EA Sports WRC Preview – A First Look at the Future of Digital Rally Driving Realism

Our first impressions of Codemasters’ upcoming latest and most realistic rally racing experience that looks set to raise the bar.


Image via EA

EA Sports WRC aims to bring the most realistic rally driving experience to fans worldwide in a game they can play at home with a controller or serious wheel and pedal setup without losing any of the intensity. While video games should be a break from reality in many ways, this upcoming entry aims to offer both a hyper-realistic rally experience and a fun playground for enthusiasts to mess around in without too many consequences.

I was invited to check the game out early in a preview event to get an idea of what Codemasters is trying to do moving its rally-driving series forward, and I was seriously impressed. Coming to all current-gen consoles, this may be the greatest rally game ever to grace our screens.

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Before I was shown too much, EA wanted to remind everyone that professional rally driver Kalle Rovanpera is acting as an ambassador for EA Sports WRC. As the youngest rally driver in so many different categories, he’s happy to hop between the road and a racing rig with no issues. I find it incredibly impressive that he wears this on his sleeve, practicing in the game before he goes onto the track, which is a fabulous testament to its quality and accuracy.

There are four core pillars that Codemasters has stuck by during the development of this title. They wanted it to be authentic, as real as possible, for professionals and casual players to enjoy. They also have a desire for it to be live and connected to its community with regularly updated content. Immersion is another pillar, which I think has already been achieved, given real drivers are using it. Finally, they wanted it to be official, allowing them to use every track car and aspect of the real WRC to make everything feel as real as possible.

Building on the legacy of the DiRT series, EA Sports WRC has supreme handling across dirt, gravel, snow, and every other surface players will drive across. This is something I think the game will live or die on because without that feel of realism, the game may as well just be an arcade racer or Forza Horizon 5. Codemasters wants to differentiate, though, and it certainly looks like they have.

The Basics of Being a Rally Driver

Image via Codemasters

The two core disciplines players will dive into in EA Sports WRC are Rally and Regularity Rally. The first of these is the more realistic stage rally experience. Players will battle it out with others and bots for the best times on circuits around the world. Points they earn will see them rise or fall in the rankings, and they’ll need to work with their crew to maintain their vehicle as they throw it around the harshest landscapes it’s possible to drive on.

Regularity Rally, also known as endurance rally or navigational rally, is a different way to experience this world. It throws players into specific races at specific points in the rally, with penalty points for being too slow and points earned for being as fast as possible. This is the mode hardcore fans will want to jump into after smashing out stage rally. It’s going to be punishing, and expect them to push cars to the edge of their gripping capability, with wheels gliding over the air as they turn corners, if they want to even stand a chance of competing.

While not something everyone will want to dive so deep into, the car builder in this game allows for an insane level of customization. Players can choose where all the parts of the vehicle are placed to help maximize performance, then they can test it and tweak it more if they feel the need to. It’s an unprecedented level of detail that makes sense when you think about it, and I’m glad that Codemasters is offering it to rally fans here.

Once players have gotten to grips with the basics of driving and sorting out how their car works, they can check out Moments. This is a feature that shows players a clip that they then need to try to recreate to the best of their ability. These will stick around for players to attempt for weeks and months, adding yet another layer of replayability and something to do when players don’t have time for a full-stage race.

I really like this. I think it’s the perfect point between pushing too much new stuff into the game so it becomes overwhelming or choosing to add nothing. I always find moments where I want to play a game but can’t because I don’t have time for even the shortest activity. Here though, I can hop in, try to create a Moment, and hop back out.

Build a Career

Screenshot via Codemasters

The thing I might be most impressed by in EA Sports WRC is its Career Mode. Players can enter at any stage in the industry, meaning they can start at the bottom and work their way up or start at a fairly high level and put their skills to the test. Everyone will need to assemble a crew they want to work with and then enter races to compete to be the best of the best.

