WRC Powerslide Review: The Spin-off Doesn’t Spin Out
Milestone’s WRC series and I have a long history. I’ve played each of the four games and reviewed the last three. The series has evolved from TV presentation to arcade presentation. It’s tried to be rally sim and tried to be a WRC-licensed Dirt game. Every time it makes a change, they take two steps forward and at least one step back.
With WRC Powerslide, Milestone has completely gotten away from proper rallying. Instead, Powerslide is a WRC karting game. While I’ve been looking for the proper WRC series to embrace being a proper rally sim, Powerslide proves that you don’t actually know what you want from gaming until you get it.
While WRC proper has you racing your rally car by yourself on a stage to set the fastest cumulative time over a series of special stages in a rally, WRC Powerslide has four cars racing the same special stage at the same time to be the first across the line.
WRC Powerslide is a year-old game originally on XBLA and PSN for console and it shows at parts. The cars are all classified as WRC, Class 2 and Class 3 as it was in 2012’s WRC 3 and it’s the same cars as that game. The schedule was updated to 2013, though, so you can race on three stages from all 13 rallies. And, yes, they’re stages from the proper WRC game rather than the cartoonish recreations you saw in F1 Race Stars.
For veterans of F1 Race Stars, the powerups and weapons are actually kart game standard powerups and weapons rather than sanitized for the license. If you recall, F1 Race Stars were all bubble attacks that slowed a car down or stopped them in a bubble. The six powerups can barge you off a road, hit/spin/flip you with a… bubble projectile, zap you with lightning, blind you in a dust cloud, slow the other cars in a snow storm and give you a nitrous burst. It sounds generic but it’s still an FIA licensed game that doesn’t pussyfoot around the standard features of a karting game.
You don’t have to play this as a karting game, though. There’s an option to turn off collisions and powerups which effectively makes it four ghost cars racing to be the first to the line. Unfortunately, Milestone combined activation of collisions and powerups to one line. It would have been nice to turn off just powerups to make Powerslide a WRC rally cross game.
In my experience, that option is necessary because the computer always seems to get you in the final tenth of a stage. It’s inevitable that you’ll get hit with a lightning bolt or hail storm while on the point with the finish in sight and have nothing to answer back with. Maybe I just have bad luck but the AI tend to lead only first 10% and last 10% of any race thanks to the powerups.
One good thing about Powerslide is that the game has some fantastic catchup logic (at least, in the single player mode). No matter how far behind or ahead you are at any point of the race (barring the very end), everyone is bunched up within a couple of seconds at the finish line. It makes for some exciting racing and a few stages where I’ve won with a recorded margin of victory of 0.00 and 0.01 seconds.
There’s only really two game modes in WRC Powerslide. There’s multiplayer which is just online multiplayer. And there’s single player which involves winning races in each category to unlock races and cars. However, you must win the specific race to unlock the next race. For example, if the requirement to unlock the next race is to win the preceding stage in a Class 3 car, winning in a WRC car doesn’t work. That unlocks a car but not the event. It’s a great game for completionists but progression is a massive pain if you just want to race. Considering that there’s only one event open when you first boot up the game and you have to win with that one specific class, the progression system is almost demoralizing.
It’s not all positives for Powerslide. The worst problem, by a wide margin, is the camera. The camera is positioned at a high angle behind you car but isn’t fixed directly behind the car. It’s a little off the side but isn’t at a set angle. It moves about slightly as you navigate the stages almost like a camera on a chasing helicopter. While it’s still better than the helicopter camera in Real World Racing, it’s very disorienting at first though it does get slightly better as you get used to it. You can’t get used to having your view obstructed by the environment as a result of the camera. I can only assume this is done in a way to limit what the game has to render to ease the hardware load on the engine considering four cars are on screen at all times.
Speaking of rendering, the graphics aren’t spectacular. Between the camera angle and some of the texture work, it’s hard to tell what is elevated terrain and what’s flat ground. For example, you can’t tell if the edge of the road is bordered by just grass or dirt or if that’s a ditch or hump that will throw your car out of control. With the wonky camera, sometimes you can’t stay on the track. Unfortunately, those issues seem to crop up at the end of the race more often than the beginning.
I found the controls a bit wonky too. Controls aren’t rebindable which is unforgivable considering Milestone decided to put the powerup button on the Enter key on keyboard while you drive with the arrow keys. So you have to reach over your right hand with your left hand to hit the powerup button. There’s also the typical Milestone trick of having to hit buttons twice on the menu because it doesn’t really pick up the first time. The first push of Enter or Esc will trigger the associated sound file but you need to hit the button again to actually make the menu work.
Also, using the controller didn’t feel too different from using the keyboard. I found that the thumbstick had a massive dead zone that limited precise controls. It almost felt like I was using the keyboard. The only advantage was more precise throttle controls with the triggers and the fact that the powerup button wasn’t in a stupid spot.
I believe it was the great philosopher Jagger who said that you can’t always get what you want but sometimes you get what you need. After F1 Race Stars, I thought that kart games with official series licenses wouldn’t have been allowed to be interesting. While F1 put a restriction on what Codemasters could do with the game and the resulting poor gameplay, WRC Powerslide was good as a result of the series allowing Milestone carte blanche to make a proper karting game.
Sure, there are some issues that keep it from being among the best karting games you’ll play but that $10 price point means that you’re assured bang for your buck. If Codemasters ever makes F1 Race Stars 2, they need to take some notes from WRC Powerslide. This is easily the best WRC game to come out for the last five years.
WRC Powerslide was reviewed on PC but is available for PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 as digital downloads. Your impressions of the game may differ based on platform played, your PC specs and whether you want a WRC-themed kart racer mashup.