Project Cars Review
A decent but inconsistent simulation title that will appeal to a specific audience
Before Kickstarter and other crowd-funded initiatives took off in the video game space, individual publishers had already started to engage their fanbases directly. Through the 'World Of Mass Development' portal, racing veterans at Slightly Mad Studios were able to successfully raise over 3 million dollars for the development of a simulation racing game that would compete with the publisher-backed titles. After 13 months of public funding, as well as contributing over 2 million of their own funds, Slightly Mad Studios received enough to create the game they and their backers wanted. The result of these efforts is Project Cars, a sim racing title that delivers a solid experience, but feels lacking in some areas compared to the staples of the genre.
Before we get into the nitty-gritty of the simulation racing, let's talk features. If you are coming into this game expecting a rich, progression-based and focused career mode akin to Forza or Gran Turismo, you'll be disappointed. Having said that, some fans will appreciate the fact that all racing disciplines are unlocked from the start, and you can begin a career in any of them. From karts to GT3 and GT4, all the way to cutting edge Le Mans Prototypes, there is a lot of variety here. In a way, Project Cars is like an open world sim racing game, the first of its kind in recent times.
During the career, you'll get offers from sponsors for a racing season, which will dictate what events you'll participate in, as well as your car. But beyond that, there's not much to do. The game presents three "lifetime" goals to aim for, but the season to season gameplay gets boring quickly. You're at the mercy of the game to give you decent sponsorship offers, so if you hoped to switch to another racing discipline after three seasons of Karts, you better hope to get lucky. Similarly, after dominating GT3, your next season offers may very well include only lower disciplines. Occasional invitation events attempt to break up the monotony by offering one-off races. Still, there's just not much point to the career. There is no experience to gain, no currency, no levelling up and no car collecting or upgrading. You'll race what's given to you, and like it. The only visual customization option is buried deep in menus.
There's no real reason to play career mode over the free play modes. Project Cars doesn't have to be the same car-collecting, XP-heavy game as the major console racing franchises – but it still needed some sense of achievement and constant upward progression. It's not like a career in a sim game has to be so barebones - other sim games, such as recently reinvigorated MotoGP franchise, handle it much better.
In total, there are over 100 tracks to undertake (many being partial or otherwise modified versions of the same 30 locations), each offering a unique set of challenges. The genre staples like Nordschleife, Sonoma Raceway, Laguna Seca, Silverstone and Road America are joined by newcomers like Circuit Zolder, Oulton Park, and Brno Circuit. Though the tracks are obviously well representative of their real life counterparts, dedicated simulation fans may be disappointed that they were not all laser scanned for perfect accuracy. Some of the details on the sides of the track are also of varying visual quality.
A modest car selection list will greet players after the track is decided upon. Vehicles fall into a number of categories, from Retro Touring, Road, GT and Open Wheel all the way to modern stars like McLaren P1 and the Pagani Huarya, or even Le Mans Prototypes. Mercedes, RUF, and BMW are well represented. It's a decent selection, given the wide variety of racing disciplines on offer, though fans of Forza/GT would likely wish there were more. Iconic brands like Ferrari, Honda and Nissan are missing, and the total number of cars is below 70, though more are promised as free or paid DLC. And as mentioned, all content is unlocked from the start.
Gearheads should have a good time with the cars. Each can be tuned in a variety of ways, not unlike other racing games, from tire pressure to gear timing and fuel load. How accurately these miniscule modifications affect the actual experience and the simulation is probably beyond my skill level and understanding. For what it's worth, all of the options don't provide much explanation of their function beyond a short blurb. You can get a glimpse of how changing a setting might affect your car's behavior, but beyond that you'd need to be an expert and/or do some online research before tweaking the finer aspects of your ride. And since there are no high-level changes to make (such as new parts), this in-depth tweaking is all the customization you get.
As you prepare to finally feel the asphalt through your perfectly tuned ride and calibrated controller, you'll note that the game annoyingly fails to present the layout of the track at any point before the race. Now is also the time to make any final adjustments to the car, select appropriate tires, and so forth. If you're not the sort to spend a lot of time reading the previous paragraph, there is an option for automatically generated settings to be used. Depending on the type of event you're entering, tires need time to warm up before you're able to fully push the corners. After that, you're off the mark.
The handling in Project Cars is a mixed bag. It's pitched as a simulator, and should you be a daring soul that selects the most realistic handling settings at the start of the game, I hope you have a wheel. For the purposes of this review and what I imagine most players will use, a controller and the medium/Pro gameplay settings were employed. Coming from Forza, Gran Turismo, or recent DiRT games, you're in for a different kind of thrill. Slightly Mad Studios did create the more forgiving Need for Speed Shift and Shift 2 Unleashed, but Project Cars is much more in line with the company's previous sim-focused classics like GTR2, when they were still under the banner of SimBin Studios.
To determine if Project Cars is any better at simulating car racing than other games of its ilk, like iRacing, Assetto Corsa or Rfactor, would probably take an expert of the genre. As someone who's put in his time with GTR2 back in the day, and all the latest "simcades" on PC and console, the handling in Project Cars is decent but unreliable. Managing your throttle, cornering, and braking are just some of the unforgiving keys to success. But, the handling can be inconsistent. It often feels like you're losing grip for no reason, and there is no real feedback from the game when the car starts to slip. Skidding off the track and losing grip are the themes of every track day. You could take on the same corner multiple times in a race (obviously in the same car) and despite your best efforts, you'll often end up with different results. Sometimes you'll nail it, but the following attempt will be a near-catastrophe, even as you follow the racing line perfectly and applying exactly the same throttle and wheel turn. You can go from dominating to last place in a second, and the frustrating part is that you don't always know why. There are no arcade-style rewinds, of course.