The WRC series is rolling out again for the fifth time now with WRC:Rally Evolved. The series has won itself many fans in the past during its lengthy bout with Colin McRae Rally for the title of top rally title - a subject over which opinion is still evenly split. Read on to see whether the series has evolved enough to finish ahead of the competition.
The modes of play in Evolved are the usual mix, They range from the championship mode in which you play to earn points for your selected racing team as a specific driver of your choice over a whole season through to the Quick Race mode which chooses the car rally and stage for you so you can get right in on the action with as little fuss as possible.
In between these modes are the self explanatory single race and single rally modes as well as a rally cross mode that allows you to compete directly against a field of opponents instead of simply trying to better their times.
New challenges can be unlocked by finishing enough races without necessarily having to win them.
The whips you are allowed to crack on the courses are from real life manufacturers who are big names on the rally scene, each vehicle is also nicely modelled and textured and can take moderate damage as you go. Don't expect to be able to completely write off your ride because in WRC:Evolved (as with many real manufacturer car games) truly life threatening damage or smashes that leave the vehicle crippled are omitted, you can take moderate damage to the engine, brakes and steering but this really just means that you car will get slightly more sluggish in the areas of speed, braking distance and cornering ability but nothing serious and often you can continue to play almost unhindered, whether this will be a relief to you or a wind up depends on where you lie along the line between arcade and simulation.
Accompanying you on your travels around the worlds rally courses is your co-driver, this guy helps you out by reading you information on the upcoming track. As well as his advice on the direction and severity of the bends you get his smart comments and the odd cry of terror as you go although he can be funny at times. I remember finishing a race in not too good a shape to have him comment in a disheartened tone "I thought you were supposed to be good!" while the game showed a view of us through the cracked windscreen of our busted up ride.
Repair of the cars is handled at a post-race screen where you can basically fix up all the damage in two quick presses of the X button, I understand that this is there for more realism but really it's so basic it could really have been left out, you can quite easily fix up your car in less time than it took the game to load the repair screen in the first place.
The rallys themselves are set in various locations around the globe with each rally being broken down into three sections, the locations vary from country to country in order to keep things fresh and even though you are essentially doing the same things over and over it does work, you'll be racing through thick forests one stage then technical mountain passes the next and all the while the detail in both the immediate and distant scenery is kept to a high standard. Speaking of the immediate environment there is an annoying inconsistency here which needs to be addressed and that is the destructable scenery, you can send your rally car crashing through a picket fence which quite rightly crumbles under the force of the impact but then be completely stopped from rejoining the road by an equally flimsy appearing structure which acts as though it possesses the hardness of cut diamond, this can jolt you out of being immersed in the game as you fully expect to come through the second obstacle and back on track as easily as you left the track through the first obstruction.
The roadsides are littered with moving details like the crowds who step out into the tracks to take pictures and then leap back onto the verge as you pass or you may see some wild animals running out into the road, these details help to bring the stages to life and get them to seem less static and rigid.
Other roadside events come in the form of less fortunate competitors whose broken down cars can be found at the side of the road with the driver and co-driver standing around foolishly in the middle of the tarmac, such an event is usually complimented by a smart remark from your own co-driver which again adds to the atmosphere.
A nice touch is that these hazards appear randomly and very from location to location, this means that you never know a hundred percent what to expect even if you have raced the stage before.
The look and feel of the stages gets further aesthetic help from the games weather effects, these are nothing you have not see before but nevertheless welcome, the gripe I have here (and its really only a minor personal gripe) is that the developers have made the rain effect splash onto the camera, now this would be fine if it happened in 'behind the windscreen' views only but in 'behind the car' views it looks silly to me, it gives the impression that you are viewing the cars progression around the course from behind a large sheet of glass suspended in front of your face.
Visually WRC:Evolved is high class, the graphics shine with quality in every area from the textures and models used for the cars to the expansive courses and their details like the roadside observers and scenery they mill around, This is definitely one of the best looking racers on PS2 at the moment if not one of the best looking games full stop in some areas.
The new hazards system and the ability to use some of the high-end cars without having to wait for it may help to attract fans of the previous games in the WRC series to the latest instalment and players who are new to the series should not be disappointed at all by what Evolved has to offer. The game plays at a quick pace right from the start so you don't have to wade through any slow or dull races for it to start to get good.
One suggestion I would make is that players turn down the driving aids or turn them off altogether as by default the game provides the player with massive amounts of help even in the braking and steering of the car which does detract from the experience.