Project CARS Review

Project CARS was clearly borne of a simple love of racing, both on the side of Slightly Mad Studios and that of the racing community. Its unique development didn’t just see the community buy into the project ahead of time, but saw them actively contribute to the game with both feedback and actual content, leading to a fresh perspective on the sim-racing genre.

What makes Project CARS stand out from the crowd is that not only are all of the cars and tracks unlocked right from the off, but you have the freedom to do whatever you wish within the game’s career mode. You can pick from any of the 16 disciplines as your starting point – with several “Coming Soon” boxes indicating that more are on the way – and compete in both that particular championship and all manner of invitational events. It’s a particularly refreshing and innovative twist, even if many people will simply start from karts and work their way up.

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While the number of real world tracks is quite impressive, ranging from legendary locations such as Spa and the Nurburgring to the Dubai Autodrome and a bevy of British tracks, the number of cars on offer is relatively small. What it lacks in depth it more than makes up for in breadth, with the range of difference disciplines it covers. You’ve everything from classic 70’s and 80’s touring cars to the Le Mans Prototypes, but these real world cars are necessarily bolstered by fictional creations from the game’s crowdsourcing roots. The game’s Formula 1 and GP2 equivalents – Formula A and Formula B – are prime examples of this.

Regardless of the car, they all look and sound great, and provide a rather unique challenge to control. Getting used to the handling is sometimes difficult, as you have to first warm up the tyres during practice and qualifying sessions – I long for an option to start on a hot lap with fully warm tyres – and even when I overrule my preference for the “Real” assists setting, some cars can require a degree of finesse that is difficult to achieve with a controller in hand.

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Naturally, when testing on PC with a venerable Driving Force GT, I found you can deliver much more nuanced inputs and better compensate for the force feedback that you’re receiving, making some cars feel a lot more driveable. Yet either way, it’s about learning the limits of what you can make a car do in a given context. As the game’s excellent weather systems come into play, with the track warming and cooling during the day or as the rain starts to lash down onto the tarmac, the tyre model is such that the cars can start to feel very different over time.

Admittedly, the graphics aren’t a match for Driveclub on console. They can sometimes give it a run for its money, but there is a sometimes distractingly short draw in distance between texture detail and some tracks can look a little bland. It is aiming at and generally achieving 60 frames per second, so this deficit is easily forgiven, though a combination of heavy weather and lot of AI cars can cause this to drop.

Racing against the AI is almost always a delight, as long as you picked an AI difficulty setting that’s appropriate for your skills. Though contact is almost inevitable, they’re actually very good about respecting your space, sometimes to the point of obsequiously swerving to get out of your way or failing to try and pull a move and pass you. With lots of cars on track – up to 45, depending on the track – the start of any race is chaotic to navigate safely, and the AI can sometimes get stuck in a traffic jam at the first corner, but they put on a good show and are fun to race against.

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Heading online, it’s the human behind the wheel or controller that you need to beware of, and whether or not you have faith in their abilities. It’s a strong showing, and in my experience only displayed rare instances of lag, even with a full lobby of 16 racers. Rather than a matchmaking system, CARS features custom lobbies that can be set up to the same degree as a custom offline race. This gives you full control over the sessions, their length, the rules, the cars and the weather, though it’s not quite as flexible as to let you recreate some of the discipline-specific rules as in the career.

Sadly, for everything that Project CARS does right, its launch is marred by a disappointing number of minor bugs and inconsistencies, which are quite baffling given the string of delays it faced over the past six months. Loading into a Le Mans career race to restart, I found my Audi R18 LMP1 prototype impossible to control under braking, but testing the same car in practice or a custom race saw it to be as stable as ever. The game had diverged from the default car set up to utter gobble-de-gook overnight.

Similarly, I noticed that the cars on the grid had been rearranged, contrary to the qualifying session that I had taken part in. Elsewhere, cars have spawned on top of each other, and I found myself involved in a quite shocking phantom crash while switching camera viewpoints, which I was only doing because the game had failed to restore my HUD after I foolishly wanted to watch the other racers during the final moments of qualifying. And don’t get me started on the infuriating penalty system which wipes out lap times for both the tiniest of infractions over the white lines and moments where you’ve clearly not gained an advantage from your trip through the gravel.

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Some of these issues are compounded by the menu system. It is stuffed with an admirable but confounding number of settings and sliders, so that you can tweak practically every imaginable thing about how the game plays, even including PC-like graphics options on console. However, the main menu doesn’t behave quite the way you would expect – it would be tedious to go into the exact details, but it doesn’t – and you cannot access such fairly obvious seeming options for things like assists when you’ve loaded into a track.

When the first few hours of the game are spent getting used to the handling of the vehicles and picking between different control options to find the right settings for you – the defaults are far from optimal, whether on controller or wheel, unfortunately, and there’s already a mod to improve the FFB for PC wheel users – it’s tedious to go back and forth in order to find the sweet spot. But these are niggling issues and concerns which, much like Gran Turismo 5’s launch, tarnish the overall experience, but don’t detract from the strength of the racing that is at the heart of the game. This is especially true once you have found that sweet spot and can simply enjoy the range of content on offer.

