Project CARS is a new driving game in a field already packed full of serious contenders. Can this new IP zoom to the front of the pack and stay there until the checkered flag waves? Or is it destined to remain a back-marker, lapped time and again by the more able racers?
We put the game through its paces to see which area it qualifies in first place and which areas it needs a pit crew to work on. Read our review below to find out whether we think Project CARS is worth buying.
Project CARS is a new racing game developed by Slightly Mad Studios and published by Bandai Namco. The “CARS” in the title is actually an acronym meaning “Community Assisted Racing Simulator”.
This is a rather fitting name, as Project CARS definitely veers towards the simulation side of things, and there is already a dedicated community thanks to the game being crowdfunded and openly developed.
Project CARS is set to compete with the heavyweights of the racing genre, such as Gran Turismo and Forza Motorsport. It shares some things in common with both, especially in terms of the handling and realism.
In an effort to differentiate itself, everything is open from the start, and you can dive into any race on any track using any car right from the off. Which is rather refreshing.
The one immediate issue is the distinct lack of instructions on offer, with you left to find your own way around the game. Again, this is refreshing when compared to the hand-holding approach adopted by other titles, but a few more pointers here and there would have been appreciated.
Project CARS is very much a driving simulator, with everything set up to appeal to those who take their driving games seriously. There is the option to turn Project CARS into something approaching an arcade racing game, but those who prefer to just put their foot down and hope for the best should look elsewhere for their thrills.
The old adage that, “Practice makes perfect,” has never been better applied than it is here.
The first time you head out to drive a new car on an unfamiliar track you’ll find things very difficult. Even with all of the driving aids switched on you may still find yourself parked on a grass verge or facing backwards in a gravel trap by the end of the first lap. But things do get easier, as you get used to the way the car handles and also more familiar with the track.
Project CARS is a very good looking game.
The user interface is best described as functional, with PC-style menus used instead of the flashy menus you may be more used to seeing. But you do get used to them very quickly, and actually, this makes them very easy to navigate. Still, just a little more pizzazz would have been nice.
Once you get out onto the track things take a significant turn for the better. The cars are beautifully realized, catching the eye from whatever viewpoint you choose to drive them from. And there are plenty of views to choose from, adding variety above and beyond the standard two or three views available in most racing games.
The tracks look phenomenal, with each being lovingly crafted to match its real-world equivalent. The same is true of the cars, and choosing the cockpit view adds considerable atmosphere. The weather effects are gorgeous, whether the sun is in your eyes or the rain is falling heavily onto your windshield.
Playing The Long Game
Project CARS is an absolute behemoth of a game. If you’re so inclined, you could easily play it from now until this time next year without too much repetition. At least no more repetition than is standard in every driving game. There are dozens of tracks and cars to choose from, and several distinct modes to get lost in.
The career mode is the core of Project CARS. You create a driver, get offered a team to race for, and off you go. You get to decide which level you start at, ranging from karting and road cars to LMP1 and Formula A, with everything else in between.
Starting at the bottom means working your way up gradually, which could, if you want it to, take months of hard work and perseverance. This won’t feel like a chore though, as there is enough variety built in to prevent any feelings of grinding for no apparent reason.
Project CARS employs a calendar, with all of the various championships and race weekends penciled in. You’ll start off only being able to compete in some of these events, being invited to drive at more as you rack up wins and podium places. Which should keep you invested.
Heading online gives you a rundown of the sessions available to join, with most allowing up to 16 players at a time. You choose one, and get a little time to choose your car and prepare for the race. You also get to see who you’ll be racing against, but the absence of matchmaking means you’re never sure until the race begins how good or bad they are at the game.
One small annoyance is the need to keep an eye on the forced restrictions, which are easy to miss. The person in charge of the session could have disabled all driving aids, or require everyone to use manual gears. Both of which could be reason enough for you to quit and find another session.
The races themselves are bags of fun, with up to 16 real-life players trying to wrestle their cars around the track without (too much) incident. Project CARS is affected by the usual minority who, once they realize they’re not going to win, decide to ruin everyone else’s fun. But this is a problem shared by all multiplayer games, and not any fault of this title in particular.
Attention to Detail
If there’s one thing Project CARS does better than the competition it’s the attention to detail. The cars and tracks all look and feel like the real thing. You can feel the different gradients of track, and see bits of your car flying off when you hit a wall.
There’s an accurate in-car view for every single vehicle. The handling differs depending on which car you’re driving. The weather conditions actually affect your chances of getting around the track in one piece. And any changes you make to your car’s set-up are immediately noticeable. All of which should appeal to petrol-heads.
Even the AI, which some people appear to have found lacking, is very good, especially as the ability and aggressiveness can be dialed up or down depending on your skill level. If you’re consistently getting beaten by several seconds, you can quickly and easily change things up to level the playing field. Or vice versa.
Is Project CARS Worth Buying?
So, we come to the crunch. Is Project CARS worth buying? Yes, yes, and thrice yes. But with some rather important caveats thrown in.
As previously mentioned, if you prefer arcade-style handling then you should probably look elsewhere as you’ll find yourself constantly pushing against the tide with Project CARS. While some fun could be had after much fiddling with the settings, this game really isn’t aimed at casual racers.
This game should also be avoided by anyone unwilling to put in some time and effort. Project CARS rewards perseverance and hard work, with initial frustrations eventually giving way to addictive levels of fun. But those who are prone to giving up easily should save their money for an alternative title.
As long as these two elements haven’t put you off then Project CARS is a must-buy. It has a sleek and professional menu system, stunning visuals, enough cars, tracks, and modes to ensure you never get bored, and options aplenty to fiddle with settings until the game is geared specifically for you. And, with prices starting at $49.99, it offers great value.
Project CARS is out now on PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One, with a Wii U edition due out later this year. This review is based on the PlayStation 4 version.
If you have bought Project CARS then please let us know in the comments below what you think of it. Do you agree with this review or not? What, if anything, would you change about the game?