America's love affair with motor sports does not extend to the world of rally racing, at least if you go by television ratings. Across the pond, however, it's absolutely huge. Namco Bandai's WRC: FIA World Rally Championship for the PSP looks to shine a spotlight on the circuit by immersing virtual daredevils into the thick of the sport, challenging them to win championships while battling world-class competitors and Mother Nature (not necessarily in that order).
WRC offers an authentic experience in almost every nook and cranny, while at the same time allowing for the age-old "I drove my car off a 50-foot cliff but it magically reappeared 5 seconds later" paradigm that we all know and love so dearly. On the realism front, it sports the FIA license and a lot of true-life cars, courses, teams and tons of advertisements on the vehicles and surrounding signposts. WRC is not a press-the-gas-and-turn-the-wheel kind of a racer. Rather, it takes course recognition, nuanced acceleration/deceleration/braking and desperately maintaining control to win races - or at least stay on the course.
Evidently, there are at least 32 poor souls who perform rally racing for a living, all of whom are represented in the game. Accompanying every driver is a navigator, who does a damn good British robot impersonation. He's also an invaluable tool in preventing the destruction of your car at every turn. What's most impressive is his ability to stay cool even as you're hurtling over a jump at 140 miles an hour and clearly about to smash into a large rock formation. Just once, it would be great to hear him break character and go from "Long easy left over jump" to "Good lord, we're going to die and it's all your fault!" You know that's what he's thinking.
Unlike the post office, these racers go in rain, snow and mud (but as far as we can tell, not dark of night). Within these environments, there's a lot of stuff that can be run into and flung in different directions (unfortunately, this does not include spectators, but we can dream), but also some immovable objects like trees and rocks that'll slow you down and smash up your ride.
The heart of WRC is its Championship mode, which takes your driver and team through an entire series of races, keeping track of the points (or lack thereof) for the individual as well as his car manufacturer's team. As the configurable difficulty settings ramp up, damage to your car goes from aesthetic to impactful, so avoiding smash-ups becomes quite advisable. There are also some single races, quick races and a mediocre ad hoc wireless multiplayer option if you've got some equally equipped buddies in the general area.
Perhaps the most convenient feature of WRC is its much-appreciated and often-used instant reset. When - not if - you make a mistake and end up stuck behind a boulder or upside down in a ditch, hitting the reset starts the race over immediately - no loading at all. Considering the time it takes to get good (and the staggering number of ways the loose-ish controls will help you get pointed in the wrong direction), this helps you laugh at your bust-ups instead of wanting to smash your pricey PSP into a million little pieces.