Slightly Mad Studios loves to throw around the tag ‘for racing fans, by racing fans’ but when it comes to Project CARS, they mean it. In many ways this is a game was developed by racing fans, but not just that, it was partially crowdfunded. The backers of the project were able to access the game in the very early stages and engage in discussions with developers to ensure the game came together and was the game they wanted.
Project CARS is a driving simulator and one of it’s biggest selling points is its realism in visual quality, physics weather and more. So with the game released this week, I’ve spent dozens of hours on it and it’s time to evaluate the final release.
When you fire up the game you’ll very quickly want to jump into a Solo quick race so you can try out your favourite car on your favourite track. For me it was the McLaren P1 around Bathurst. After you’ve exhausted your curiosity, it’s time to get to the Career Mode.
Unlike most games that make you start with the worst vehicle and make you work through hours of monotonous driving to get to the car you really want to race, CARS lets you start anywhere. Despite that, I chose to start with go-karts, weird, but I felt like I had to experience that pain to be rewarded with better acceleration, braking and handling later on.
We’ll deal with controls in detail later, but as a fire impression with karts, this was most certainly not Forza. When you think about it, anytime I’ve driven go-karts in my life (something I seriously enjoy) they do handle considerably different to my road car and the game reflects that difference. The karts are more than go and stop, they have gears and if you like to push yourself (I do) you’ll choose manual.
After struggling to avoid spinning out, I looked around online and found others were complaining as well. With an Xbox One controller, handling karts, particularly around slow corners is basically a nightmare, you can get used to it if you’re persistent, but it takes a long time to get good. The worst part is that’s probably how those relatively high performance, light-weight machines operate, but we’re so accustomed to the compensation for driver inputs in other games, we’re simply not programmed for it.
Progressing through the ranks and winning the first championship then sees you visit other classes and after 5-6 hours, I found myself behind the wheel of a Porsche, Audi and McLaren. It’s important to pay attention to the difficulty slider ahead of a race, unlike most this gives fine grained control on a numeric scale, rather than easy, medium, hard. This means you can tune it to have competition, without being too easy or too hard.
The neat thing about career events is that they simulate the real thing, keeping inline with the goals of the game. This means you get practice, qualifying and races. Qualifying well will place you in the best position for the race. Speaking of racing, some races have forced pit stops and real tyre wear, fuel burn and damage are all available options. Actually the number of options in this game are kind of insane, if you’ve ever wanted to experiment with camber, suspension, braking balance to perfect your vehicle setup, this game lets you do that in a very serious way.
I have definitely had mixed results with Online, most times searching for a match takes minutes, long enough to give up on. The few times I have entered a match I have experienced lag problems on an otherwise stable connection. There’s clearly work to be done here.
This mode is all about keeping things fresh with new challenges. Events usually involve setting the best time around a track with a certain car, by a certain date. It’s a good way to find out how you fit in relation to the rest of the community and provides a nice break if you need a different challenge than Career.
Cars and Tracks
This game features more than 60 cars, 30 unique locations with at least 110 different courses combinations. Compared to other racing titles, the number of cars is low and chances are you won’t find the car in your driveway. This is disappointing as racing your own is always fun, even modifying it in-game to approximate changes you’d make in the real world.
What Project CARS offers is a diversity not often seen. Everything from go-karts, to prototypes, road cars, GT and touring as well as a stock car and plenty of open wheel options.
The track selection feels comprehensive and will keep you interested for a long, long time. Being Australia, I was keen to check out Bathurst and was rewarded with a realistic representation of the famous mountain. The developers have captured the new high-rise accommodation along the last turn. If you need a rise in heart rate, try racing Bathurst with a full grid of high-performance cars, something the game excels at. Large grids of up to 30 cars make racing more exciting, more incidents and more competitive.
User Darandomizer on the Project CARS subreddit suggests we may not have to wait too long for our first DLC car park for the game. His screenshot of an event screen, contains a reference to “Racing Icons Car Pack. Available 5th June”. Let’s hope this is the first of many over the game’s lifetime.
This game is released on the PC, Xbox One and PS4 and the interface definitely feels like it was built for PC. The amount of information crammed onto one screen is more than I’ve seen in any other Xbox game. When you hit the settings and vehicle setup screens, you’ll know exactly what I mean. It feels much like it was developed for PC and ported to the consoles without the attention to detail that it needed. Reading text in your messages is near impossible at a 10-foot experience, hopefully an update will address the font size and layout issues.
