Project CARS review – a true racing simulation

I realise it has been a while but I thought it high time to review Project CARS. We’ve had some decent interest in this title on our blog so it is only fitting to write some words about how the game fares.

Slightly Mad Studios (from Need for Speed: Shift fame) put together this crowd funded game that did so well with it’s initial goal that they were able to branch the game from being a PC only port to the current gen consoles as well (XB1 and PS4). This means more fans and more money. One slightly disturbing recent announcement is that the developer has already working on a sequel, barely two months after the first game has been released.

What you get with Project CARS is a true simulation racing experience. Certainly no other console game to date (including the Forza games) has come close to providing simulation car physics for a racing game.  This is a racing simulation fan’s heaven. Another unusual development with this game is the fact that all of the cars are unlocked from the start. The Project CARS roster is quite good but it also only has 50+ cars in the whole game. The developers want you to race whatever you like in free race and practice; the only time you won’t have a choice as to what to race in will be the career mode. Career mode is all about seasons, much like a F1 season but generally a lot smaller in number of races at the early part of your career. You start out in 125cc Go Karts and work you way up to the faster cars, with participation to invitational events to help mix things up a bit in career mode.

Weather is excellent and dynamic.

Weather is excellent and dynamic.

Compared to previous Forza offerings though I think the career mode is quite bland and I struggled to remain motivated to progress through it. There are several reasons for this, one of them for me being you have all the cars unlocked from the start. For me this means I don’t really have the motivation to continue as I’m not saving up for that next prized car. I should point out at this point that I don’t tend to get a lot out of the Formula 1 racing games either. I don’t mind watching F1 on TV but just can’t seem to get into that true simulation style of racing.

The other sticking point that makes Project CARS just a little inaccessible is the default controller settings. When you start your career you’ll find yourself spinning out of control at the slightly bump because it seems the developers were primarily focusing on this game being a PC simulation. Slightly Mad Studios did not even attempt to find the sweet spot at all for the XB1 controller on release. I can only assume it was the same for the PS4 version. I had to tweak a lot to make the game a bit more playable, hence the blog’s previous posts relating to tweaking the controller settings. This made it very difficult for me at first to enjoy the game at all and I think it will put some casual gamers off. Even after two big patches the controller settings are fixed but you have other weird bugs that Slightly Mad Studios somehow missed. One such bug, which thankfully happens a lot less now, was that the sound would stutter badly if force feedback was initialised on your controller. This does indicate the rushed port job for the consoles.

Car models have amazing detail.

Car models have amazing detail.

Another noticeable point about using the controller: if one of your gaming friends has a wheel, they will consistently thrash you around the track. Obviously this makes a lot of sense as Project CARS is a racing simulation. What makes it difficult is that unless all of you have a wheel set-up playing multiplayer makes for a very lonely affair at times. I’m a reasonable racer when it comes to console racing games; I usually sit somewhere in the middle in games like Forza Motorsport games. When I played multiplayer games in Project CARS however I was most of the time last, except for the odd occasion where the frontrunners would crash out. Wheel gamers definitely have an advantage here. This goes against the principle of close racing, which you would want to see in a racing simulation, and I found myself having much closer racing in games like Forza Horizon 2 than Project CARS.

Graphics and sound (aside from the bugs) are pretty excellent. The track side detail may not look as good as the Forza games but the car models are fantastic and the lighting is amazing. One of the great options in the game is the ability to set random weather and accelerated time for day / night cycle and weather. This is pretty huge. One of our multiplayer races had us starting in broad daylight and finishing in the middle of the night. Damage modelling is also very effective and as mentioned before one of the few races I actually did well in was because a couple of the front runners had damaged their headlights. When darkness fell they couldn’t see their way around a track. This level of realism is really quite something. You have full control over the weather and night effects in multiplayer too, which is great. For those who are interested the XB1 version is running at 900p, while the PS4 version gets along at 1080p. PC players of course get to run at whatever resolution their gaming rig allows. All versions run at 60fps, or at least top that figure. It certainly feels smooth on the XB1, and I rarely notice and sizeable dips in frame rate.

The lighting is really quite something.

The lighting is really quite something.

The amount of tracks this game has is also pretty damn amazing. It has 30 unique locations and over 110 variants.  By far this is the most we’ve seen in a racing game for quite a while. This is definitely a strong point for Project CARS. If you are willing to put in the time there are many hours here to learning every single track. Credit should definitely go to the developers for putting together such an amazing variety of tracks. My only gripe, and it is a small one, is that Bathurst seems to be slightly narrow, certainly to its real life counterpart. When you are racing over the mountain it just seems a few feet more narrow than it should. This is just my humble opinion though.

So is it worth grabbing? I would have to say that from what I’ve heard from other gaming mates it is quite a good simulation racer on PC and well worth a look if you have a decent racing rig already. If you are planning on buying on console I would also recommend a proper racing wheel rig. If you are playing on controller it is much better with the latest patches, but it still will require further tweaking before you find something you are comfortable with. It is fair to say that this game has made me realise that I am more about driving cars or racing in a more casual environment that true simulation racing. I love the idea of earning money to buy that next car and being able to pick what style of racing I want to participate in next without having to sit through a season. If you like collecting a heap of cars, then this game might not be for you. With only 50 odd cars available it simply doesn’t compare to other games already out and others coming in the next few months. With Forza Motorsport 6 out in September having 450 cars on the original disc this is a better proposition for me.

A decent mix of cars, even if you only get 50 odd.

A decent mix of cars, even if you only get 50 odd.

In short, if you love racing simulation games, this is definitely worth grabbing. If you prefer arcade racers or semi simulation games that allow you to race in a huge variety of cars, probably borrow this game off a mate before committing to purchase.

A good first effort by Slightly MAD Studios. I just hope they continue to support the first game before throwing most of their developers towards the already announced sequel.

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