I’m not sure there’s a more intense single-player racing experience than coming to the end of a long rally stage as the rain starts to spit. The time pops up at the checkpoint and you’re either a second ahead or behind the pace heading into the last stretch. Every time it happens in WRC 9 on Series X, I shift forward in my seat and try my darndest to hit each apex without careening off an edge and down a cliff.
World Rally Championship games have had a long history, going back to the original Colin McRae Rally on PlayStation in 1998. WRC 9 is the fifth game developed by French developer Kylotonn, which also makes the Isle of Man TT games, as well as a couple of other racing games. I’ll be honest — I’ve largely avoided the series because Codemasters’ DiRT games have generally been fantastic. But with DiRT 5 leaning into arcade racing this year, I decided to give WRC 9 a go.
On Series X — and, I assume, PS5 — the game runs in an extremely smooth 4K/60fps. I’ve played a handful of Series X-enhanced games so far, and WRC 9 is the first game that’s wowed me visually. (Side note: Tetris Effect Connected is also awe-inspiring, though in a different way; and I haven’t yet played Assassin’s Creed Valhalla or Gears 5.)
The environments in WRC 9 are lush and varied. It’s easy to get distracted by the beauty of the Japanese mountainside; the snowy Swedish terrain; the rocky Argentinian landscape and more. Flying through the air in Finland is exhilarating and terrifying at the same time, knowing that as I land, my car might fall apart.
The game’s beauty goes beyond the environments. Reflections appear realistic on the car; dents, dings, mud, and snow build-up throughout each stage. The lighting in the game is phenomenal. The smooth gameplay is, obviously, a huge factor as well.
In terms of game modes, there’s plenty to do in WRC 9 as long as you like rally racing — and why would you be playing if you didn’t? You can fire up any stage, take part in challenges, or hop online and try to post your fastest times against others. There are new online challenges weekly, and there’s always something new to do.
The main mode I’m interested in is career, and the game does a good job of taking you through the deep career mode. You’ll start in juniors, and you’ll hire a limited staff and improve your team. The upgrade tree is about as deep as any light RPG system. As you progress through your career, you’ll choose one event per week, rotating between Rest, Training, Manufacturer Tryouts, Historic Rally, and then the actual rally schedule.
The game does a good job of making it feel like everything matters. When I upgraded my car’s brakes, I could immediately feel the difference on the course. That goes across the board.
The sliding difficulty scale helps keep things competitive in career mode, though there are some courses I’m just better on than others. I can beat the computer handily in snowy Sweden, only to finish 30 seconds off the pace in other places.
All of this is just the wrapping for the behind-the-wheel action. Every rally stage is somewhere between 2 and 6 minutes of bare-knuckle driving. There are, of course, a few longer stages. The longer the stage, the more frantic things get. I’ve been going along smoothly, only to get to the end and bin my car straight into a tree.
Even with damage set to medium — hey, I’m no pro — there are clear consequences to damaging your car. On one night course, I broke my headlights with about a minute to go. The final section of that stage was harrowing in a completely new way. You can also hear your car wheezing to the finish line if it’s been a particularly rough rally.
All of this to say: If you like sim rally racing, you can’t go wrong with WRC 9. It feels great to play on the controller, and the game is a great showpiece for the new console. Some of the career mode options can feel obtuse, and if you’re looking for any sort of story or presentation, it’s just not there. But the core gameplay is awesome and absolutely shouldn’t be missed for any racing fan.