Sony's World Rally Championship franchise has been a big hit in Europe for years now. In fact, many would tell you that it's better than even Codemasters' famed Colin McRae series. However, in North America, our exposure to World Rally Championship has been minimal, at best. We haven't seen one of the games since 2002's World Rally Championship for the PlayStation 2--at least until now. WRC: FIA World Rally Championship is a PlayStation Portable port of the latest PS2 game released in Europe, though since we American types don't get the PS2 games over here, odds are you're looking at WRC as the first rally racer to hit the PSP in North America. On that merit, WRC is a success. It's got lots of tracks, several popular rally car types, and some really excellent visuals. Sadly, its multiplayer support is almost nonexistent, and a few gameplay quirks conspire to make the driving less fun than it could have been. Still, WRC is a good, solid first try at bringing the sport of rally racing to the PSP system, even if it doesn't quite nail every component.
Driving WRC's various licensed rally cars can be quite fun, provided you steer with the d-pad and not the overly-sensitive analog stick.
The rundown of included features in WRC lists six major rally car brands, including the Subaru Impreza WRC 2005, Mitsubishi Lancer WRC05, Citroen Xsara WRC, and Ford Focus RS WRC. There are also multiple unlockable upgraded versions of all six cars that can be earned over the course of the game's career mode. Included in the career mode are 64 individual races spread across 16 country-specific rallies. You'll tour Great Britain, Germany, Greece, Australia, Japan, Finland, and more. While that might sound like a huge amount of content, you won't get access to a lot of these races until you unlock the higher difficulty settings. Playing the game on novice nets you only two races per country, so you effectively get only half the full career. But believe us when we say you'll want to start out playing on novice.
This is because WRC is, at its easiest, challenging, and at its hardest, punishing. Part of this has to do with the times set for each rally goal. As any rally racing fan will tell you, all traditional rally races are timed, single-car runs, and the times set to win some of these courses borders on unreasonable. However, they wouldn't seem so unreasonable if the game simply controlled better. If you plan on winning a race in WRC, use the D pad to steer your car. The analog sensitivity in the game is so overwrought that it borders on broken. If you turn a half-centimeter too far in any direction, your car will slide like an OutRun car dunked in Crisco. You might be able to get a handle on the analog control for general use, but the second any major hairpin turn comes along, you're in trouble. The D pad control, thankfully, is mostly good. It's a little undersensitive, if anything, but it does away with the majority of the slipping and sliding and lets you get a proper grip on most turns--provided you brake early enough. The brakes in the game never feel good enough to stop you if you're anything less than perfectly diligent in figuring out the timing to take a turn properly. Overshoot a turn by any measurement, and you'll find yourself in the dirt.
Idiotic difficulty and control wonkiness aside, WRC is a fun game to play. Once you get some practice with the driving controls, you'll get used to some of the game's foibles and simply enjoy the act of rally racing on your PSP. The tracks are nicely laid out with plenty of challenging obstacles to avoid, and the car physics--while a little on the arcade-inspired side--are pretty impressive for what's been seen from driving games on the PSP thus far. Some people might take issue with the fact that the game includes no options for manual transmission or any kind of damage effects that hinder your ability to drive the car the more you wreck. But considering how hard the game already is, and that WRC doesn't seem specifically aimed at being a seriously simulation-based racer, there's more than enough challenge to wrestle with, without all those hardcore sim elements making things even more convoluted.