Project Cars is a name firmly engrained into my brain after seeing it mentioned often over the past year or so, with it being hyped to be the next Gran Turismo with its focus on hardcore simulation but does it drive into the distance, or should somebody have pulled the brakes on it?
There are some things that Project Cars excels at, and other things where it runs into some traction issues that don’t do the rest of the game justice. As expected, there’s close to no story with what little there is focusing on you as you go from an unknown racer to well-known pro with many adoring fans; of course, you only get to see this via the live-chat feed before a race on Career Mode. A lack of story is fine though because it means that Slightly Mad Studios focused on the racing, the first and foremost vital part to a racing game. Despite some flaws that I have with it, I found it to be rather fun!
I played a few races with full control of the kart first, as the game throws you into a series of kart races before you can play with actual cars, and boy did I struggle! You know how some people can’t hope to hit a pin in bowling without the bumpers up? It was basically like that, I wasn’t ever going to finish a lap that followed the games rules if left to my awful handling! Fortunately, you can switch on turning-assists and other helpful things to make it a bit more sufferable, although it doesn’t feel like it’s holding my hand so much as it was just forcing me unnaturally onto the right path – it should be easing me into full control, not babysitting me.
Slightly Mad did a good job of making the varying types of vehicles feel and handle differently, keeping things feeling fresh and is sure to please hardcore racing fans; there’s real weight to each vehicle and they feel unique rather than just the same controls disguised by a different lick of paint, even if the car catalogue pales in comparison to something like Gran Turismo. Once you’ve finished the Kart races, you can get to the full meat of the game – the cars. It was nice to get away from the dirt tracks and venture into more exciting locales in more exciting vehicles and, as someone who doesn’t know a whole lot about cars, I tend to pick whatever visually appeals to me and Project Cars outstanding graphics seem to have no complaint about me doing so. The option to have vehicle damage only be visual and not actually effect how my vehicle runs is very considerate of Slightly Mad too.
This really isn’t a game for those who care very little about cars or can be impatient as the games steep learning curve takes itself very seriously and recreates real life rules, like having your lap time invalidated if you drive off-course; I eventually got the hang of turning corners but I did see a bundle of these invalidation messages beforehand! Project Cars is actually a crowdfunded title and it shows that the development team were truly passionate about delivering an authentic racing experience and although its catalogue isn’t the best, it has plenty of tracks and excellent weather conditions that make up for it; too many racing games focus on dirt tracks and wide open roads, so it’s nice to see torrents of rain come crashing down on my vehicle, and even nicer when it doesn’t have much of an effect on the framerate.
Other than career mode, you can play online, participate in timed community challenges and spend time customising your vehicle. Sadly, the online might be stable but it’s difficult to immerse myself into due to less than easily accessible races where you can’t simply jump into a race; this seems to be a complaint I have about a number of racing titles nowadays, with even Need for Speed: Rivals having an annoyingly lengthy method of finding a good race online. Again, Project Cars is a serious racing game aimed at those who want a serious racing game, it was made and aimed specifically at that market and whilst they’ve done a fantastic job at achieving what they wanted to do, they’ve ignored those that want to play a racing sim that’s still accessible to them still and this is something that Gran Turismo and Drive Club better excel at, although Project Cars allows you to change the AI difficulty before every single race.
Slightly Mad have put as much effort into the visuals as they did into the gameplay, with the visuals being something I really enjoyed as they perfectly captured the feel of the weather in-game; there’s rain, sun, dusk, dawn, night and many more options, and they feel as if they could have been plucked from the sky and turned into pixels. The visuals played a huge role in immersing me into the game and I highly praise Slightly Mad for doing their research and clearly painstakingly recreating various weather conditions that compliment the vehicles and gameplay. As you can see with the screenshots in this review, it truly is a beautiful game. The detail stretches to the inside of the vehicles as well as the outside, directly putting you in the drivers seat which you might already be comfortable with if you’ve driven the same vehicle yourself.
One problem I do have with the visuals is how the menu is laid out, it’s less than intuitive and is a pain to use. It might look nice but the bright pink highlighter swallows up text making it near impossible to read, and there’s noticeable lag when scrolling along where the game takes a couple of seconds to react to my button inputs.It’s clear that the menus were an afterthought to the game and, considering that they’re far from the most easily accessible menus anyway, it would’ve been appreciated by many had Slightly Mad spent a bit more time optimising it.
There’s not much in the way of music of dialogue but the sound effects are spot on! Each vehicle sounds realistic with each vehicles individual engine taken into account, and the weather effects are once again top-notch. Slightly Mad may have painted themselves into a corner where only the most hardcore of racing fans are welcome but the effort they’ve taken into creating the game can be admired and respected by anybody.
Project Cars roots are made evident by its lack of cars, a decent online matchmaking system and barebones audio but they’ve made the gameplay and visuals shine enough that they overshadow the games shortcomings. If you prefer arcade-like racers such as Need for Speed then you’ll want to steer clear from Project Cars but, if you were one of those disappointed by Drive Club or maybe you’re waiting for the next Gran Turismo, then Project Cars has a good chance of impressing you and keeping your attention until your next desired racing sim makes an appearance.. If there’s ever a sequel, hopefully it’s now proven itself enough so that the next game is bursting with content rather than leaving you wanting for more to do.