Developer: Slightly Mad Studios
Publisher: Slightly Mad Studios
Platform: Steam, PlayStation 4, XBOX One, Wii U
Genre: Motorsport Simulation
OFLC Rating: G
Racing simulation games aren’t all that common nowadays, but to find one that delivers that authentic experience is an even greater rarity!
The last great racing sim I ever played was NASCAR Racing 2003 Season by Papyrus Design Group and that is my official benchmark for this genre. Forza Motorsport 4 came close, but it is my honest opinion that this new entry is tailing the benchmark and setting one as the most authentic racing experience for console gaming.
This is Project CARS (Community Assisted Racing Simulator), a game that takes racing simulation back that “No Nonsense” standard simulation enthusiasts remember from the 1980s and 1990s. Like most good simulators, it offers a suite of player assistance options to ease the less experienced into the game without compromising the realism options available. When compare to franchises like Gran Turismo and Forza Motorport that focus on the assortment of cars available to fill a player’s imaginary garage with, CARS on the other hand turns it’s attention to the racing environments and the authenticity of a realistic driving experience. The game’s overall focus appears to provide players with a feel for the major motorsport disciplines from kart racing, grand touring to formula racing and the Le Mans 24 Hour.
When you start the game, you are greeted with an intro cinematic that showcases gameplay footage backed by an awesome soundtrack piece that captures the awe of the game with the two and half minutes it runs for – This brief musical piece is something you would expect to hear coming from the music score of a big budget motorsport epic with the harmonious combination of electronica, orchestral, operatic and rock elements. When you have entries like PlayStation’s own Gran Turismo franchise openly boasting with the tagline “The Real Driving Simulator”, Project CARS is one such game that appears to work on the principle of establishing that lasting first impression.
When you first start up the game you are presented with the tile-based user interface and concise spoken guide (voiced by Kathleen Stavert) that you will become accustomed to, presenting you with three options catering to your experience with racing simulation games – These are presets designed to allow you to test your skills. However, upon diving deeper in the assistance and realism options you will be able to tailor this game to any level of player experience. In fact, Project CARS once you strip back the polish is a traditional simulator that allows you to do anything within the game’s construct based on what settings you dial in so to speak. Unlike console racing simulations, there is no progression system holding you back. All installed (eg. Installation, DLC, etc.) content is made available to you from the beginning – Although, CARS does have a race weekend set up for you the first time you play in order to get familiar with what the game can do. Beyond that, CARS allows you to dive right in and craft whatever racing experience you can put together within the confines of this simulator.
So what experience can you craft?
Starting with the games general settings you can change how driving assists, fields of view for each camera, visual effects, control setups and so on. Now, upon looking at the course and vehicle selection does this simulator’s emphasis become clear. Whilst simulators like Gran Turismo may offer a wide selection of cars and tracks, CARS opts for quality over quantity – In fact, this simulator’s diversity focuses on the racing disciplines available. Normally after playing todays racing sims, you’d think there isn’t much different between the styles of competition. You couldn’t be any more mistaken, because each vehicle classes used in each competition behave very differently to one another. Karts accelerate, brake, turn at breakneck speeds in comparison to typical road cars. Formula racing vehicles require lightning reflexes to keep up with their speed, acceleration and handling. Grand touring and road vehicles are about the most similar between the classes. Then you have the prototype racers of Le Mans 24 Hour series which are completely different driving experience all together. Thing these racing disciplines have in common are how you approach this game – Unlike today’s racing games, CARS more or less has you using similar techniques one would out on the road in same way racing simulation games of old did. For anyone who plays something like Need For Speed for example, will find themselves (with the all the assistance options switched off) spinning out of control and blowing an engine without the proper discipline. In fact, anyone who is familiar with racing simulators on PC systems from as far back as twenty or thirty years ago would most likely feel right at home playing CARS as this is it’s realistic driving experience harkens back to those very days. Part of what makes this simulator one of the most authentic experiences in this day and age are it’s dynamic weather settings and how they affect your vehicles handling and performance.
Project CARS offers a wide degree of support for both standard console controllers and driving simulator rigs (Racing wheel, pedals, shifter, etc.) along with the ability to tweak your hardware setups to accommodate a wide range of control styles.
