Project CARS is a driving game for PS4, Xbox One, Wii U and PC that had a very interesting development process – it was crowdfunded by gamers and driving fans. Slightly Mad Studios, the developers of the game let backers decide highly important aspects of the game including the cars and tracks. The result? A highly diverse driving simulator that stands separate from the likes of The Crew.
Though referred to as a game, we’d class Project CARS as more of a racing simulator. Why? Because games usually include some kind of story mode where you unlock cars, parts or new tracks – Project CARS doesn’t have this. There are no car upgrades, unlocks, story line or extras for doing a race particularly well, much to our disappointment. We like to notice progression when playing a game, and while this is evident by moving up in classes, this isn’t earned – you can join any racing class, even if you’ve just started playing for the first time.
There are four racing modes: Solo Race, Online, Career and Driver Network. The Solo Race is where you have complete freedom over the conditions of the race – you choose the car, track, restrictions, settings and even the weather conditions. It’s where you can practice with any car and is where you can really hone your driving skills.
Online is where you’ll be facing real-life opponents from around the world. It brings a whole new aspect of gameplay as you have to look at what cars your competitors have selected and decide what can keep up (or beat) them. But it’s not just about speed – you have to take into consideration other things including how many turns there are, how long the course is and even the current weather.
The only frustrating part of the online experience is, oddly, the other players. For those of us that like to play racing games properly and enjoy the precision of racing, having someone ram into the side of you to cause you to spin out and loose your lead is incredibly frustrating. It doesn’t happen with every race, but it’s rage inducing when it does.
Career mode is where you assume the role of a racing driver looking to progress throughout the ranks of motor racing. The mode is classed as a ‘career’, and one would assume that means starting from the bottom and working your way up, but instead Project CARS lets you select whatever class of racing you want from the get go. There is progression as you move up from the selected tier after winning championships and unlocking new contracts, but we’re not too sure if we like the idea behind this.
As you’d imagine, the better the class, the more fun the cars are to drive. It’s also true of the opponents in our experience – lower class AI drivers seem to be extra sluggish, with one of our wins coming with a 30-second lead without adjusting the AI difficulty. It shouldn’t be as easy as it was either, as we rarely saw another competitor once we reached first place. It’s only after you progress through the various vehicle classes that the AI becomes more challenging.
The Driver Network is where you can get an overview of your Project CARS activity, including your performance in races and your online reputation. If you’ve saved any photos or replays during races, this is where you can find and share them. The best part is the Time Trials, as the network stores both the lap record for every player on every track and the ghost data that details how they achieved it. This is then used in time trials, meaning you can race a player’s ‘ghost’ to improve your own lap time.
As we mentioned earlier, backers of the simulator had a huge say in certain elements, including which courses would be featured in Project CARS. It has over 60 courses, including popular UK courses Cadwell Park, Donington, Snetterton, Oulton Park, Brands Hatch and, of course, Silverstone. Many tracks also have alternate race layouts that bring new challenges to courses you may know well.
One aspect of Project CARS that everyone mentions is graphics. We were teased with a series of beautiful clips and screenshots prior to the release, depicting beautifully high definition cars and the most realistic weather system we’d ever seen in a game. This got us very excited to go hands on, but when we did we were met with an overwhelming feeling of disappointing. Don’t get us wrong, the graphics are far from terrible, but they’re far away from what was shown prior to its release.
You can tell that a lot of work has gone into the car models, as they’re hands down the best-looking element of the simulator. It’s a shame that this level of attention to detail wasn’t applied to the tracks, as we noticed that certain elements of tracks were surprisingly lowres as we drove around them. We know that many people won’t pay attention to background models like trees and bushes, but we think it makes a difference whether they are pixellated or not.
The in-car POV view is a favourite of racing-sim fans, so it was important for Slightly Mad Studios to get it just right. We think the developers hit the nail on the head with the in-car graphics, as every dial is responsive, mirrors actually show you what’s behind you (unlike other driving games where it’s blurred) and you can appreciate the level of detail available.
However, we noticed that the graphics varied between consoles – the PS4’s graphics were acceptable, but those produced by the PC version were much better. There are reasons behind this, mainly down to