The WRC franchise has a long history in video games stretching back to the PlayStation 2 era. In 2010, the license was resurrected by the developer Milestone after a five year hiatus, and now with new-gen consoles released the development has transferred to the French studio Kylotonn. With little experience in building driving games, it has set about trying to craft a new rally experience for the next generation of players, but sadly the final product does not have the makings of a champion.

The stages that you will be powering through are well-designed with, plenty of technical twisting sections contrasted with fast stretches and elevation changes. Regrettably, they are not modelled accurately on their real-life counterparts so much as inspired by them, but this will only be a hindrance to the truly hardcore fans. With five stages per rally and more than a few five-minute routes thrown in the mix, there is plenty of variety to keep things interesting.

WRC 5: FIA World Rally Championship review

What’s more concerning is the unnaturally flat road surfaces – there is almost no camber or pitting of any kind. This is very noticeable on the gravel rallies in particular, and the lack of undulation makes many of the races far easier than they should be.

The handling is certainly weighted down the arcade end of the scale, as even with all assists off and a manual gearbox selected, getting through a stage quickly is not difficult. This is not necessarily a black mark against the game, as Early Access rival Dirt Rally already has a very strong focus on simulation. By catering to the other end of the spectrum, Kylotonn has managed to separate itself and provide a more casual experience to both existing rally aficionados and newcomers alike.

WRC 5: FIA World Rally Championship review

Perhaps they took it too far in that direction though, as something’s not quite right in the physics department. All the vehicles seem to have too much grip no matter which combination of road surfaces or weather conditions the driver is facing, and the interaction between the suspension, tires, and road just isn’t there. When combined with an AI difficulty that is a pushover even at its highest setting, it’s a bit disappointing how easy the game is.

That is not to say the player will always have things their own way. Enabling the mechanical damage system will severely punish even small knocks to the chassis, and tire wear is a very real problem that will need to be managed carefully when doing multiple stages between service areas. Major impacts that damage the gearbox can leave you stuck in a low gear, or a knock to the electronics can leave you without co-driver calls for the rest of the stage. This level of realism does feel a little out of place, but it’s certainly a welcome addition nonetheless.

The handling is certainly weighted down the arcade end of the scale

Audio is an aspect of driving games that is often found lacking, and WRC 5 is certainly not going to win any awards for its efforts. The engines mimic a blender more than a rally car, and when racing from cockpit view, the cars sound like they are bouncing off the rev limiter even while still accelerating.

WRC 5: FIA World Rally Championship review
WRC 5: FIA World Rally Championship review

But it gets worse. The co-driver calls are truly awful, to the point where I ended up disabling them entirely. Rather than reading through a specific set of directions for each stage, the calls are generic ‘canned’ instructions that are spat out in a stuttering and completely disjointed manner, often running over the top of each and with constant sound clipping issues. While it is nice to see that they have both male and female voiced co-drivers, the equally atrocious quality is like trying to choose which chalkboard you wish to scrape your fingernails on.

Enabling the mechanical damage system will severely punish even small knocks to the chassis, and tire wear is a very real problem

The graphics hold up fairly well when run at maximum settings in DX11 mode, with some nice lighting and shiny looking cars. The stages themselves also look the part with spectators lining the roadside and plenty of environmental detail. Yet there is definitely room for improvement as the rain and water splash effects are unimpressive, and the HUD is both ugly and needlessly obtrusive.

And while I did attempt on many occasions to test the multiplayer, it was all in vain as I was unable to a get a single event started. In theory, you would race a stage or rally with the other players appearing as ghost cars racing beside you, but despite the game just having launched the online population seems to have evaporated – if it was even there to begin with.

WRC 5 is a game that has all the right components installed in the engine bay, but squanders it completely with some poor design choices and lack of production quality. While the potential shines through on the odd occasion, there really is not much reason to recommend this over its competitors other than the easier arcade flavour that is dominant throughout. Perhaps the inevitable sequel will give Kylotonn the chance to rectify these issues and deliver a winning ride to players instead of this lemon.