Project Cars

PC, PS4, Wii U, Xbox One


Slightly Mad Stu­dios’ de­ci­sion to de­lay Project Cars’ 1.0 re­lease was a savvy one. When we pre­vi­ously played the game, its han­dling ex­hib­ited a ten­dency to fluc­tu­ate be­tween tem­per­a­men­tal and list­less, but it’s im­proved con­sid­er­ably since then.

As promised, the game now opens with a se­lec­tion of han­dling pre­sets, of­fer­ing three sim­ple start­ing points for a rac­ing sim that is al­ready highly cus­tomis­able (you can, if you so wish, even as­sign but­tons to ad­just seat height, an­gle and dis­tance from the wheel). From th­ese broad foun­da­tions, it’s easy to then fur­ther tweak your setup, such as start­ing with the Novice pro­file, but opt­ing for man­ual gears and no trac­tion con­trol. There’s still a se­lec­tion of slid­ers avail­able to fine-tune han­dling char­ac­ter­is­tics, but the num­ber of them has been reined in. It’s a promis­ing sign, in­dica­tive of a game ea­ger to please with char­ac­ter­ful de­sign rather than one try­ing to of­fer per­mu­ta­tions of ev­ery other popular han­dling model, no mat­ter how ill-fit­ting it would be – de­spite Slightly Mad’s claims, you never could make the game feel like Out­Run any­way.

Cars now feel lively and com­mu­nica­tive, even with a joy­pad, and this be­comes even more ap­par­ent when you hop into some­thing with less than 200hp and throw it around a tight cir­cuit such as Brands Hatch Indy. More pow­er­ful cars, mean­while, are ter­ri­fy­ing, and the way a Huayra torque-steers on straights or the way the weight of a rear-en­gine car un­bal­ances you in a cor­ner if you brake too late are bril­liant touches. You’ll need to think about which tyres you’re run­ning for the given con­di­tions, too, and on Pro set­tings you’ll have to warm them up to per­for­mance tem­per­a­ture be­fore at­tempt­ing to push the

ABOVE Project Cars’ range of open-wheel ve­hi­cles in­cludes clas­sic and mod­ern For­mula One cars, as well as roadle­gal op­tions such as Ariel’s Atom and BAC’s Mono.

LEFT As in Slightly Mad’s pre­vi­ous games, your fo­cus shifts to the road ahead at speed. Cars look fan­tas­tic while rac­ing, but oddly weight­less dur­ing re­plays

Wet-weather races are high­pres­sure events that keep you on edge through­out

car’s lim­its. But even on Pro set­tings with all driv­ing aids off, no car is un­man­age­able if you en­sure your in­puts are smooth. Un­less you’re out in the rain, that is.

Project Cars’ wet-weather races are bril­liant, high-pres­sure events that keep you on edge through­out and, thanks to some ef­fec­tive au­dio and vis­ual ef­fects, make you feel like reach­ing for an ex­tra pullover by the sec­ond lap. Your pit crew will com­mu­ni­cate weather changes – via the DualShock speaker, if you’re play­ing on PS4 – ahead of time, but you can also re­quest pit stops while out on the track if a grey­ing sky makes you ner­vous enough to want to switch to rub­ber with deeper tread. The tran­si­tions be­tween con­di­tions are sub­tle and en­tirely con­vinc­ing, while the game’s fog ef­fects de­serve spe­cial men­tion. Project Cars is a fine look­ing game, though there’s cur­rently quite a gulf be­tween the PC and con­sole ver­sions.

Project Cars is by no means ugly on con­sole – all the images you see here were grabbed from the lat­est PS4 build – but while the car mod­els and weather ef­fects feel top notch, the track­side tex­tures and light­ing fail to meet the high stan­dard of the PC ver­sion. But even that build, in its present form, lacks the ex­tra lay­ers of pol­ish it will need to com­pete with Drive­Club’s as­ton­ish­ing vi­su­als. Evo­lu­tion Stu­dios’ lat­est game may have had a bumpy start, but it set a new vis­ual high-wa­ter mark even be­fore pre­cip­i­ta­tion was added in a re­cent up­date. Of course, Project Cars is gun­ning for 60fps on all plat­forms, so it’s un­likely that it will be able to bet­ter its ri­val on con­soles even by re­lease. And while it’s cer­tainly smoother, that higher fram­er­ate doesn’t de­liver a no­tice­ably greater sense of speed.

More wor­ry­ingly, op­po­nent AI is a lit­tle skit­tish right now, even when di­alled up to the sup­pos­edly bright­est set­ting. Cars leave the track en masse in ap­par­ently poor rac­ing- line de­ci­sions, and ag­gres­sive driv­ers are of­ten more than happy to barge into you, open wheeler or not. This is less of a prob­lem in races fea­tur­ing lower-pow­ered sa­loons and su­per-minis – ve­hi­cles that can take a lit­tle rough and tum­ble and won’t com­plain about some grass in their wheel arches – than it is with faster, more spe­cialised ma­chines.

Even so, the core driv­ing model has pro­gressed as­suredly in the past few months and time-trial ses­sions are highly in­volved (as­sum­ing you keep tyre wear and fuel de­ple­tion on) and cap­ti­vat­ing. There are plenty of po­ten­tial me­chan­i­cal mal­adies that can be­fall you, too, such as a jammed wheel nut dur­ing a pit stop or aero dam­age from a mis­judged rum­ble strip hit. And all of this can be ex­pe­ri­enced from the un­apolo­get­i­cally hard­core hel­met cam, which is as close as any game has come to what it re­ally feels like to be out on track in a per­for­mance-fo­cused car. That the game is still suf­fer­ing from AI and graph­i­cal is­sues so close to launch is un­de­ni­ably con­cern­ing, but this lat­est look in­spires con­fi­dence nonethe­less.

LEFT Few games pull off fog as well as Project Cars. The way sun­light dif­fuses through damp mist is one the game’s vis­ual high­lights, but makes for treach­er­ous driv­ing con­di­tions too

Even light dam­age, like our buck­led bumper here, will al­ter your car’s han­dling char­ac­ter­is­tics, and may very well lead to your pit crew call­ing you in for re­pairs

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