Project CARS

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Win high-stakes, high-speed races with a variety of stylish super cars.

PC Release: May 6, 2015

By Ian Coppock

When it comes to sports that bind the world together, motorsports are superseded only by soccer in terms of global popularity. Whether it’s watching a NASCAR race here in America or a Formula One tourney in Europe, audiences from across oceans are drawn together by the spectacle of watching cars go really, really, really fast. Racing enthusiasm is one of the foundations of the video game world, with racing games having been around just as long as titles in most other genres. In recent years, that enthusiasm has manifested in the form of ultra-realistic driving simulators such as Project CARS.

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Project CARS is a community-assisted racing simulator (hence the acronym CARS) developed by a cabal of racing-obsessed Brits called Slightly Mad Studios. True to its name, Project CARS was developed with funds raised by the game’s community, allowing Slightly Mad to initially bypass using a publisher. Project CARS is but one of many racing sims released in recent years that seeks to create a driving experience as true to the real deal as possible. This game ain’t no arcade stunt racer (though those are fun too).

Though few would guess it from looking at the game now, Project CARS had quite a turbulent development. Despite spending four years in the garage, the game shipped with a ton of bugs; the exact number is impossible to approximate, but it was undoubtedly way too high for how much time and money had gone into the game. To make matters worse, studio head Ian Bell decided that the best way to address complaints was to belittle and insult his own backers, infamously typing “shut up you idiot” in response to a concerned buyer.

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We seem to be having a spot of car trouble.

Eventually, Bell and his cohorts realized that being censor-happy and rude to their paying customers was probably not a great idea and decided to devote that time to fixing their game instead. To their credit, they succeeded; Project CARS shot out of the gate with lots of rusty lug nuts and a faulty transmission, but now it runs like a dream on PC. True, the game does require a high-end machine, but its system requirements are thoroughly advertised on all of the game’s store pages.

Players who do have an issue running Project CARS can check out its options menu, which may well be one of the greatest options menus of all time. There’s no facet of the Project CARS experience that players can’t adjust, whether it’s how sharply the car’s surfaces render or how slick rainy roads look. Project CARS is also designed to run with any controller and makes setup easy with its fluid key and button binding menus. A gamepad or racing wheel is always better for driving than a keyboard and mouse is.

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NOW we’re on the right track!

Project CARS features a variety of game modes that each have different rules and conditions, but their common goal is to create a racing experience that’s as realistic as possible. The game does away with the vehicular invincibility afforded by arcade racers like Need for Speed (as players who are accustomed to an arcade racing experience will quickly realize). Project CARS‘ adherence to realistic physics is to be commended; cars can’t turn on a dime if they’re speeding (unless it’s an F1 car) and tires heat up as the race progresses, altering how vehicles handle.

Project CARS seeks to replicate other features of real-world racing experiences. Players who are in it for a long race can create their own refueling and pit strategies, which are both handy for endurance runs. Damage realistically hampers vehicles; shouldering a road barrier, for example, is likely to throw off alignment and give players an extra headache until the next pit. Players can receive advice from an in-game racing crew, who can hint (rather emphatically) when it’s time for a trip to the body shop.

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This thing feels lighter all the sudden… must be hitting turbo mode!

All of this realism demands some familiarity with the world of motorsports, so players who buy Project CARS for a casual racing experience are likely to feel bewildered by all the options, modes, and stats. To be fair to the newbs, Project CARS could do a better job of introducing novices to the world of racing sims. The game gives a lot of great customization options, like being able to determine how much air goes into each tire, but never provides a detailed explanation on how that choice impacts driving.

Motorheads and racing sim veterans, on the other hand, will immediately warm up to Project CARS‘s in-depth customization. The ability to adjust tire pressure, pick tire type, and choose between a manual or automatic transmission does provide a delectable challenge, as does editing pit strategies. All of this customization also allows for endless experimentation with different cars and handling. The base version of Project CARS comes with 74 vehicles and more are available as DLC, so anyone who wants to sink hundreds of hours into comparing and customizing cars will enjoy this title.