Getting in and out of the settings menu is pretty broken, taking up to 10-15 seconds to back out after making a change. An unacceptable length of time. Developers need to fix this immediately with a patch as I found myself wanting to make a change, but knowing the time required, I avoided it and just put up with the problem.
Of course the visuals inside the game are fantastic. On a quick look, you may not notice everything that’s going on, but after spending time with the game, you’ll notice nice touches that mean it really is a leap forward from Forza and others. The new helmet cam that contains live field of view effects that place your focus on the apex of a corner.
The Xbox One version is clearly compromised compared to the highest-end PC rig. If you’re in any doubt, check out videos on YouTube of the in 4K, that is stark difference to the quality available on the Xbox One. In the PC vs Console war, it’s 1-0 to the PC when it comes to Project CARS. That certainly doesn’t mean the console versions don’t look great, they do, but if you’re debating which platform, PC wins on quality, just make sure you have the latest hardware.
The configuration editor for your heads up display (HUD) and its incredibly well done. Usually you get the layout you’re given, but being able to personalise the location of everything on your screen puts you in the driving seat. If you want the track map on the right and the mirror at the bottom, with the speedo on the left, you can do it. This is a strong asset for the game and something every driving game, actually every driving or shooting game should include.
This game has hands-down the best smoke of any driving game I’ve played. One of the first things to try is some circle work and what you’ll find is that smoke doesn’t disappear in a few short seconds. The smoke pools in an area and if you know what you’re doing, you can make the car disappear. This is an amazingly difficult technical feat, one the developers should be rewarded for.
Another impressive part of the game is it’s damage engine. If you want to be as far away from arcade racer as you can get, then turn on real damage in the settings. Impacts with the wall, tyre bundles or even other competitors, can have you windows smash, your body work fall off and even snap wheels completely off. Physics in this game, from the suspension travel over a ripple strip, to hard collisions area really well done and a real strength. It is brutal when in set to real, but guess what makes you feel like it’s real, the risk that your race is over if you have an accident.
The weather system in Project CARS allows for up to 4 slots of weather to be cycled through during a race. This is far more control than we’ve seen before and boy is the wet weather awesome. Water pools in areas of the track and the reflections you get from standing water (even as the track dries) is fantastic.
The windscreen wipers actually work and you get to control them in this game. When it’s pouring rain, you’ll definitely need them. The rain is bad, but the spray that comes off the back of other vehicles is blinding. There is just one speed for the wipers, unlike your road car, so it’d be great to see them add a double-tap on the down button of the plus pad for double wiper speed.
There’s plenty of races where the setting sun creates a solar flare that blinds you and if you’re in a GP car, you may get some protection from the tint at the top of the window, but most formats, it’s blinding. The only real way to tackle this is to know the track really well, know where your braking markers are and hit those points.
Everyone who plays racing games will have a camera preference. Some prefer to take the 3rd-person view and see the whole car to allow a better understanding of the vehicles around you, particularly important when turning in for a corner. Personally I prefer to simulate reality, so in-car is usually the camera I go for.
In Project CARS, they have the standard behind the wheel view, but they also have a unique center-mounted camera. This is completely weird and not something I think many people will find as a favourite. Pan your vision to the side and you’ll see the driver (you), yep just weird.
The biggest success is the first person view, which places the camera in the driver’s helmet. To really complete the feeling of actually being there, the view adds depth of field, which means your peripheral view is out of focus, which is the way our eyes work in reality. There’s an option (on by default) to have the focus point turn to focus on the apex of a corner, leave this on, it’ll help once you get used to it. Particularly on long sweeping bends, you need to look where you’re going to, not straight ahead and this is unique view creates the realest driving experience I’ve ever had at home.
When it comes to custom liveries for your vehicles, you simply can’t do it on the console versions. PC gamers get to develop and share their own designs, something I frankly expected to be available. Actually the game is severely lacking in customisation and doesn’t permit you to customise your vehicles in any way other than settings. No adding body kits, tinting windows, changing rims, nothing, omissions like this are a big deal as they’re so well established in driving games, it’s expected and I’d be lying if I wasn’t disappointed to find this isn’t available.
My thoughts on the audio in this game has changed over time. Initially, with the go-karts, I couldn’t get over the annoying high-pitched buzzing which sounds unlike any go-karts I’ve heard. After moving on from kart racing, the production and GT vehicles are far more accurate and combined with your choice of view, will give you a very realistic sound when pushing hard with the right foot.
