A DEMANDING racing simulation that frustrates and thrills in equal measure
Game review: Project CARS
Platform: Xbox One (reviewed / Playstation 4 / Wii U / PC
Project CARS is an unforgiving game. It punishes mistakes ruthlessly and demands patience and discipline if you are to become remotely competitive. Any hopes of glory atop a podium in the upper echelons of motorsports must be earned the hard way. It is a vexing game that will have you cursing under your breath and threatening to hurl your controller towards the screen. Stick with it, however, and the slightest gain made feels like the mightiest triumph.
The game’s genesis has been a long and interested one. Over three years in the making, it was partially crowdfunded, its development guided by the desires of racing fans. After subsequent delays, it was finally released last month to murmurs from those uncertain of how it fit in alongside Gran Turismo and Forza, the two heavyweights of the genre. But Project CARS, it turns out, has its own niche: this is the closest thing yet to an immersive racing simulator on home consoles.
The developers have cracked the sense of control and jeopardy at top-end motorsports
Granted, it lacks much of the polish of the above titles, but developers Slightly Mad Studios have poured their energy into ensuring the 80 plus cars at your disposal handle distinctly and realistically, a promise they have kept. From your earliest forays in your career hurling karts around tracks to the challenge posed by souped up sports cars, this game gives you a real feel for the thin line that separates controlled power and jeopardy.
There have been complaints about the game’s AI from those who have found the computer controlled opponents overly aggressive to the point that they ride roughshod over any sense of fair play or competition. To begin with, it is easy to appreciate these reservations, as the first few bends routinely result in pile-ups from which recovery is all but impossible.
AI cars are aggressive but eventually the difficulty feels well pitched
But after putting in the hours, your mood begins to change. The difficulty feel well pitched and the closest fought victories become all the more rewarding. Often, frustration spills over as another car shunts you off the track, yet experience teaches you to keep a close eye on your mirrors and fend off those trying to overtake you with some sharp turning.
Whatever challenge you seek, Project CARS allows you to hone the game in any way you see fit. From fiddling with mainstays of driving titles such as transmission, damage and racing lines through to cosmetic minutiae (if you’re not a fan of the ubiquitous lens flare you can turn it off) this is a title designed to accommodate everyone.
This game does not fetishise cars, it just asks you drive them as fast as possible
Thankfully, however, the title does not seek to fetishise the welter of high-powered and exotic vehicles at your disposal. Whereas the likes of Gran Turismo and Forza allow you to gaze lovingly over every contour of your charge in a garage, there is no such feature here. Any in-depth customisation options are designed to impact on the racetrack. Petrolheads may feel put out, but this emphasis on racing feels welcome.
For all that Project CARS strips away some of the more cumbersome aspects of racing games, such as the accumulation of XP to demarcate progress, instead allowing you to choose your own route to the top, its quest for purity is sometimes muddied by awkward inventions of its own. The menu systems, for example, are overwhelming in their number and level of detail, with text that is excruciating small. This is a distracting oversight, especially in the first few hours when all you want to do is jump behind a wheel and get a feel for the game. When you do, though, it hits its stride. This is a brutal addition to the racing genre, but a very fine one indeed.
TIPS AND TRICKS:
Getting a feel for each track is essential to victory. If you are unsure, play a few time trials and study the ghost car of other racers to see how they handle the corners.
Understeering can be a problem for those starting out in the game so try tinkering with your rear wing and rear tyres to find a setting that works for you.
Tyres are an afterthought in most racers but in Project CARS they are key. Check their temperature to stop you from losing grip and take care not to burn them too quickly in a race.