Project CARS on PC
For decades, video games have tried to emulate the gasoline-fueled joy of motor racing. While it may never be possible for the medium to truly bring that acrid yet endearing aroma of tire smoke to life in your living room, technology is elevating that dream ever closer to reality. Gaming’s latest screeching tear off the grid toward this mystical finish line, Project CARS, shifts the presentation of automotive excursions in gaming up a gear. Whether or not it can get the heart fluttering like a well-tuned V8 though is another matter.
In terms of where Project CARS sits on the arcade to simulation racer spectrum, it parks itself quite neatly in a spot closer to realism. That’s not to say that the game is in any way inaccessible to the casual racing fan, far from it in fact. While lovers of gear ratio modifications and tire pressure changes can find themselves lost for days in a sea of options, the racer who just wants to blast around in a high-powered supercar can activate a handful of driving assists to get the rev counter flying. There is an overall lean away from pleasing the casual racer though.
This comes from the utterly delightful handling model and intricate detail that’s gone into how each vehicle behaves. Traction has always played a crucial role in bringing the racing game to life, something that the folks over at Slightly Mad Studios recognized when building Project CARS. The condition of your tires has just as great an effect on handling as one might expect, especially when the track is soaked by a rainstorm which leads to a vicious loss of grip unless you pay due care to the road conditions.
It is upon this realistic traction system that Project CARS builds something special. A racing game where, win or lose, the pleasure of driving is enough to feed your desire for satisfaction. In addition to the simple joy of actually driving in the game, its Career Mode speeds along at a unique pace. Instead of going down the standard road of hatchbacks to hypercars, Project CARS completely eschews the traditional progression system and replaces it with one that meets the appetite of the player rather than the designers.
When first stepping into the Career Mode, you can go to whatever tier you may desire. Those who want to get straight into the action can fasten their seatbelts in the higher tiers just as easily as people who want to experience every class of the game’s racing from the very beginning, starting as most racing drivers do in Karting. As more time is spent in the career mode, new opportunities and contracts come along in spades. The major races that are participated in are based upon the contracts which are offered at the end of each year, but it isn’t these that are the most exciting.
It is instead the breadth of other classes of racing on offer that propels Project CARS as one of the best racers to appear on the horizon for racing fans. Tearing around Spa Francorchamps in a BAC Mono as part of your contract and then being allowed to race down the pseudo-Monaco coastline at the wheel of a souped-up Ford Focus brings much needed variety while still giving players the chance to focus upon the series they prefer.
It’s a brilliant move by Slightly Mad Studios. After all, gamers are paying to play Project CARS. Being pushed into kart racing when you really want to take on Laguna Seca’s hallowed Corkscrew would have been the move for most driving games. Project CARS’ decision to put the power in players’ hands is a refreshing one that allows you to really get to the heart of the game you want to play without the need to engage in the trite task of driving a rust-bucket around the same course ad nauseum.
Be wary of running off into the higher reaches though as the cars are much more of a handful. The lower tiered Karts aren’t exactly easy to drive. Compared to a carbon fiber hypercar that avoids the road like a politician avoids tough questions though, they’re child’s play. Handling the horsepower becomes a little easier when you listen closely to your vehicle. Thanks to incredibly realistic sounds, you can often hear the telltale signs of handling issues before having to deal with them.
The circuits upon which you forge your own story as a racing driver tell a story of their own. Even though the majority are based upon real tracks, every single one delivers an authentic experience which ebbs and flows with the theatrical displays one might expect from the colosseum of motorsport. Sadly, even on the more challenging difficulties, your AI opponents attended every class on keeping in line while skipping out on the optional course on racer behavior.
Rather than lock you in wheel-to-wheel gladiatorial conflict, almost every single opponent will let themselves run into a wall or off the track if you have a single wheel on the racing line. They do provide a challenge in their driving skill, but trying to maintain any suspension of disbelief is near-on impossible because they obviously act like cars in a racing game, nothing close to the more unpredictable nature of real drivers.
Luckily this is where the break from an overall aim to present a lifelike experience ends. Outside of the game’s central driving systems, there’s a wealth of additional material to help immerse you in this gasoline-burning world. The calendar through which you enter races is surrounded by a symbolic Twitter feed of sorts is full to the brim with what fans are saying about you, along with news from around the world of racing to create a true sense of authenticity.
Some issues do hold Project CARS back from being a necessary purchase for every gamer out there though. There’s an inconsistency in how your race engineer will interact with you. Even with the symphonic internal combustion engines in the game, the sound of a voice always helps to keep you interested. When your engineer actually talks they don’t give you any worthwhile information. No matter how incredible everything else sounds, an engineer’s voice that made itself heard more than once a month would have helped to humanize Project CARS’ simulated world.
Another shame that holds Project CARS back is an overarching lack of personality. Though there’s an extensive array of content and activities on offer, everything has a somewhat clinical feel. It’s as if all of the aspects present in the game were built to a specification and slotted in as if built upon a production line, with no hidden spurts of artistry or passion bursting across the plane. Just as a handmade ornament has an intangible allure when compared to one built by a robot, Project CARS doesn’t have a beating heart beneath its skin, replaced by a mechanical pump.
Project CARS also fails to gradually offer its accessibility to the uninitiated. Driving assists, racing lines, and traction control all come together to help the casual racer enjoy the game, but if you only want to see a suggested pathway on corners or similarly scale back any help, there’s no middle ground. You either have the guidance or don’t have it at all. It’s options like these that help to ease people into an unadulterated racing experience, and with options like this missing Project CARS could find it hard to establish a fan base among gamers new to motorsport.
Creating a rabid fan base is important to the long-term future of a racing game, especially when looking at the multiplayer elements of Project CARS. An incredibly robust online system is in place for those who want to race competitively against friends or strangers alike. Races online are smooth and enjoyable, however only time will tell if its lifespan will outlast the attention span of most gamers.
In conclusion, Project CARS is a great new entry in the video game racing genre which loses out on pole position by a few tenths of a second. The openly apparent beauty of Project CARS is the first thing that draws you in, with an equally gorgeous driving simulator hiding just below the smooth and silky skin. It may not be for everyone, but Project CARS definitely has all of the parts needed to be well worth the entry fee for all but the most casual of wannabe racers.