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WRC 9 Preview: Hands-on Gameplay

WRC 9 Hands-on Preview

Over the years Nacon — fka as Big Ben — has made some impressive strides with the World Rally Championship series. WRC 8 was one of the more well-regarded rally racers in quite some time, and solidified the series’ place as a top-level racer. Now, with WRC 9 on the horizon, Nacon and developer KT Racing are hoping both on and off-track improves bring the game to the top of the genre.

Recently we were able to get our hands on a preview build of WRC 9 in order to get the first taste of racing behind the wheel. And it’s safe to say that the game is set to be another step forward for the series.

Is WRC 9 ready for the big time?

The version of the game made available had just quick play races offered. But that was plenty to get a feel for how the game will play out on the circuits.

The difference between driving on the snow-covered roads of Sweden compared to a sun-soaked asphalt in Japan is night and day, and provides a great contrast for players. No race truly ever feels the same in WRC 9, which will only bodes well for the longevity with the game.

There’s a slew of professional drivers at your disposal, but they remain in name only. Once you’re in the car, who you picked as a driver doesn’t matter. All that matters is your car and how you handle it which, depending on the weather, your familiarity with the course, and your skill, will vary greatly.

The environments, especially with different weather thrown into the mix, add to the fun of the races. It can feel downright nerve-racking to take to a course in a downpour, and expect to have a smooth race. It’s also very picturesque when driving through areas of Kenya and Japan, making the post-race replay mode somewhat of a must-use.

Rally racing in a storm is different sort of unnerving

You can select different tires for your race, and KT Racing does a nice job of making tire choice actually feel important. I decided to test my luck and choose a gravel-friendly tire on snowy asphalt and my car felt as though I had put skis on it before taking to the course.

Your co-driver gives you adequate pacenotes to help you prepare for the segments up ahead. However, no matter how prepare you think you are, a hairpin turn will leave you frustrated more often than not if you’re not truly ready.

Control of your car feels right for the most part. The steering is responsive enough without feeling too easy to get around turns.

Appreciation behind the wheel

One thing I truly appreciate with the time I had with the WRC 9 preview build is how enjoyable the game feels whether using a wheel or a controller. I touch on it a lot about how some racing games just don’t nail the feeling of being behind the wheel of a car when using a controller. Luckily, WRC 9 has no problems there. No matter your particular poison, the gameplay provides a satisfying fight between you and the car making completed runs all that more satisfying while failed rallies all that more upsetting.

You have to find that good balance between under- and over-steering your car, especially when racing in front-wheel drive vehicles. When taking it to the all-wheel drive cars, you notice how the tires want to grab on to every portion of the track they possibly can. Finesse is key in WRC 9, moreso than it ever has been in any prior installment of the franchise.

As far as concerns go, there aren’t many. That said, there was one that hopefully gets addressed before the game’s September launch. Even after messing with various degrees of dead zone and sensitivity, it feels like your main brake never quite slowed you down enough while your hand brake leaves you spinning at the slightest touch. It felt so right in WRC 8, but something just feels a bit off with the WRC 9 preview build.

A small visual hiccup is that in cockpit view your wheel movement doesn’t seem to match what your care is actually doing. A small nitpick there, but something you definitely notice. All of it really feels more like something that just needs some fine tuning, so it doesn’t overly concern me heading into launch.

WRC 9 launches on September 3 for Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and PC. The game will also be available on the Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5 after those consoles are released.

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