The Road To Review: On Track With Project CARS

Aside from Forza 5 on Xbox One, fans of racing simulators have had a long wait for a game on the current crop of consoles to cater to their sensibilities. The racing genre as a whole has been relatively underserved, but even within this arena, Project CARS manages to stand aside from the likes of Driveclub and The Crew. Even then, Slightly Mad Studios have looked to forge their own path and do things their own way.

First and foremost is the unparalleled freedom to do what you want to do within the game. Not a single car is locked away from you pending some arbitrary accomplishment and you can sample any of the numerous real world tracks – many of which will please BTCC fans – and in almost any variation. Even the career mode is easy to bend to suit your particular tastes.

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There are naturally certain goals which you can aim for in a career, with the most natural being to rise through the ranks progressing from one championship and class to another before finally taking on the LMP1 endurance cars. If that’s not your thing, you can simply choose to start in, say, Fomula A – the game’s Formula 1 equivalent – and endeavour to dominate the sport for three seasons on the trot for a different goal.

Yet, with all of this open to you right away, it’s difficult to know where to begin. The most obvious is to begin at the bottom with the game’s 125cc karting championship, move on to the 250cc superkarts and onwards, and so that’s what I did. However, amidst the flurry of twitter-like fan messages and notes from your team about your recent performances, you’ll also get invited along to other events outside of the main championship that you’re contesting. Even during your first season in karts, you’ll find yourself driving in hatchbacks, touring cars and more.

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With such a wide variety of different cars to deal with – the 70-odd cars might not go in depth with a particular class, but make up for it in breadth – the vehicle handling can often take quite a bit of getting used to. Karts are just as twitchy and prone to the slightest of bumps in a surface, as you’d expect, but I was taken by surprise at how floaty and loose the handling of a Renault Megane and Ford Focus was, to the point where I could barely drive them. Even high end road cars like the Audi R8 and the BAC Mono saw me struggling to get to grips with their handling.

A large part of that comes down to the need to heat tyres during practice and qualifying sessions – they’ll be nice and toasty for you as you line up for a race start though. Without heat in the tyres, you lack grip and have to be very wary of putting too much energy through acceleration and braking, otherwise you simply lose control and spin off the track.

Playing with a DualShock 4 rather than a racing wheel, certain cars forced me to step away from my preferred “Real” assists setting, which would give you ABS, traction control and stability assistance depending on the car’s real world driver assists. On the other hand, as soon as I hop into something with a healthy dose downforce, whether it’s a BMW GT3 car, the fictional SMS open wheel Formula B car or an Audi R18 LMP1, the handling is fittingly tight and responsive.

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This is a game that doesn’t take a “one size fits all” approach in the slightest though. Practically every single setting that can be made available to you is, whether it’s tuning a particular car’s front left toe in – asymmetrical set ups are there, if you want them – to switching button functions, tweaking analogue stick dead zones and input smoothing, and even turning certain graphical features on and off, like heat haze and sun glare.

It sometimes manages to give even the mighty Driveclub a run for its money in terms of visuals. Admittedly, some track sides can lack a certain lustre and the rain doesn’t match the refinement of Driveclub’s, but some tracks look quite excellent and weather effects span a broader range and can be tuned specifically by the player to transition from fog to sunshine to rain and back again. At a generally solid feeling 1080p and 60 frames per second, I can easily forgive the compromises to texture filtering and detail that have had to be made.

Despite the extended development and multiple delays, there’s a disappointing lack of polish in some places. The race engineer – voiced by former Stig, Ben Collins – is sometimes particularly chatty, and then doesn’t speak for several races in a row, for example, and the many options are confusingly split up and spread out. Too many of them can only be accessed from the game’s main menu, rather than from pausing the game. It’s for this reason that I remapped the D-pad so that I could toggle assists on and off, instead of wasting minutes at a time loading in and out of a session.

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There’s a number of rough edges then, and it takes a while to get used to, but there’s still a lot to like about Project CARS. Put a little effort into tweaking the game to suit you, and there’s plenty to enjoy here, whether it’s tackling the unique career, dropping in for a single quick race or heading online to duke it out on track with your friends.

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6 Comments

  1. Most looking forward to the BTCC circuits

    • Snap. Combined with the Clip Cup car, a BTCC support category.

  2. This in the Oculus Rift is an experience I have been waiting for since I was 8. (Assetto Corsa is close, but way to fiddly in VR)

  3. I can see this game keeping me busy for quite a while. I’ll definitely get my money’s worth out of it.
    I don’t mind if the graphics aren’t up to DriveClubs as long as the handling is good. I like the idea of tyre warming, it’s been tried in games before but with very little difference between hot and cold.

    • I think tyre warming is fine, but I’d also like to be able to simply start on a hot lap with heated tyres during practice and qualifying, rather than struggling around the track for 5 minutes to get to the point where I can really push. I’ve very often done more laps in qualy than in a race as a consequence!

  4. Good read tef, the game sounds great but possibly a bit too sim-like for me. But I like the idea of being able to tailor all the options and definitely want to try it out at some point.

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