Review: Project CARS
I’ve been keeping my eye on Projects CARS for a while now due to its non-traditional development. You may have noticed that the cars in the title is written uppercase and that’s not down to some branding/styling decision but because it’s an acronym for Community Assisted Racing Simulator. As you can deduce from that acronym this game has been supported through crowdfunding and people chipping in and helping create all the content without the aid of a traditional publisher’s funding.
Yet the drip feeding of information since development kicked off has been interesting as this community backed project has all the hallmarks of a AAA release from EA or one of Sony’s first party. Stunning screenshots, full dynamic weather effects, virtual reality support in the future and more. The good news is that playing the game is as good as it looks.
This is a full racing simulator so in Pro mode (which I initially chose for this review) you can expect to be manually changing the gears plus you get tire wear, fuel depletion and damage affecting the car’s performance. Amateur and Novice dial the effects of these back or off altogether. That’s all well and good however Gran Turismo has that covered off. But where Project CARS starts to excel is in the execution of the races and the modes that support them.
You’ve got a career mode where you can rise up through the ranks of professional racing. I chose to start at the very bottom in the karting leagues with aspirations of emulating Lewis Hamilton’s career by the end of the review. Upon selecting my starting point I was offered a choice of two contracts from different teams and went with the UK based Dark Nitro outfit. Your decision doesn’t seem to make any difference but it’s the one of many subtle things that make the career far more immersive than other similar titles.
Instead of ticking off individual races/challenges on Gran Turismo and earning money to buy the better cars which made previously difficult races easy, Project CARS really hones in the excitement of racing your way up the leagues. Individual races feel like they’re part of the bigger picture and you’re not just completing race X as you’ll know you’ll unlock another derivative of a Nissan GT-R. Winning a league really felt like a personal triumph. The fake Twitter feed from fans telling me how good I was also cheered me up!
With that though you will be challenged harder that most other racing titles. Every race is a battle for 1st place, just like real life. Even the best racers have off days or car trouble and races require your full attention and dedication to be victorious. Some may be put off but I feel that Project CARS will pick up a lot of fans because of this. Even if you tweak the setting so gear changes are automatic or your turn down the AI a notch it’s still not an easy game, and some people will have to tweak the settings to get the best of the game. I personally see it as reducing the resistance on exercise equipment. Just because it’s on a slightly lower setting than the person next to you doesn’t mean you’re having an easy time but it’s testing your current abilities and making you better. Well that’s my excuse for tweaking the difficulty a little!
Talking of tweaking settings this game is unique in console racing games in the amount of options you can alter and change. I’m not just talking about tinkering and tuning the car’s settings like having tire pressure altered and brake pressure too. You can also alter the pit strategies enabling you to tell the team to not bother fixing individual parts, changing the tires and how much fuel to top up, all of which alter the pit stop length. You can also edit ever single aspect of a race too. Want a race where you want a day/night cycle going at 60 times the normal speed starting of on a nice sunny evening before the fog and finally a storm comes in? You can, plus you can select you car choices, qualification rounds and more.
I’m sure talking of the day/night cycle has got you thinking about the much hyped weather effects. In short they’re great and so in the presentation in general. With weather effects ranging from glorious sunshine, thunderous downpours to fog you’re going to have to battle the elements in every race. The first time I did an evening race and turned a corner and ended up facing west I was blinded and could barely see a thing and almost reached up above my head to pull down the sun visor, so good the game looks. My head was almost tricked into thinking I was in an actual car as I have the excellent in-helmet camera mode selected and 5.1 surround sound headphones on. Project CARS really does look great and I have to keep reminding myself that this isn’t from a publisher with many many millions to spend on the title.
The excellent work continues when it comes to the cars. Although financial limitations means there’s not a wide selection of brands like Ferrari, Porsche many others there’s still a strong racing line-up for all to try. Aston Martin, BMW and Pagani have you covered and living in Caterham I of course had to take the Seven Classic out for a spin and do my town proud (even though the firm has recently upped-sticks to Crawley). It’s a git to drive, best wait until you’ve had practice on a M3 or something until you get the nuances sorted. Anyway the total of cars in the standard edition tops out at 65 which is a far lower figure that titles such as the Gran Turismo and Forza series. GT had 200 premium cars that was fully modeled but Project CARS has 65 cars that are far better modeled than what Polyphony did so even though on pure numbers Project CARS is inferior you have to remember the gulf in differences between the two series’s backgrounds.
As much love as been applied to the tracks too which plays host to a variety of real life tracks. I can’t say that I know how accurate they are compared to real life but I can compare how the tracks look compared to other racing games and Project CARS has done a tremendous job here too. Gran Turismo was let down by horrible environment (particular the tress) but that’s not a problem here. The concrete walls even crack if you crash into them.
Of course there’s areas of Project CARS that isn’t the best including one area that will 100% put some people off. The framerate doesn’t hold steaady all the time causing slight jitters when playing which is far from ideal and is easily a deal breaker for certain people. The damage mechanics are no better than what’s come before. Sure, body panels do fly off but I crashed into walls head on at around 170mph (purposefully I might add!) and only the bonnet panel came off. I know it’s not fun to have to stop a race because it’s falling to pieces but when every other part of this game is so dedicated to simulation of the sport such a crucial part is still so under-developed (but so are other competitor titles).
To sum up
Project CARS is a triumph in two ways. It’s a glowing example of how the crowdfunding model can work and although I don’t believe that all games should be developed in this way it shows what can be achieved by the right people and adds much needed competition into the genre. More importantly Project CARS isn’t just a great driving simulator it’s an excellent simulation for racing sports.
Version reviewed: PS4
Project CARS is out now on PS4, Xbox One and PC.