What is it: Fan-backed racer that celebrates all things automotive
Influenced by: The asphalt, from entry level karting to the very pinnacle of speed
Reviewed on: GTX 970, 8GB RAM, Intel i5 CPU
Alternatively: Anything by Codemasters, NFS Shift
Price: £39.99 / $49.99
Release: May 7 2015
Developer: Slightly Mad Studios
Publisher: Slightly Mad Studios, Bandai Namco Entertainment
Link: Official site
Multiplayer: Up to 24-players
The line between simulation and arcade has blurred substantially throughout the years. I’m pretty sure it’s because developers have finally got wise to the fact that sterile sim racers are just rarely much fun to play, no matter how realistic the suspension tuning options are. But I think it’s also a matter of audience appeal—the threat of having to be liked by everyone. That makes it all the more refreshing that developer Slightly Mad studios has found a way to make simulation exciting again, but without cramming with fluff or compromising on its vision.
It’s the most polished racer I’ve played in a while, for sure. While contemporaries like Codemasters have struggled to deliver a game worthy of the most up to date graphical expectations with its F1 series, Project CARS really shines. The engine that Slightly Mad has built is impressive, from the interior detail on all 60 or so cars to the environmental design on every single one of its many varied circuits across the globe. It’s quite a familiar line-up, with legendaries like Le Mans, Spa-Francorchamps and Monte-Carlo, but this is undoubtedly the best that any of these oft-raced tracks have ever looked on my PC. There are also a couple of fictionalised point-to-point courses, one through the gorgeous Côte d'Azur and another through the rocky Californian highlands, which looks stunning under the setting sun. All of this content comes bolstered with a day/night system and breath-taking dynamic weather that delivers some of the most realistic looking rain I’ve ever seen.
Project CARS has given me a real challenge from get-go. This is an unforgiving, tough racer that requires patience and skill, especially if you’re using a gamepad. You can’t just sling your car into the apex and hope to drift out the other side unscathed. CARS is about learning each discipline individually—studying it, mastering it.
It’s easy to get caught off guard as well, as Slightly Mad takes a unique approach to its career mode by allowing you open access to any of its many disciplines straight away. Events take place across a calendar, and each event is separated into several days with practice sessions, qualifying and the big race itself. Starting slow is advised, and while it’s tempting to hop into a McLaren the first time you boot the game up, I guarantee it’ll be a case of spin after spin after spin until you get the hang of things.
From entry level karts and beyond into the realms of LMP and Prototype, each discipline has its own set of races and smaller championships you’ll progress through to earn contract options at more advanced teams. Project Cars diversifies its racing to a real extreme, and every new car type is wildly different. Karts are sketchy, sporadic beasts that twitch across the track with an unpredictable ferociousness, Touring cars are heftier, more deliberate and the steering sensitivity is much lower, while the McLaren P1 and other hyper cars are almost repellent to the road. Playing with a gamepad often borders on impossible when racing these—I’m a firm believer that a racing game should be playable by everyone and not just the purist elite with force-feedback wheels and racing seats, and CARS doesn’t entirely deliver on that front. An extensive list of driving assists from braking and steering assistance to traction control, difficulty tweaks and AI options give you the option to tailor your game to an impressive degree, but it doesn’t eradicate the problems entirely.
Still, the satisfaction I got from visibly improving on track timetables is unparalleled. My personal forte was the F1000 series—a comparably low-powered open-wheel discipline exclusive to the UAE region of the Middle East. It was where I really begun to notice my own progression curve, from snagging second-to-last on the grid in every practice and qualifying session, to stringing together flash outside-overtakes and podium finishes. That thrill gave me the want to take other racing types and master them in a similar vein—even if some of them might prove futile with a gamepad.
It’s crystal clear that Slightly Mad knows what its hardcore audience wants, and I’m really happy that it stuck to its guns in order to deliver it. That’s pretty rare nowadays, especially when your vision comes at the expense of wider audience appeal. With more content on the way and a hardcore community already set to get involved in its 24-player lobbies, I’m really looking forward to seeing how this game evolves over the next few weeks and months.