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Racing simulator games are fierce. At least, ones that warrant gamers’ attention. The genre is very refined and dependent on high-tier hardware for a high-tier execution. That’s not to say you can get your simulated thrill behind the wheel of a 32-bit bargain beta. But today’s simulators are intense in terms of both graphics and gameplay.
Case in point: the World Rally Championship franchise from developer KT Racing and its latest installment, WRC 9. The game was released on PC, Xbox, and Playstation in September 2020 and is now available on the Nintendo Switch.
Racing simulators on the console are few and far between, most likely due to its limitations and heightened senses which are needed to play these games. So does it translate well on this different hardware?
Something old, something the same
The biggest criticism one can lay at the feet of WRC 9 is that it’s too similar to its predecessor. WRC 8 was a welcome return to form for the franchise that had lost ground to competitor Codemasters with its DiRT franchise. But despite new content additions, this game is too similar and does not propel the franchise in a forward direction.
Though with that said, the game is still one of the most comprehensive racing simulators out there. Whereas DiRT prioritises the experience of racing cars, WRC 9 is the full package of racing, team management, administration, and career progression.
It can be at times very intimidating because there are so many variables to consider before you’re even able to set off. But this is not a complicated game to play once you have your season mapped out. You progress by getting new sponsorships and building manufacturer relationships, managing a core team, planning vehicle repairs and rest periods, and unlocking perks via a very large skill tree.
WRC 9 is of course a simulator of the real World Rally Championship. However, the COVID-19 pandemic affected 2020’s championship, which makes for a game that isn’t a one-to-one recreation. All of the competitors and their vehicles are there complete with very fun additions like a collection of legendary rally cars.
It will never not be fun to run around in Lancia’s iconic 037 and Delta models. And to compensate, the game features a new number of tracks located in New Zealand, Japan, and Kenya. All very well and good. But again, the bulk of the content and structure is lifted straight out of WRC 8.
There’s a lot for players if you’re not interested in the emails and budget plans. You can play through a season of racing with just the on-site variables such as vehicle maintenance and repairs. The Quick Play and Challenges modes allow you to go thrash a course without worrying how much you have to pay your meteorologist. And there are extensive training options and a test area for you to actually learn how to drive.
Expect to crash
I’m not kidding about you learning to drive. WRC 9 is difficult. Like, sticking-to-easy-mode-just-to-keep-the-car-on-the-road difficult. The handbrake is not your friend. This is a stark contrast to any arcade racer where it takes a finger swipe to change direction. This game requires your attention at all times when you’re in the driver’s seat thanks to the combination of vehicle and terrain responses.
KT Racing has committed to hyperrealism when it comes to you and your car. Simply knocking a wooden fence is enough to get warning signs flashing across your HUD. You need to brace for potential problems with your suspension, engine, brakes, and tyres.
Granted, the car can survive multiple rolls, but not without some kind of debilitating consequence. Like with the real thing, navigators assist drivers by dispensing clear instructions about the road ahead. Eventually, you’re able to respond to a level-three left turn without thinking too hard.
Though very difficult, WRC 9 is a very fun game to play. There is a moment of tasty satisfaction upon completing a 15-kilometre track in Catie Munnings’ Ford Fiesta. And this is a game that makes you work for an overall victory. Despite the questionable visuals (which we’ll get into shortly), all of the vehicles are responsive. They have distinct handling based on their make and the kind of road you’re driving on.
Not much of a view
About the visuals. This is where the port to the Nintendo Switch shows its limits because it is frankly disappointing. Some elements and features show you what this game is intended to look like as it is on other platforms. There are very nice details, like a drone that flies overhead capturing your replay footage.
The cars themselves are also very detailed. Add to that the first-person perspective, wherein your car’s interior is immaculate.
But as your field of vision goes further, tree foliage is are huge blocks of green with little to no texture on water, land, or sky. The race attendees are lifeless and overhead shots of your garage and tournament locations are very static.
Thankfully, the visual impairments don’t extend to the road you’re driving on. You’re able to make out dips and ridges which you have but a second to respond to. Credit where it’s due: the game runs smoothly in handheld mode and when docked to the TV. It’s basically the same experience where you’re driving a modern car through an environment from the last decade.
And sadly, throughout my playtime, my car never sustained any perceivable damage. I have to suspect this is a bug of some kind. Despite the option set to realistic, there was never any damage to make out.
WRC 9 Nintendo Switch verdict
It’s tricky to recommend WRC 9 on the Nintendo Switch, unless diehard simulator fans want a game of their own on the console.
KT has done a good job with the port and it’s still a fun experience with comprehensive gameplay.
The visuals are lacking but it’s not enough to detract from the driving of some really fast cars down a dirt track. The game has the genre to itself here.
Feature image: KT Racing