By far the most impressive representation of sound in this game was using the McLaren 12C GT around the corkscrew at Laguna Seca. This famous track has been in plenty of games, but none have provided the same feeling of height dropoff as this game. As you downshift from 4th to 1st to take the slowest corner on the track, you hear stones flicking up, under the car’s body. You hear the solid exchange of the gear shifts and maybe some brake locking if you’ve been too aggressive.
The single most impressive sound was the body scraping on the ground. That may sound like a strange sound to be impressed by, but if you were to be at that track, with that car and take that corner aggressively, the body work would scrape and you’d hear it. That’s exactly the realism that Project CARS is meant to deliver and thankfully, it does an amazing job here.
The Xbox One controller and no doubt the PS4 controller work with this game, kind of. It will accelerate, it will brake, it will turn corners, but you’ll struggle, a lot. Basically this game is built for real driving fans and with that, many have a steering wheel and pedals setup. You’ll find a list of supported peripherals on the game’s website, but after persisting with it for a number of hours, I knew what I needed to do.
I purchased the Ferrari 458 Spider Racing Wheel and Pedals by Thrustmaster, because of Project CARS. I’m a racing fan, so these were easy to justify and while these don’t have force feedback, that doesn’t matter, it’s the precision of movement I was after. Once I moved to this steering wheel and pedals the game transformed for me. If the most difficult of vehicles to control (go karts or F1) became manageable, but more importantly fun and realistic.
The movement of my hands on the wheel, was mapped on-screen in real-time. There’s something weird that happens in your brain when there’s no delay between your hands in the real-world and the one on-screen, it’s like everything just disappears and you focus on the road. When was the last time you noticed your hands on the wheel while driving in real life?
My acceleration off the line and out of corners became smoother, which upset the car less. With the accuracy of the wheel’s rotation, I could attack the apex of the corners and hit the ideal racing lines, instead of being worried about just making it around the corner without spinning out. Lap times increased dramatically and the game, it was fun now, like an impressively crazy amount of fun.
Price and Availability
Project CARS is on sale now (released May 7th), available as a digital download from Xbox and PS4, as well as a retail version for those who don’t have data to burn. For PC you can grab it from Steam via their website and the game is also coming to WiiU, but seriously, don’t bother.
The game costs A$99.00 if you get it online, the Digital Edition contains The Standard Edition, The Limited Edition Car Pack and The Modified Car Pack. You can get the game as low as A$78.00 from BigW.
There is a limited edition version available that comes with a steel case and behind-the-scenes book but for the extra coin, it’s hard to justify.
Overall the question is should you buy this game. Project CARS gets a lot of things very right, but does have some glaring omissions that really should be there in any title of this category. Vehicle customisation has to be highest on their development list.
While you technically don’t have to buy a steering wheel and pedals for this game, after doing so, it so fundamentally transforms the experience, I’d recommend it for anyone who’s even semi-serious about racing. It doesn’t even matter which ones, I went with ones that cost A$170.00 and am seriously happy with them. If you can afford a $700 set, plus a force feedback chair and 3x4K displays, then go for it, this game will support you.
After playing for as many hours as I have, must be at least 25-30 now, I feel like I’m only touching the surface and this game could easily entertain for 100+ hours. At a time where FPS titles have as little as 10 hours of content, CARS is a decent value for money equation and for that it’s easy to recommend.
Technically having a game run at 4K on the PC is amazing, and it’s completely crazy that less than 2 years after the launch of the consoles, it’s already not powerful enough for developers. That’s a real problem that will only get worse and something Microsoft and Sony need to address.
Project CARS does offer the most realistic driving simulation available in your home (for a sensible amount of money). If you’re into racing and driving games, get, no questions asked, you’ll find fun, challenging experience with amazing visuals and sound.
One of the best experiences I had with Project CARS, actually with any driving game, was last night during the F1 qualifying in Spain. With a dual-screen setup, I was able to fire up the Catalunya track and select Formula A (F1 equivalent) and go head-to-head on lap times with the real F1 drivers. Sure I was 8 seconds slower than Roseberg, but that experience was fantastic. The F1 commentator from the live coverage was matching the corners I was taking, which felt like he was commentating my driving. If anything I hope this experience becomes possible in F1 2015 which is due out next month, for the first time landing during the F1 Calendar.