Project CARS full review

Project CARS is a driving game for PS4, Xbox One, Wii U and PC that had a very interesting development process – it was crowd funded by gamers and driving fans. Slightly Mad Studios, the developers of Project CARS 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. Project CARS isn’t a game where you can go flat out, brake hard and still make it in first place, it’s about practise, precision and timing. 

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, storyline 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.

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Project CARS review: Racing modes

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 practise 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 majorly frustrating. It doesn’t happen with every race, but its rage inducing when it does happen. But that’s not really down to Slightly Mad Studios, so we can’t really fault them for that.

As you can see, Project CARS PS4 graphics aren't great.

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 seems to pick up the pace and become more challenging.

The Driver Network is where you can get an overview of your Project CARS activity, including how many hours you’ve played over the various game modes, 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 of the Driver Network is the Time Trials, as the Driver 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 players ‘ghost’ to improve your own lap time and shave those crucial seconds off your time.

Project CARS review: Tracks

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 boasts over 60 courses, including popular UK courses Cadwell Park, Donington, Snetterton, Oulton Park, Brands Hatch and of course Silverstone. Such a large selection of tracks should ensure that boredom doesn’t get the best of you as each is unique, offering challenging corners and manoeuvres for you to learn and master. It doesn’t stop there either as many courses have alternate race layouts that bring new challenges to courses that you may know well. 

Project CARS review: Graphics and dynamic weather system

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 low-res 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 if they’re pixelated or not. 

It looks a lot better running on a PC!

The in-car POV view is no doubt 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 really appreciate the level of detail available.

However we noticed that the graphics varied between consoles – the PS4 graphics were acceptable, but the graphics produced by the PC version were much better. There are reasons behind this, mainly down to hardware as PCs can usually handle much more than the “next-gen” PS4 and Xbox One. In fact, we were speaking to the guys at Chillblast recently and they told us that the PS4 and XB1 set the low limit for performance of many blockbuster games.

There is one impressive aspect with regards to graphics – the dynamic weather system. Though, like the car graphics, it looks nothing like the teaser we saw but it’s still done beautifully well.

We’ve started off a race in a torrential downpour (which makes corners tricky) but as the race went on, you could see the rain receding and was soon replaced with sunshine. The most impressive part was that when it was raining, we couldn’t see a thing and had to put the windscreen wipers on (we were using the POV camera angle) – it adds an extra level of realism to the simulator, further backing up the simulator vs game argument.

However it’s not as dynamic as the DriveClub weather system, which takes into consideration how rain droplets react with the cars movement, speed and force – Project CARS doesn’t do this. You can even see individual droplets running down the car in DriveClub, which is amazing.

Sunsets look gorgeous, especially on tracks with great scenery. The orangey-red hues of a sunset make the perfect backdrop for Project CARS and quickly became our favourite time of day to race.

So, is it the best-looking racer ever? Probably not. While the cars look great, the tracks aren’t quite there – some areas are still quite blocky and low-res, not something you’d expect from a 2015 racing simulator. With this being said, the graphics are far from being classed as being “bad” and shouldn’t detract from the overall experience of the simulator. 

Project CARS review: Handling

Lets get down to the most important aspect of the simulator – the handling. It’s very difficult to comment on the handling of the cars as Project CARS has done a great job of making each car handle differently. It adds another level of realism to the simulator as you can feel the handling vary between the different cars and classes of cars, and it’s both exciting and challenging. We found that we’d get comfortable with a car and then have to move on to a different one, which kept us from getting too comfortable and forced us get used to the handling all over again. 

While learning to properly control a variety of cars is fun, restrictions in races take the enjoyment away from us. We’ve had more than a handful of experiences where we’ve only slightly gone outside the lines and we’ve had penalties given to us, and with no rewind/replay option, we found ourselves restarting races over and over again. If we had one feature to add to Project CARS, rewind would definitely be it – if you’re trying to qualify for a race and get penalised at the last corner for clipping the back of a slower car, its more than annoying.

Racing enthusiasts will be happy to hear that you’re able to edit your Tuning Setup in Project CARS. We’re not talking about spoilers and a new paint job but instead tweaking elements such as tire pressure and brake balance. It’s an area that we’re not too knowledgeable in and there isn’t much to go on with regards to in-game help, so you instead have to rely on fan made websites.

There’s no denying that it can give you the edge in racing though, especially online. As there is no restarting during an online race, precision counts and tuning your car for the track/weather can give you the extra few milliseconds that you need to grab first place. There’s no “one size fits all” with Project CARS, but the simulator does help out those of us that aren’t as knowledgeable by automatically selecting the appropriate tyre compound for the weather (so you don’t skid out when it’s raining). 

Project CARS review: Racing

Driving in Career mode is fun, but we found it repetitive after a while. For a majority of races, you have two practises of 10 minutes (real time) each, which is supposed to help you learn the course. Then after the practise, you have two qualifiers that last 10 minutes each and then you finally have the lap-based races that count towards the Championship. You can get the full racing experience and extend the 10-minute time limit, but we thought 10 minutes was more than enough.

Although we must admit that doing practise runs did help us nail some particularly difficult corners, it also became very boring. The same bends and corners again and again, lap after lap. You have the option of skipping the practises and qualifiers once you’ve done two laps, but it’ll put you in last place for the races – a position that no driver wants to be in. 

As well as offering many tracks and cars, there’s another aspect of Project CARS that has many options: camera angles. There’s the standard third person view from outside the car and first person view from inside the car that we all know from driving games, but there are others on offer too.

There’s a GoPro-style angle from the roof of the car as well as a POV shot from inside the riders helmet – the best part of the riders helmet view is that audio is distorted as “you” are wearing a helmet. It’s the small details that make this simulator what it is. As well as this, Slightly Mad Studios claims that the simulator is compatible with both Oculus Rift and Project Morpheus. While we can’t test this feature yet as both Oculus Rift and Project Morpheus haven’t been released, the idea of driving F1 cars around Silverstone in using a VR headset sounds amazing. 

Project CARS review: Menu system

There is one element to the simulator that we really dislike, and that’s the menu system. The idea of Project CARS is to let you go from one race to the next quickly and easily and while this is technically true, the layout of the system takes a lot of getting used to.

When we first started playing Project CARS, we weren’t even too sure how to start races in Career mode – and that’s saying something (about the simulator, not us). The races you must join in Career mode are displayed as a calendar – but all races for every class are displayed on the calendar, and even though applicable ones are highlighted, it still initially took us by surprise and were unsure where to go. 

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Project CARS: Specs

  • 60 tracks
  • dynamic time and weather system
  • 60fps
  • Available for PS4, Xbox One, Wii U and PC.

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