What’s Good:

  • Innovative and refreshing career structure.
  • Cars which cover a wide array of classes and disciplines.
  • Huge variety of real world tracks.
  • Fun and involving racing, particularly with higher end cars.

What’s Bad:

  • Launch bugs and issues.
  • Poorly considered menu layout.
  • Default control settings aren’t particularly good.
  • Always starting practice and qualifying on cold tyres.

Project CARS is an ambitious take on the racing simulator that brings a lot of fresh ideas and improvements to the genre. A number of patchable flaws hold it back, but with an innovative career structure and the challenging but rewarding car handling and racing, this is almost essential for racing fans.

Score: 8/10

Version tested: PS4

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17 Comments

  1. I also wish some of the main menu options could be available in the pause menu. Fortunately I haven’t had any bugs though, and i’m loving it so far. It’s helped that I have a habit of getting to the podium in online races, to my own bewilderment.

    Look forward to any TSA meets as long as they don’t contain the Lotus Renault 98 Turbo. That monster is untameable IMO. Wheelspin in 3rd gear when the turbo kicks in…

  2. Good review Tef, agree with you on everything really. A few bugs that have cropped up for me include two full crashes of the game, very bizarre vehicle crashes in open wheelers and I don’t like the gear change sound in the Clio Cup car. Options are infuriating at time, like selecting a new livery for my car and some stuff it remembers between game sessions and other it doesn’t. Other than that I’m really enjoying it. My Thrustmaster T100 wheel arrived yesterday too which is proving to add to the game experience, although more tweaks to the wheel settings and FFB options will be needed I think to get it just right. All in all if you like racing Project CARS is pretty much the real deal… Just hope they keep patching those bugs out.

  3. Some of the bugs are baffling on the game. I’ve noticed the game actually skipping a few yards, as if the car has suddenly teleported from the initial braking point to straight on the apex. It’s caught me off guard that’s for sure, luckily its only happened a few times. The HUD sometimes disappears too. The AI during the go kart career is so aggressive as well. Thankfully the driving feels great, which is all that matters.

    • Not surprised about the go kart aggressiveness, it was probably a deliberate choice, it’s incredible competitive and since you aren’t in expensive cars, people take far more risks – oh, and there are pretty much no illegal overtaking manoeuvres.

    • What AI setting are you racing on? I’ve not had that issue with the Karts, in fact I’m usually about 3 or 4 seconds a lap faster than the AI.

      • I’ve been racing on 80% AI. Now I’m in the Superkarts I’m winning by 3 second margins. I must have just been terrible in a standard kart haha

      • The kart tracks aren’t particularly great, with far too many elevation changes and awkward corners in them. Also, the slightest tap from an AI driver on the cramped circuits will easily knock you into a spin. To be honest, it’s not the best class to do right away, because they handle so very differently to all the other vehicles.

        Then again, they do teach you to be deathly afraid of ever touching a kerb, which is probably the best lesson you can learn!

      • I’ve found the early events I’ve been through in career are actually a baptism of fire. I’m on all pro settings so it’s always gonna be tricky but the karts, pro karts, and BAC Mono really test you!

      • I set it to Amateur so that I could have access to AntiLockBraking…..have never been able to get the hang of gentle braking into corners!

  4. Good review, game sounds great despite the flaws. I still think the handling will be too GT-like for my taste but i will check it out at some point.

  5. Good review Tef. I agree about not being able to change settings from the pause menu but once you get the settings right, especially the FFB, I don’t need to keep going to the settings menus. Although there are car specific settings for FFB which make it feel better.
    It’s a great game which will be even better when the bugs etc are sorted.

    I’ve found a simple mod for the T300RS brake pedal that gives progressive braking similar to the conical mod that comes with the T3PA-PRO, just waiting for the parts to arrive to give it a go. If successful it will save me £150 for a new set of pedals.

  6. Good review tef. I’ve put a forum thread up in the meets section for this to see if anyone would be interested in a weekly meet. Check it out!

    • Chances are Project CARS will come to consume the traditional Monday night GT meet… In fact, people are going to be playing tonight.

  7. My experience of Project Cars on PS4 has been more frustrating than enjoyable so far. Having to quit a race to make any sort of adjustments to controller,sound or visuals has been a real chore to work through. Also there is a lack of any real feeling through the dualshock rumbles for tyre slippage. But probably the worst gripe are the bugs. There i was playing a race round Monza overtook a couple of AI cars after the first corner then for one of them to morph straight through my car the screen jolts badly suddenly i’m three corners further up the track. WTF?

  8. Really Enjoying this game. Has anyone else noticed the Bug in Career Mode whereby any Car Tuning changes you make in session do not save. Every time I go back into the pits the setup reverts back to Default saved setup. It means that the only place I can make setup changes is in Freemode. I hope this gets fixed soon as it does spoil the experience a little.
    See you online!

    • I’ve had that twice today, for some reason it doesn’t always do it.

  9. Happy to see the same people I used to play gt with commenting. Really loving this game despite the sprinkling of bugs. It’s so rewarding for fans of real driving and racing.

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