A review from behind the wheel.
As a big fan of both Motorsport and video games, it’s a given that I am going to enjoy any game that gives me the chance to drive expensive cars that I could never afford, from the safety and comfort of a chair in front of my console.
With this in mind two games had me interested since the release of the current generation of consoles, those being Drive Club and Project Cars. Drive Club, although not a terrible game, suffered from launch problems and ultimately didn’t really offer me what I wanted in a racing game and was much more of an arcade style racer as opposed to the next generation of racing simulation, leaving the question “could Slightly Mad Studios’ Project Cars offer up that game?”.
As a long time PlayStation fan it’s hard to talk about Project Cars and not draw comparisons to Gran Turismo, the closest thing to a racing simulator on the Sony consoles. Xbox fans would more than likely do likewise with Forza. So you will need to forgive me if during this review I do compare the games.
Project Cars from the off doesn’t hide what it aspires to be and that is a full on racing simulator, and for the most part it doesn’t disappoint. From the very first choice you make in the game, the setting of difficulty and depth of simulation you are looking for, you know you aren’t going to be playing an arcade style racer. The highest setting informs you that you will be playing with no driving aids, full visual and mechanical damage, and full racing flag rules, a setting for fans looking for the most realistic experience the game can offer. This of course does not mean the lowest setting will be a walk in the park.
Anyone who has played a racing game already knows what the core gameplay is going to involve, racing cars. It’s how well the game can recreate this that counts. What Project Cars tries to do is to make the player feel like they are living the life of a racer from humble beginnings to the fame and fortune of a world champion.
Other racing games have recently tried to give gamers this experience. However, it has been in only the chosen racing field, Formula One or Rallying for instance. Project Cars evolves this concept taking the player from the their beginnings as a Kart driver, the type of racing that many of today’s real world champions got their start in, through many types of racing. Progressing through a career in touring cars to GT Sports cars, Endurance Racing to open wheel cars all the way to Formula racing.
How the game manages this is with a career mode. When you start a new game you create a driver and sign a contract with a racing team for your first season of go-kart racing. From that point on you play through race seasons set over an in game year. You a presented with a calendar detailing every race for every championship taking part over that year, whether the player is eligible to enter said races or not. Races that are part of the players active championships are highlighted on the calendar. From there the player can chose to take part in that event or skip them moving the season onwards. Although at the beginning you are limited to a few kart races, performing well in those earns you access to more events and your race schedule soon fills up to include a wide variety of races. I found the career mode to be surprisingly in depth for a racing game and although I am still early on in the game, I find myself enjoying it a lot more than many other racing games’ single player efforts.
Because this means players will be taking part in kart races for the majority of their first season or two of career mode, those looking for a more immediate fix of racing action might want to head to the solo event option. This lets the player set up a full race weekend event using their chosen car at their chosen track. This is where Project Cars has another surprise up its sleeve. Unlike most of the other racing games nowadays where cars and tracks either have to be unlocked by leveling a driver or purchased using money won in race events, in Project Cars from the off you are given access to every car and track in the game. There is no leveling up or earning money to buy cars here, it’s all about racing the cars and having fun doing so.
Project Cars at launch has around seventy to eighty cars, a wide selection over a variety of racing classes. Compared to other racing games this may seem like a small selection, however this is not a negative point. What we are given offers something for everyone and as mentioned before they are all available to the player to use from the off. There are no upgrades for the cars as they are all full racing models to begin with. However the list of mechanical tuning options available for each car is mind blowing and can lead to players doing endless laps of tracks searching for the perfect setup for each car on each circuit.
Okay, so what about the racing itself. Race weekends will be familiar to anyone with a basic knowledge of racing and most of them consist of three or four sessions. First of all there are one or two practice sessions during which the player has a set amount of time to do as many laps of the track as they like while tweaking the settings of their car preparing it for the race. This is followed by qualifying in which player and AI racers compete for the fastest lap time to determine starting position for the race, and then the race itself is self explanatory.
Of course there is more to the game than just the career mode with an extensive online presence to enjoy also. Finding a race is only one click away on the main menu, or you can go a little deeper searching a list of active race rooms, or even create your own. Online races can be just as in depth as career mode covering full race weekends or a simple track day or single race. My online experience with racing games in general has taught me that there is and always will be people out there who won’t race by the rules. The few games of Project Cars I have played online so far have surprised me. It may be down to the fact that the game can be a little more punishing for collisions, corner cutting and such, or that the game is more appealing to gamers who are genuinely looking for a fair race. Although accidents do happen in the rooms I joined filled with random players, I found them to generally be courteous enough to try and keep races fair and clean. Another part of the online experience are the community challenges – regular races set up by the developers for everyone to join with prizes for those coming out on top. All this means that the online side to the game is just as in depth and fun to play as the career mode.
The actual driving mechanics of the game manage to be both challenging and fun. Because the game is more of a simulation, the driving at times can be a little unforgiving. Putting on too much power coming out of corners can easily lead to a spinning car and, unlike more arcade like racers, saving an out of control car can be quite a challenge. I personally found that one of the biggest challenges of the game was in fact the karts at the start of the career mode and this was down to the nature of that type of racing. The short twisty tracks coupled with vehicles capable of up 80mph turned out to be quite a handful, so much so that when you are eventually put in a full size car on a longer track things seem a little more calm.
One thing that I have found with Project Cars is that having full damage turned on, and why wouldn’t you have this on, your attitude to driving games changes. Other Games such as Gran Turismo have damage models in some respects and even mechanical damage of a sort. Because the damage in those games wasn’t severe enough to put an end to your race I could and would get a little heavy handed during overtaking manoeuvers and cornering knowing that any damage I sustained could be managed. Project Cars has the likes of suspension damage pulling your car dangerously to one side, losing a wheel after a particularly hard collision leaving you crawling around the track or even a blown engine ending your race there and then. You find yourself being a lot more cautious whilst racing, taking your time and looking for passing opportunities.
An in depth career mode, realistic handling and the ability to make you think about what you are doing on the track – these things all go towards building a realistic and immersive racing game which is also a lot of fun to play. Something else that adds to the realism of the game is the way that it’s presented. Project Cars not only looks amazing but sounds it also. Slightly Mad Studios have done an amazing job of making sure all the cars in the game look and sound exactly like they should inside and out. One of many small graphical details that caught my eye when it came to the cars was that you could actually see mechanical parts moving where they are exposed.
It’s small things like this that go a long way to making a game impressive and this game is full of small things you may not notice right away. No less attention to detail has been given when it comes to the track also. Having seen may of a these circuits on television, it’s amazing to see how well they have been recreated in the game. There is just as much detail when it comes to the games sound. Engine sounds in practically every car are exactly as you would imagine them, more than most other racing games it had me reaching for my volume controls and turning things up.
Although I am still early on in the game, right now I find it extremely difficult to find any faults with Project Cars, and as a huge racing game fan that is not something I find myself saying very often. The only negative that I can possibly think of is that the game won’t appeal to those looking for a casual racing game, as this is definitely aimed at gamers looking for a realistic experience. This doesn’t detract from the game any though and what Slightly Mad Studios have created here is an amazing game that any racing fan would be foolish to miss. With the developers promising that the game is going to improve and evolve over time with new content and updates, it makes Project Cars a must have in your collection.