Project CARS

Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 4, WiiU, Xbox One
Genre: Racing
Publisher: Bandai Namco Games
Developer: Slightly Mad Studios
Release Date: May 6, 2015

About Tony "OUberLord" Mitera

I've been entrenched in the world of game reviews for almost a decade, and I've been playing them for even longer. I'm primarily a PC gamer, though I own and play pretty much all modern platforms. When I'm not shooting up the place in the online arena, I can be found working in the IT field, which has just as many computers but far less shooting. Usually.


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PC Review - 'Project CARS'

by Tony "OUberLord" Mitera on July 6, 2015 @ 2:00 a.m. PDT

Project CARS (Community Assisted Racing Simulation) is a crowd-funded racing game where the community participates in the development of the game.

What makes a good racing game boils down to different things for different people. Some would rather it be sheer entertainment, letting the game handle the trickier bits of driving to make them feel like a badass behind the wheel. Others prefer that the gameplay is more like a kit car, lacking much in the way of frills but absolutely made for racing. Project CARS is clearly geared much more toward that latter crowd, but it's the extent to which it does so that makes it stand out even among its peers in the genre.

To say that Project CARS was made by the fans and for the fans doesn't quite do it justice. The game was built on a relatively tiny budget and enlisted the aid of players to assist in the development. This isn't a title that was governed by a large publisher who was looking to tune it for the most sales, and in both good and bad respects, this shows in Project CARS.

It only makes sense to first focus on the racing. Though the game shares a lot of similarities with others in the genre, such as the racing line mechanic popularized by Forza and other genre staples, it definitely feels like its own animal. The handling model in Project CARS makes the cars feel like they have proper weight, which has a noticeable impact on how you enter and exit turns. Turning off all the assists makes each car feel far more nuanced than in other games, whether it's in steering quirks or in how judiciously you need to apply the throttle.

There aren't a ton of cars in Project CARS's stable, and there are a lot of manufacturers that are absent. Even across all possible sources (DLC, etc.), the game only touts 63 cars. The most-represented manufacturers are BMW, Ford and Mercedes, and even they only have an average of five to six cars each. A lot of bread-and-butter brands such as Chevrolet, Mazda and Nissan are missing, to say nothing of exotics such as Ferrari or Porsche. It isn't as though the game feels overly constricting when it comes to the short list of options, but it's certainly odd to have a racing game that has such a narrow lineup of vehicles.

The main attraction is it’s the career mode, which has a great premise that it never quite delivers on. You create a driver, complete with a totally-not-Twitter social media handle, and you choose the point in your career at which you wish to start playing. For the sake of a more realistic up-and-coming experience, you can start racing high-powered go-karts, which are more fun than you're giving it credit for as you read this. You can also choose to make your start later and skip to the bigger races and faster cars. There's no detriment in choosing one or the other; it just lets you start where you wish.

Other racing games may impose some limitations in what you can experience at the beginning, but Project CARS is wide open from the get-go. Since there is no form of currency to be gained, there's no barrier to entry before you jump into a seven-figure supercar. There are no parts to unlock or swap out, so you immediately have access to all of the performance-tweaking sliders your heart may desire. For your first race, you can start gently or tweak aerodynamic properties, depending on whether that tickles your fancy.

The idea is that you play through the career mode from the standpoint of the driver. You pick which teams you want to join, and as you complete practices, qualifiers and races, you'll receive emails from your team members, and your social media sidebar fills up with feedback from fans. It's a great parlor trick at first, but the main issue is it lacks depth and meaning. Choosing a team means little more than having a team name that you race for, since there's no difference between the team members or which cars they offer. The emails from your team members quickly reach a point where their boilerplate nature is evident, and the in-game social media quickly fills with inane banter, which is arguably the most realistic part of all.

Project CARS has its biggest failing when it comes to an overall sense of progression. It's admirable to have everything open to the player and put no barriers to entry on anything, but the effect is that it feels like there is little to strive for during a career. During a race, you are always plotting your next maneuver, analyzing your performance through that last apex, and doing your best to take the pole position. Every choice you make is ultimately building toward your overall performance. However, your performance and choices mean so little outside of races, and there is so little weight to any choices that you may as well flip a coin and go with it, since the impact will be similar either way.

Get back into a race, and you suddenly stop caring about such things. While most races are composed of a practice event and a qualifying event before the actual racing starts, you can skip the two. You likely won't be placed as well in the race, but that may be a small downside to skipping them. However, those two events really let you get a feel for the tracks, which seems more important in Project CARS than in other games.

I don't know if it's just that other games have more hand-holding, but Project CARS seems to have a much higher skill ceiling. Sure, you can keep all of the assists on, but turning them all off made me feel more present in a race than I have in most racing games. Even in the lower-end vehicles, you will throw yourself into the gravel if you just mash the throttle when exiting a turn, and how your vehicle shifts its weight makes a ton of difference in how aggressively you can take a corner. Regardless of the position of your difficulty slider, the game makes you feel like you have true ownership of your performance in a race, and when you are victorious, it feels like you truly earned it.

One of the game's biggest strengths is in how deep its options go. Sure, you have the expected gamut of graphics options to make the game look gorgeous, and you can tweak your assists, but these are standard for any racing game. What is less standard is the ability to reposition individual elements of your HUD, set your view to be an in-helmet cam (with sound occlusion), and change how much that view looks into the turns. With so many options, Project CARS can appeal to racers of just about all experience levels.

I found that the game is perfectly enjoyable with an Xbox 360 controller. However, it comes with built-in presets and images for tons of racing wheels, from my ancient Logitech MOMO to ones that look equal parts attractive and expensive. Of course, your control options have tons of options, but by this point in the review, you really shouldn't be surprised. The point is that as long as you aren't thinking a keyboard and mouse is sufficient, chances are you will have no problems with the control option you choose to bring to the table.

It's difficult to give Project CARS a score. When it comes to the actual racing, the game gets top marks primarily because of how deep the handling model feels. It also does a fantastic job of giving the player every possible option to tailor his or her experience to their liking. However, everything outside of the racing, such as the career mode, is mere window dressing. The game certainly excels at its intended purpose, which is to be one of the most accurate racing games around, but I can't help but feel that the game is pretty bare-bones when it comes to the creature comforts that other games offer, even from the standpoint of catering to the most hardcore crowd.

Score: 8.6/10

Reviewed on: Intel i7 4970k, 16 GB RAM, nVidia GTX 660 Ti, Microsoft Xbox 360 Controller

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