For better or for worse, arcade racing games such as the Forza series have left an indelible mark on the genre as a whole. When a new racing game is revealed for the first time, a lot of the focus is put on high-definition graphics, soundtracks that borrow from newly trending indie and electronica artists, and gameplay that is accessible, with features such as rewinds garnering a lot of attention.
Project CARS is the antithesis to all of that. Choosing to focus on creating a realistic racing sim first, developer Slightly Mad Studios has thrown a lot of standard conventions by the wayside, and the result is an uncompromisingly thorough and deep game.
That’s not to say Project CARS isn’t for newcomers to the genre. Despite being relatively new to racing games as a whole, I was glad to find plenty of options and settings to tweak, and I was able to craft a racing experience that complements me, rather than being forced into a ‘one size fits all’ racing seat. With a myriad of control and gameplay options to choose from (including weather, AI, steering, assist, and HUD tweaks), it’s clear that Slightly Mad Studios had their priorities in order when it came to delivering a realistic and hardcore driving sim first.
This level of polish extends to the cars and tracks as well. While it might not boast numbers similar to Gran Turismo for example, Project CARS has 65 standard cars on display (with a few more as part of extra packs), with each car being meticulously and carefully recreated in-game. It’s a testament to the engine and development team over at Slightly Mad, and the same level of care extends to the game’s tracks and courses, which are both a mix of real world locations (most of them being foreign tracks that a newcomer like myself doesn’t know much about) and a handful of ‘fictional’ stretches of highway and seaside roads. What really makes these tracks shine is the dynamic weather and day/night system, which boasts some of the best looking weather effects in any game to date.
If you haven’t guessed by now, Project CARS centers itself around player choice, and this mindset extends itself to the game’s career mode. Rather than limiting you to progression based on completing certain objectives and career milestones, the game simply allows you to start wherever you want. You can decide to take things a bit slower and start your races in karts, or jump straight into the fastest sports cars that the game has to offer. It’s completely up to you, and aside from a few optional cars that come in the form of paid DLC, every car and track is immediately available to you from the get-go.
It’s a refreshing change of pace to say the least, which shifts the focus from time-wasting to improving your technique. With all the cars and tracks available from the onset, Project CARS eschews the need to grind for in-game currency, all in the attempt to unlock a few cars that you might have an eye for. Should you want to test your skills against other players, there’s a fairly robust online mode that (as you might have come to expect by now) is full with configuration options so as to tailor your online experience as you see fit.
When it comes to PC-specific settings, Project CARS offers plenty of graphics options. For those with beefy rigs, support for 4K and a mess of anti-aliasing options are at your disposal, including a handful of visual effects options which border on the most minute of details. From sun and lens flare, to rain drops, grass detail, particle density and heat haze, Slightly Mad Studios has left no stone unturned when it comes to the PC version of the game.
Unfortunately, there are a few low points when it comes to performance, and most of them are aimed at those using AMD graphics cards (such as myself). While NVIDIA cards seem to be running just fine, equivalent AMD cards are faring far worse, with top end cards such as the R9 290X sometimes falling short of the significantly cheaper and less powerful GTX 760. Testing the game on both vendors’ cards, I can confirm that these reports are true, though it seems like the blame is falling on poor driver support. While AMD and Slightly Mad Studios are reported to be working on fixes, as of now I can’t give a solid recommendation to those who are using AMD GPUs, unless you are willing to put up with poor performance or heavily dial back graphical settings.
Still, despite all of the performance problems that I was plagued with, I can’t help but feel excited for Project CARS going forward. It’s not very often that a truly robust and deep racing game makes its way to the market, and you’d be hard pressed to fine one with this much polish and care put into it. While I will personally be waiting for performance fixes before I dive back in, it’s not hard for me to see that Project CARS deserves a spot at the podium. Simply put, this is one of the better racing games out there and is definitely worthy of your attention.
This review is based on the PC version of the game, which we were provided with for review.
Despite a few disappointing technical shortcomings, Project CARS stands out as a best-in-class sim, both alluring to genre veterans and accessible enough for racing newcomers.