This game features a Career mode that is pretty basic, where you choose a starting point (style and tier of competition) and sign with a starting team. From there you enter in event on your teams racing calendar and track your progress via statistics and pseudo-social media feed. With enough success you will be able to attract interest from other teams with the prospect of racing in more events in your competition or even stepping up to new scene entirely. Single race options allow you create a weekend event, time trial or just jump straight into a race. Multiplayer allows you to create or join online race meetings – But just when you were wondering where the infuriating licence tests and driver challenge roadblocks are… That’s (again) due to the absence of a progression system racing games have made players accustomed to in recent decades. Driver challenges are available by choice and won’t make you jump through hoops to demonstrate your skill, but rather do things “The Old Fashioned Way!” – You compete on the community leaderboard as you take on a designated course and vehicle clocking the fastest times.
On the subject of clocking times, one of CARS’ assistance options allows you to toggle penalties – With this option active you need to be wary of cutting the track, false starts and unnecessary collisions as you can either have your lap time invalidated or be disqualified. One thing I find particularly annoying is the penalty that renders your car ghost-like after hitting other cars on the track too many times – While I can appreciate that you have total muppets who like nothing more than to cause chaos when others have come to race, having this “Nanny Minded” penalty feature in single player sessions is unnecessary and a turn-off for a good quality simulator.
For anyone looking to playing sessions against the AI will find it to be an experience between Gran Turismo’s stubborn “sticking to the driving line” nature and Forza’s more human AI that will make mistakes from time to time – That’s just scratching the surface of the AI’s nature. Expect AI players to be fierce and unpredictable as they can drive around you one second then charging through you like a convoy of crazy truckers smashing a police barricade the next.
Now for a point I saved for last, the garage.
This particular aspect of the game is both necessary while at the same time requires a certain degree of understanding to fully appreciate. Just as no two cars behave in the same way, it is equally true that there no one setup for all courses. Whilst all cars have a default setup, it isn’t a universal one but rather a setup that allows you to get used to the basics of that particular vehicle. Eventually, you will need to begin creating setups tailored for specific cars on specific courses. But to do that you need to understand the following points.
Know your vehicle. Know your course. Know your hardware. Know yourself.
When creating setups you have the option to tweak both your car and your controller – Assuming your using a force feedback racing wheel rig, the “Force Feedback” section will be one place you want to spend time in before saving your setup. Otherwise, if you’re using a typical dual analog gamepad (which all supported consoles feature them as standard) you can quite easily skip this section all together. When creating setups, you need to take into account your overall driving style as well as the both car and course – Because you will find that someone who is aggressive will use a radically different setup to someone drives safe. Aside from the multiplayer aspect of the game, Project CARS (as previously stated) is acronym for Community Assisted Racing Simulator – Whilst the game gives tips as how to make adjustments to your vehicle setups, they are very basic and limited. Being a community driven game, you will find helpful guides online both text and video alike. Your best bet in putting together your book of setups is connecting with experienced enthusiasts on both community forums, gaming sites and social media sites (eg. Youtube, GameFAQs, etc.).
Overall, Project CARS looks and sounds awesome with particular attention shown to the detail of both vehicles and environments – One nice touch I quite liked was the addition of the pit crew chief voice by none other than Ben Collins, The (former) Stig of BBC’ Top Gear. Having played games like GRID where the chief babbles particularly useless information in the most incessantly annoying manner, Collins gives it to you straight up – What you need to know. When you need to know.
But with all that said, how does Project CARS stack up?
On consoles, it is by far the best racing simulation experienced to date.
On PC, it’s fair to say CARS makes the charts as arguably one of the best while still having ways to go.
Having played the likes of both Gran Turismo and Forza Motorsport, I can understand to a certain degree why players may find the vehicle roster lacking. In contrast, I have also played a number of racing simulations (most notably Papyrus’ NASCAR Racing series) and in comparison CARS doesn’t quite capture the definitive motorsport experience as you don’t have pace cars or yellow flags out during an accident on the course. But what CARS does do, is deliver a racing simulation experience to consoles like never before. You can raise GT and Forza comparisons all you like, but at the end of the day this a traditional simulator, not a run of the mill console racing game we’ve come to expect in recent years.
So is Project CARS worth the purchase?
If you’re looking for game that rivals Gran Turismo and Forza Motorsport’s monstrous roster of cars and courses, the you will most likely be disappointed.
If you’re a console gamer who has been hanging out for a true simulation experience, Project CARS has plenty to offer.
If you’re a classical Petrolhead who enjoys playing videogames, you will certainly find enjoyment from this title.
If you consider yourself a simulation enthusiast, then Project CARS should not be overlooked as it will make a worthwhile addition to your racing collection!