Project CARS consistently produces great looking trailers, but is that really all there is?
“If you stick with a specific car you’ll start to appreciate its various nuances, and with tuning, overcome some of its quirks.”
I am not going to talk about Project CARS’ graphics or sound design. Those are on a par with any AAA game out there. Instead, I am going to offer my impressions of the game’s mechanics, which is really what makes or breaks a racing game.
Project CARS is a game I went into expecting rigid, accurately simulated driving mechanics. I expected it to be less “fun” than my traditional go-to racing games. I was wrong. And I was also right.
Before starting off with a free practice on Spa, I was greeted with a good selection of cars covering multiple classes and disciplines. I chose a GT class car and was given the option to tune it. Tuning covers settings like brake bias, brake pressure, traction control and others. Fast forward to Nürburgring a few minutes later, and I was braking hard but struggling to nail those tight turns. I applied more pressure to the rear brakes to make them just a little bit more responsive, though I suffered a little for it on those flying straights, because the over-steer karma got me.
Pit strategies can be set up pre-race, and even saved for later. You can choose a different tyre compound for each wheel, ending up with four different compounds, in case you’re some sort of crazy person. It’s easy to imagine the different track conditions that will get you to try out various pit stop strategies.
You are more or less free to do whatever you want in free practice, but things get less forgiving when you take part in a race weekend. Any small bump or contact with other cars and you’ll end up spinning out. The upside is that wheel-to-wheel racing is much more present and much more rewarding, because if you can maintain your distance from parallel cars going into a corner, chances are the AI will chicken out and you will take the lead. As soon as that gets old, you can raise the AI racers’ difficulty or change their car class to offer several layers of challenges.
But none of this is overwhelming. The game does a good job of not beating you over the head with any of it. All these options are incredibly easy to access and are explained fairly well. The handling model is less forgiving than your typical arcade racer, but it’s forgiving enough that you don’t need to worry about those settings at all, at least not on either the Novice or Amateur settings.
Project CARS supports true free-camera look, meaning any slight movement of the right analogue stick will move the view slightly to that direction. So it’s easy to just glance at the rear view mirror, without the need to look behind you. The same applies to both of the side mirrors, which I imagine would be all the more impressive with a peripheral like Track IR.
The racing experience specifically feels more alive than in most other racing games. Tracks have a good amount of laps by default, and the emphasis is on gaining positions, not finishing first every time. Team radio will support you when you are falling behind, and it will let you know you’re closing in on someone and ask you to keep the pressure. It’ll even warn you if you exceed track limits too often.
“Wheel-to-wheel racing is more rewarding, because if you can maintain your distance from parallel cars going into a corner, chances are the AI will chicken out and you will take the lead.”
After a while with the game a strange bond with your car will start to form, not unlike a character in an RPG. You will find yourself picking up a car for a race based on your previous experience with it, not looks or flare, which is more than can be said for some recent racing games. If you stick with a specific car you’ll start to appreciate its various nuances, and with tuning, overcome some of its quirks. And race after race, you’ll see all those elements come together. Eventually you’ll feel a sense of achievement that is hard to get out of a game like Forza and to a lesser extent, Grid. It doesn’t hurt that Project CARS is filled with passion for the sport. It’s all over it, in fact. From the customisable interface, the music track layered over radio chatter that haunts the menus, to the Rudolf Caracciola quote on the loading screen.
It’s hard for a new racing IP to establish itself in today’s market – there’s just too many of them. Every niche is covered. You’ve got your casual arcadey racers, your hardcore simulation-all-the-way elites, and those that mix and match. But I can see Project CARS establishing a new niche for itself, especially on consoles, where there are less options outside of exclusives.
These impressions are based on a PC preview code provided by publisher Namco Bandai.