If the arrival of a good racing game is cause for celebration, break out the party hats. Project CARS is here, and the hype built up over the game’s long development may well be deserved. Although in this case it is a game about cars CARS is an acronym – Community Assisted Racing Simulator – and the game replicates (mostly) real cars and tracks to an extent hitherto reserved for the PC racer. We Xbox One and PS4 racers are indebted to that community, as their refinement of the game under the spotlight of a public beta has pushed the genre forward for consoles as well.
The overall format of the game is completely conventional for a racing game. There is a career mode with different championships, a solo mode for fast races or just practice laps, and online and community events. But unlike its great rivals, Project CARS is not meant to be all things to all gamers. There are no showrooms, no paint shops and no Top gear bind. The focus is on clean, hard racing with minimal hand holding. We can trace Project CARSlineage back to games like GTR And GT legends. Like those titles, it suffers no fools. There’s no rewind button, no racing line to show you where to turn or brake.
What you do get are 60 fps graphics, dynamic weather and time of day, a physics engine running at 600 Hz (derived from Need for Speed: Shift), and up to 44 other cars on the track. There’s also a level of customizability that PC gamers take for granted, but is refreshing in a console game. The graphics can be adjusted to your liking – heat haze and lens flare and raindrops – just like the input from the controller, aiming to immerse the player deeply in the simulation.
Before we go any further: you can play Project CARS with a controller, but you really shouldn’t. Slightly Mad, the game’s studio, has gone to great lengths to make many wheels compatible, and it’s worth spending a minute or two calibrating yours if you have one. Career mode starts you in more difficult karts. It quickly becomes clear that you can’t grab these by the scruff of the neck and throw them just about anywhere. Trying to go all out right away is an exercise in frustration; these karts require finesse on the progressive throttle and brakes. Aren’t you glad you calibrated your setup?
After several rounds of kart racing, you’re finally ready to move up to something bigger, but the lessons of the karts apply equally to the “adult” cars. Button tampers need not apply. The reward for those patient enough to stick with the game is delicious. The graphics are rich and detailed – running at 900p on the Xbox One – so it’s easy and natural to continuously look down the track for the next bend and turning point. As long as the sun doesn’t blind you, that is.
I have no complaints when it comes to physics either. Some cars are a joy to drive – current favorites are the Caterham SP/300.R and the Formula A car, which I predict will fill many an online racing lobby in the coming weeks and months. In my experience, finding a comfortable camera angle for any car is the secret to speed, and Project CARS lets you choose from quite a few, including from inside the helmet.
Then there are the tracks. Most are real circuits, some of which are well known, such as the Nordschleife or Spa-Francorchamps; others (such as Cadwell Park) are relatively unknown outside their native countries, although there are some tributes (Azure Coast for Monaco, Sakitto for Suzuka) and even some original point-to-point courses.
Everything is unlocked from the start of the game (although some cars are exclusive to pre-orders), and unlike Gran Turismo or Forza, cars don’t need to be upgraded or modified, although they can be tuned (as you’d expect from such a tweakable game). You can even create asymmetrical tuning. Hurray! Fortunately, for those of us who aren’t Mentats when it comes to calculating spring rates, the default tunes are pretty good.
Race meetings may include practice and qualifying sessions and predetermined pit strategies. The developers even paid attention to the start of the race; the timing for the start lights will vary each time (just like in real life), encouraging the player to walk the line between a slow breakaway and a jump start penalty. Getting a good start is extremely important with such large grids of cars to fight. The AI is decent too; there are none of the “pubbie on Red Bull” antics in the first corner Forza‘s Drivatars, nor the “I’ll stick with this line like I’m a train” vending machines GT.
Project CARS still has a few rough edges worth patching, and I wonder if the console versions will destroy those bugs at the same rate as the PC version. I’ve run into a glitch here or there about once every three hours, usually in the form of a menu crashing while trying to go back to its parent. Sometimes the graphics tear a little too, and if I’m harsh, the cars could sound a little better. Nothing deal-breaking, but still disappointing issues when they crop up.
While the game’s degree of fine-tuning may attract simulation purists, its uncompromising nature may put casual players off. As mentioned earlier, this is a game made for steering wheels, and I’ve already read about controller-related frustration from European PS4 and Xbox One players (who Project CARS last week, just like PC gamers).
Project CARS can be seen as a response to the mass grumbling of online forums, fixing the aspects of other racing simulations that players felt were missing. I’ll admit to being somewhat skeptical about the title for the past two years, wondering if it could really deliver all the features it promised. Now that I’ve logged quite a few laps on the board, it’s clear that this development team knew what it was doing all along.
If the thought of a steering wheel in your living room isn’t something you would ever cherish, Project CARS probably isn’t the game for you. But if you’re the kind of person who keeps their shopping cart on the racing line during errands, you’re in for a treat.
- Realistic, enjoyable, immersive physics
- Real numbers – good ones
- Real cars – good ones too
- Up to 44 AI cars on the track
- Changing lighting, weather, you name it
- Few compromises made for casual racers
- Really needs a steering wheel
- Still a bit buggy in places
- Every other racing game studio now realizes it needs to double the number of cars on the track in its games