Can Project Cars 3 drive the line between sim racing and mainstream appeal?

Project Cars 3 is a game that’s coming screeching round the corner, its tyres on the edge of adhesion as it tries to cross the finish line just before the end of the race that is the current console generation. Slightly Mad Studios are dropping the game into racing fans’ laps this summer, aiming to deliver the polished all-round racing game that the series has always aspired to be.

Though it shares a name and the ambitions with the first two games, a lot has changed for Project Cars 3. Obviously it builds on the foundations of the first two games, with the series’ LiveTrack system making a comeback for dynamic weather that can match the real world conditions at a particular location or be set up to shift and change through a race event. With further refined graphics, it’s sure to provide plenty of spectacle, just as it has done before.

And it’s still going to be a sim racer, looking to appeal to a fanbase of diehard race fans that the series has built up. However, once you dig into the actual racing, the career, the multiplayer offerings, you’ll find the myriad differences to what was there in Project Cars 2.

For one thing, there’s a fundamentally different approach to progression through Project Cars 3. Instead of having a career mode that would let you pick your path through a realistic network of racing categories, you now have a linear path from road cars through hyper cars and on to GT race classes, with invitational challenge events alongside. It’s a more curated approach than the sprawl of before and with new game modes alongside plain old racing to help mix things up.

Another key change is that you’re earning your own cars and taking them with you on this journey. There’s ten car classes, all of which must first be unlocked, with it then being possible to upgrade the vehicles in your garage, turning those road cars into the kinds of bespoke track vehicles that actually get used on race days. A new car livery tool means they can still look the part as well, the Performance Index Rating making sure that the cars you race with and against are well balanced.

Another surprising change is the event objectives, adding something beyond the championship points you’ll earn and the desire to finish on the top step of the podium. Yes, the ultimate goal is still to win, but now you might be racing to also finish within a certain time, draft opponents and then pass them cleanly, hit a certain top speed, hit the apex on certain corners, and so on. We see you, Paul Rustchynsky, Game Director on DriveClub and now on this.

Your unlocks and player progression encompass the whole game. Alongside quick play and custom lobbies, the multiplayer now has GT Sports style scheduled race events – actually, DriveClub did these first – with qualifying to feel into the skill-based matchmaking and your twinned player ratings online.

That’s alongside a new asynchronous multiplayer mode, Rivals. An evolved form of the Community Events from Project Cars 2, there’s more types of events it will throw at you, with a persistent leaderboard pressure from dynamically loaded ghosts of your nearest competitors. You’ll earn Rivals Points by taking part, aiming to improve your standings, which will then see you moving up and down the Rivals Ranking tiers come the end of the month.

While we’ve not been able to go hands on with the game, the footage and B-Roll we have access to reminds me of Slightly Mad’s previous games, most specifically Need for Speed Shift. There’s new post processing effects, refined motion blur, improved camera shake and impact effects, and you can feel that in the dynamism of the camera through the racing. In particular, it accentuates the speed by pulling the camera back, widening the field of view that you have, and then shoving you forward again as you brake or in the momentary hiccup of a chunky gear shift.

It’s a sensationalised style that feels like it’s trying to appeal to the mainstream, and that’s certainly been a focus for Slightly Mad, with the promise of a new gamepad handling model and improved array of assists to make the game more accessible. I’m not going to complain about better gamepad feel!

That said, I’m not completely sold on the direction that the series is taking with the third entry. While I’ve not always gelled with Project Cars and some of the quirks of its design, I could appreciate the rough and ready challenger’s appeal when held up alongside the glitz of Forza Motorsport and the more subdued excellence of Gran Turismo. It did something different with its career and the array of race categories that it offers, letting you drop into whatever you fancied driving. Project Cars 3 seems to be trading in a lot of that for something more straightforward, something that almost feels more traditional.

Obviously the hope is that the game can find a balance between making things more accessible through the more linear career and game-like progression, while making quality of life improvements online for those existing fans who want the depth of sim racing and esports potential. If a narrowed focus leads to for a game that’s more refined and polished, while appealing to more people, that can only be a good thing.

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1 Comment

  1. As a player who likes to complete every event in every class of car (I like to get my money’s worth) but normally run out of time to complete everything I’m liking the sound of a more linear career mode.

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