WRC

Rally quite surprisingly enjoyable.

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Regular readers will recognise that (gah - frigging third-person) "the person writing this feature" isn't usually the chap who handles our rally game coverage. Contrary to the spurious claims "your truly" would usually be tempted to make, this is not because Kristan steals them all as soon as they come in. It's more to do with apathy. Rally games just don't do anything for (ugh) "this writer". No disrespect to the developer, but "your humble correspondent" felt a humble spell of shut-eye was probably in order when WRC was passed around last week. (It's turning into narcolepsy, this sleep thing, and sodding Sky+ didn't record that Robert Winston documentary on How To Sleep Better.)

Fortunately for his/yours truly's/it's/whatever's sleeping patterns, however, WRC was resplendent. Literally. The cars are so shiny and reflective that closing our eyes was like a near-death experience in The Jesus Tunnel. During a Rallycross race (you know, one of those two-cars-race-around-the-same-track-with-two-different-finishing-lines affairs) this even dragged the framerate down, but the developer says that post-optimisation the game should run at a solid 30 frames per second.

And, in fairness to them, for the most part it did. The choppiness was barely evident on regular rally stages, and the snow and rain effects were lovely, the draw distance was quite surprising and the boulders, barricades and hilly terrain, though basic in terms of texturing, was at least a challenge to race around at speed. Damage modelling isn't there for the most part yet, but we did see evidence of it a couple of times when we rolled our Subaru, and the cracked back windscreens and clipped wing mirrors were pretty convincing.

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Everything you'd otherwise expect was in place - pace notes from your co-driver, split-times, more than 30 cars, drifty handling that demands disciplined driving (particularly on the tougher difficulty levels, of which there are four in total), and a huge variety of stages (64, doncha know) that pit you against mountainside hairpins, tundra, woodlands, built-up suburban areas and all the rest. Oh, and the PSP should be able to record your progress at every checkpoint, which is handy for anybody keen to use the PSP on the bus or train.

And, although we didn't get to try it ourselves, we're also told to expect 1-8 player wireless multiplayer. In this case it'll be more like racing against a field of ghost cars thanks to the lack of collisions, but for rally fans used to solitary pursuit it's still sure to come as a nice addition. And, even on your lonesome, you can expect to race against AI-controlled ghost cars.

The team-members on-hand were talking about an April launch. This was described as slightly after the expected PSP launch date, tellingly, although the actual date in both cases does still seem to be up in the air, and if the PSP Euro delay is a reality then WRC could well be ready for launch regardless. Whatever. WRC was, even to the rally-rejecting eyes that we sent round to look at the PSP line-up last week, a good looking and well made example of the genre, and the decision to employ Traveller's Tales to handle the game's development rather than PS2 mainstays Evolution Studio doesn't seem to have worked to the game's detriment in any obvious ways. Slide on April - or whenever we get to play the finished article.

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