With 23 locations and over 600 kilometers of track for players to race around in total, it’s going to take a long time to reach that level of fatigue in this game where you’ve seen it all before. Even then, almost all locations have four full seasons to race during, changing them up even more. Players will also be able to jump into ten core WRC vehicles and 68 historic ones that I personally feel should fall apart as you drive to add to that realism.

Career Mode reveals another layer of realism in its budget management system. Players don’t get to control the cash they win, so they won’t end up with millions that can buy them every win. Instead, they work with a benefactor who helps them manage their budget and keeps restraints in place even if a player is destroying every race. I can’t help but enjoy the idea of being a celebrity driver and still having someone else control the pursestrings, I can already see myself arguing with the AI about why I need a fancy new paint job.

Of course, there are far more modes than this. A quick play mode offers players a suggestion from a few races to bash out, and a time trial is a great way to get some extra practice in, even against player ghosts. I have to say that I have fond memories of me and my best friend trying to thrash each other’s ghosts in DiRT, and I can’t wait to see that replicated with more realism.

For players that can’t join in with online races, there are Clubs. These allow people to enter into a single entity together that one player has set up a series of races for; then they can compete offline and register their scores once they’re back online.

Screenshot via Codemasters

Since this is a live game, Codemasters is offering a Rally Pass. There will be five initially, one for each season, offering players a chance to earn XP to unlock cosmetics and items for the livery editor. That livery editor is where I’d expect to see most Forza players heading because it looks fairly expansive. If you enjoyed making amazing-looking cars or ones that are crimes against the automobile industry, I suspect this will scratch your custom-content itch.

Building on that custom aspect, there’s a photo mode, which I can already see players sharing their mistakes using. Codemasters also highlighted EA Sports WRC’s accessibility and approachability features. There are more assists that should help newcomers and us terrible drivers get to grips with the game and options that should allow almost anyone to play the game.

Interestingly, the game will be getting VR compatibility soon after launch, which it looks primed for already and should make for something as good as No Man’s Sky for space exploration but for rally racing. There’s also going to be an eSport for the game, which all players can try to get in on. I’m incredibly excited to see where this goes because it’s got the potential to be such a special eSport.

Head in the Helmet

Screenshot via Codemasters

When I did get to see some gameplay, it was alongside a game designer who also happens to be a WRC driver in a rig with a wheel and pedals. Technology has advanced so much over time that it’s not surprising a real driver would use a game to train for the real world, and he explained how the physics and grip feel incredibly close to the real-life experience.

While the player I was watching is technically a professional, I don’t think it’s a leap to say any player could hit his level. It made the game look more authentic than arcadey, which is exactly what I believe fans want from it.

There’s no accelerating, steering, or drifting to compensate for mistakes. This is precision racing at its finest. You need to jump on and off the brake and acceleration to allow the car to be at the speed it must be to make a turn. Rally driving is about being fast but also obeying the laws of physics. Pulling back almost to a stop is required at times and it feels like it can ruin the flow, but that’s just because this isn’t a traditional racing game.

The impression I get from the gameplay is that this is a rally-driving game for rally racing fans. Once you understand how the flow of races works, you’ll be able to enjoy it to the fullest. The goal is to achieve the best time and always be improving. It’s the car racing definition of a marathon and not a sprint. Making a mistake on one corner can be made up for by being perfect elsewhere because very few people can nail every turn exactly as needed to push speed to the max.

My wife tells me I’m an incredibly slow driver, and I’ll be the first to admit that I love racing games but am bad at them. EA Sports WRC still has me excited, though. If I’m too bad, the assists and accessibility features can help compensate for how awful my driving is so I can keep playing. If I’m good, I can push myself to a point where there will still be a level of challenge.

Codemasters has done a great job of laying the groundwork for what’s to come here. The game looks amazing, punishing, and incredibly inviting. For those who want a game as a service that isn’t yet another battle royale or shooter, it’s also a nice alternative that can fill that gap and constant need for progression on all fronts.