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The WRC - World Rally Championship - game has improved from last year’s OKish effort but it’s not in the same league as DiRT 3. Let’s get that out of the way straight away.

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WRC 2 factbox

Developer: Milestone

Publisher: Black Bean

Formats: PC, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 (PS3 reviewed)

Verdict: 6 out of 10 – Far from perfect, a long way from being near the best racing games out there. Still one for big fans of WRC only, but still an improvement from last year.

When it comes to rallying, Codemasters’ classy effort has everyone else beaten, leaving rivals trailing behind with only its dirt spray and tyre smoke visible.

The good news, as I say, is that WRC 2 is at least a bit better than Milestone’s first version in 2010.

The bad news, other than this being inferior to DiRT 3, is that the changes made are not big enough for being a year further down the road. There is still much room for improvement should the same developer get a third crack at recreating the sport.

The word ‘fairly’ can be used a lot during the description of this second outing for the official WRC series.

For instance, the game looks fairly good. The environments, while rather bland and lifeless, are passable and functional, and the car models are fairly decent. The visuals overall have come on a little way from last year.

Car handling is far from perfect but is fairly solid and workable. The biggest problems are the cars feel like they are floating slightly above the track and also they don’t feel as alive as in DiRT 3. The cars here just don’t feel as loose and dynamic. It doesn’t feel like driving a machine with moving, turning parts. The cars are like big metal boxes with flat undersides rather than being bulky, unruly and powerful creatures which must be tamed.

Like I said, the handling is solid enough, a little better than what I remember from last year, just not especially impressive. The driving is fast and challenging but just lacks a little bit of the authenticity which a serious simulation should provide.

Weather effects such as rain and environmental factors such as mud and water are done fairly well, but aren’t a patch on Codemasters’ rally racer.

In WRC 2 there is an almost complete lack of feedback and the game doesn’t do a good enough of providing distinctive handling when changing from one terrain to another. Speeding along a concrete road should feel very different from navigating your way through slippery gravel, but it doesn’t really.

One way the game could improve feedback would be through the audio, but sound throughout the game is dismal. Not fairly dismal, just dismal. Cars don’t grunt or roar but sound like poorly lawnmowers or perhaps like a family of bees trapped in a tin. The voice of the co-driver remains as moany and annoying as it was in last year’s game.

One idea which the WRC developer has blatantly pinched from Codemasters is the rewind function which allows you to go back and replay a few seconds of action if you go off the road or crash.

It’s a shame that when jealously looking across at its superior competitor Milestone didn’t also take some of the style which Codemasters games have in abundance. Production values throughout WRC are markedly lower.

I’m told WRC 2 has been produced on a thinner budget so it’s perhaps understandable it lacks any real flair.

What WRC 2 does well is provide a competent and for the most part fun portrayal of point-to-point rallying.

If you like racing games to be you versus your driving skills (or lack of) and the clock, without the hassle of having other cars on the track, then this is for you.

With the emphasis on narrow twisting courses, driving needs to be fast, accurate and consistent.

Concentration and focus are needed to succeed, and you can achieve the necessary levels through the game’s various modes. These include single stages, rallies, time trials, a rally academy and a career mode in which you create and build your own racing team on the way to competing in the WRC. Online for up to 16 players is available.

These modes are backed up by a large amount of content within the game.

Spread across 13 locations, there are 78 special stages, five super special stages and a set of urban stages. There are nine categories of car, including WRC, Group B and safari.

For WRC purists looking for perhaps a more straight conversion of the sport than what DiRT offers, this game is worth considering. If you don’t go into it with sky-high expectations you’ll find a fairly satisfying rally experience. While it doesn’t do any one thing amazingly well, it also doesn’t mess up too badly anywhere either other than maybe that awful audio I mentioned earlier.

While improvement from last year is small, it is still there. Fans wanting to stick with the series can have hope that next year will be third time lucky leading to a game where flaws have been ironed out and a more refined product is the result of another 12 months’ work.

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