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Connect the ubulus to the upper dorsenisk, and the hyperdrive to the flux capacitor… see? I know what I’m doing!

Although Project CARS is nigh unparalleled when it comes to vehicle detail, the same cannot be said of the races. Anyone who’s considering buying this title should do so for the online mulitplayer, because Project CARS‘ AI is… primitive. Computer-controlled cars do everything from bunch together at corners to drive in a straight line. Amusingly, they’ll often swerve as far away from an approaching human racer as possible, as if the player has a deadly disease or something.

Additionally, Project CARS is highly inconsistent at penalizing bad driving. Sometimes the game disqualifies racers for so much as looking at a traffic cone, but if they should careen off the road and take out a family of onlookers? No problem. Project CARS has a similarly unpredictable attitude about hitting other cars; if this game is to be believed, totaling an opponent’s car is okay, but brushing its bumper is grounds for a lifetime ban. Because realism.

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“For the high crime of staring at your AC dial the wrong way, Project CARS sentences you to death.”

So how exactly are all these cars and racetracks organized? As previously mentioned, Project CARS features several racing modes. The most basic is the free practice mode: pick a car, pick a track, go drive. Solo racing is virtually identical to the practice mode… come to think of it, it’s hard to spot what the actual difference between the two is. Online mode comprises the meat of Project CARS, where players can join ranked and free-end racing tournaments against other human drivers.

The last, and arguably biggest, mode in Project CARS is the career mode, in which players can create a fictionalized version of themselves to compete in racing tournaments all over the world. Players can pick whether to start out small as a kart racer or skip straight to the big leagues driving F1 supercars, and partake in races that span a season. This mode is alright; it’s endlessly entertaining to see fictional racing fans tweet about how awesome a racer the player is… but much less so to undertake the same tournaments over and over again.

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Winning millions of NPC hearts with each and every race!

It’s understandable for gamers in this day and age to be skeptical of screenshots, given how often devs airbrush the living hell out of them (cough*Ubisoft*cough). The screenshots in this review, though, are barely airbrushed. Project CARS looks gorgeous, with vivid colors and textures on all of its cars and courses. The game also features impressive lighting and weather effects to drive home the notion that this game seeks realism in its world as much as its mechanics.

Project CARS‘s attention to detail also extends to its lineup of vehicles. 74 cars isn’t all that many to choose from, but the game counts vehicles from such big names as Aston Martin, Renault, Audi, and McLaren in its garage (commence the flame war over which of those aren’t actually big names). Project CARS also misses vehicles from a few big names, like Ferrari and Porsche, but this could be due as much to licensing issues as any mistake made by Slightly Mad Studios.

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Apparently I forgot to mention BMW.

Project CARS is relevant to the modern racing sim fan for a few reasons: for starters, playing against other humans in a sim as realistic as this one is quite the adrenaline rush. The game also features a wide variety of tracks based on courses from all over the globe, as well as a mid-sized range of high-end cars. Additionally, few sims give players as much control over their racing experience as Project CARS does, from its near-endless options menu to all the vehicle customization.

Ultimately, though, racing fans in the market for an exciting sim might as well wait for Project CARS 2 to drop in mid-September. The sequel promises more cars, more tracks, and even more customization. Slightly Mad has also pledged to fix Project CARS‘s mediocre AI and its schizophrenic penalty system, both of which also warrant holding off on buying this title. Even though Slight Mad Studios got more than slightly mad during Project CARS‘s development, the studio demonstrated eventual maturity by fixing nearly all of this game’s bugs. Here’s hoping they pay similar attention to Project CARS 2.

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You can buy Project CARS here.

Thank you for reading! My next review will be posted in a few days. You can follow Art as Games on Twitter @IanLayneCoppock, or friend me at username Art as Games on Steam. Feel free to leave a comment or email me at ianlaynecoppock@gmail.com with a game that you’d like to see reviewed, though bear in mind that I only review PC games.