And so it begins. With the next generation of consoles upon us, it was inevitable that there would be some blowback for owners of the Nintendo Switch. It’s natural. New hardware brings new opportunities. We wouldn’t begrudge anyone of that, would we? Would we?
Of course, we wouldn’t. However, anyone who has played WRC 9 FIA World Rally Championship may hesitate ever so slightly when answering that one. Because, for all that Kylotonn and Nacon got right in their last outing, this iteration sees them stagnate and, in some cases, regress back to a state in gaming dated pre-Nintendo Switch.
With a new release every 18 months or so, it can often be challenging for development houses to make wholesale changes. Arguably, if the formula is right, there’s little need to. This would have been very much the case after the release of WRC 8 as, whilst it wasn’t an exceptional title, it was a very solid rally simulator and was the best the Switch had to offer.
New game modes, new rallies and new racers all pointed to WRC 8 relinquishing its crown in favour of its new and improved counterpart. Sadly, it isn’t to be. Poor performance plagues this title at every turn, even in light of apparent tweaks to scale back the demand on the Switch. For example, texture pop-in is a persistent issue, regardless of track or conditions. Framerate dips occur at the worst possible times, making for a racer that is neither fluid nor fun. And, most significantly, the games visuals rival that of those from WRC [insert number here that you’d be most shocked by].
The significance of the murky and meagre graphical fidelity is heightened when you consider that the draw distance has been largely reduced for the latest release. With a game that is so reliant upon the environment – time trials ensure that what you’re competing with isn’t really the AI – it’s quite shocking to see the downgrade of this one.
For the purpose of this review, I compared the Switch versions of WRC 8 and 9 alongside the PS5 version of WRC 9 too. The differences between the PS5 and Switch versions are as to be expected at this point in the console cycles, however, it serves to highlight what this game should be. What was more disconcerting were the differences between 8 and 9, and how for every improvement there is a downgrade that proves difficult to ignore.
When I reviewed WRC 8 last year for Switch Player, I stated that: “WRC 8 is an absolute joy to play. The handling is by far its greatest asset and makes racing across the many landscapes both engaging and exciting. There is a real sense of speed and acceleration which wonderfully recreates the feel of being behind the wheel of a rally car.” The same could be said for WRC 9, as thankfully the sense of speed and tactile handling has remained.
The incredibly challenging gameplay mechanics have remained too. Rally games are rarely designed with the casual racer in mind, but the WRC franchise has really taken it up a gear or two in recent years. WRC 9 sees you take on all of the official stages from the World Rally, many of which cover tough terrain and narrow stretches. Cars have been designed to be just the right size so as to be safely navigated around the tracks, but not the size that makes it easy to do so.
When you aren’t navigating the streets of Monte-Carlo, WRC 9 keeps you busy by navigating the extensive management menus. From hiring and firing crew members to investing in Research and Development, there’s a lot to get your head around. Some players will be thankful for this, mainly for achieving a level of realism associated with running a World Rally team, but also because it delays your appearance on that dire racetrack.
Outside of the extensive Career Mode, there’s the usual game mode alternatives such as: Training, Test Area, Season and Challenges. There’s also a new mode this year called Clubs, which allows you to create your own championship or take part in others created by online players. It’s a novel idea, but players will need to be invested in the on-screen action before they start creating new championships, and it is difficult to imagine that any racing game advocate worth their salt would be keen to play this one for long.
If it wasn’t already abundantly clear, I am a huge racing fan who feels extremely let down by what is on offer here. WRC 8 wasn’t without its faults, yet it represented promise and progress for the racing scene on the Switch. Fast forward 18 months and it feels very much as though we may have already seen the best that we are going to get. There’s absolutely no reason to purchase this version of World Rally Championship. I’d advise you to buy it on another console if you can, as it’s an outstanding game elsewhere, or alternatively buy WRC 8 and save your hard-earned cash.
For fear that you may still ignore my advice, I leave you with this parting gift. When playing WRC 9 (for what will be the last time), assets were struggling to load on the race introduction scene. Yes, the race introduction scene.
WRC 9 FIA World Rally Championship £44.99
WRC 9 is representative of what happens when development teams are stretched too thin and care little about the platform they are developing for. Here’s to hoping this is a one-off and we see a return to form soon.