren't trapped in such an otherwise unexceptional game.
Expect to pay: $30 / £20
Release: Out now
Multiplayer: Up to 16 players
WRC3’s excellent track design counts for little when burdened with unnatural car handling and uninspired design.