Project CARS (PS4) Review
THE SHORT VERSION
my brief look at it in August last year, that Project CARS felt like the racing world's answer to Dark Souls. It was a solid and unforgiving racing simulator that rewarded patient players who could get a handle on complex controls and customisation options. This was the kind of game where you could tweak your tires to a T, where if you didn't know the ins and outs of your vehicle you were liable to veer out of control very quickly, and where, yes, you could indeed drive around Mt Panorama in a go-kart with rain incoming. Trust me, that last part is a lot more exciting (and awesome) than it sounds.
That was just in the beta, mind. Small wonder, then, that the finished version is all that and more. In fact, I'd almost go so far as to say Project CARS might be the defining driving game experience one will come across. That's both a good and a bad thing.
You are a racing driver. You enter competitions, and have cars that go vroom.
In all seriousness, the story is a career mode in the spirit of Gran Turismo and Need for Speed; you
When I say that last part, I'm not kidding. One of Project CARS' neat little side features is a scrolling Twitter-esque social media feed, displaying reactions from your fictional adoring fans. It updates after each race, showing how your followers react to your wins, near-misses and losses. At times they can be a little snarky, too; one fan said he might've gotten his hopes up about me too early after coming 4th in my second ever race, obviously not bothering to stick around for the succession of seven races following that in which I scored 1st place and praise from the rest of my fanbase. I wouldn't be so quick to judge noob racers there, Mr Social Media Follower.
Speaking of noob racers...
Project CARS is similar. As mentioned above, the amount of customisation is insane. There are a number of dials and sliders to adjust every minute detail of your car's mechanism, from tire balance and weight, to the way it drifts on the track. That's not even getting into any cosmetic details, either. Arguably, this is the kind of game where five different drivers on five separate consoles, driving the same vehicle, will all have five vastly different setups for how their ride burns up the track.
In all honesty, it's a little overwhelming. As well as not being a huge racing game fan, I'm not much of a revhead when it comes to the way a car comes together, moves and keeps running. If you're like me, all that overcomplexity for a game where what you mostly want to is to drive really fast might be a little off-putting. Going through all those sliders for the first time I mostly just clicked over them to get the race happening. Maybe that was why I lost at 4th place, and Mr Social Media Follower's disappointment in me might've been warranted.
This is also not a game where driving off-road means you have a slight speed reduction before getting back on course. If you overaccelerate, or misjudge a turn, or slide off into the gravel, your car will spin out and get caught on a barrier, or just plow headlong into an obstacle that'd ruin an ordinary car's chances of functioning the next day. The walls also do not bump you off them easily, so impacts will usually mean a second or two stuck to the barrier like honeyed toast on a ceiling. I'm used to a driving experience where I can just floor the gas and brake at strategic moments; Project CARS would prefer you accelerate in bursts where necessary, and use braking much more judiciously. It's not necessarily a point against it that it's not as smooth or easily-handled as other driving games, but it is something that I found difficulty wrapping my head around at first.
But if you can wrap your head around what makes your car go vroom, there's a lot of fun to be had. It's nice to have a racing game that doesn't rely on either watered-down customisation options, like the older Ridge Racer games, nor one that offers a modicum of customisation that really comes down to a multiple choice quiz on which engine you'd rather have under your bonnet, like Need for Speed Underground. Don't get me wrong, those games are fun, but part of the appeal of Project CARS derives from being able to fashion a truly unique experience from what you're given to play with. It also feels somewhat validating once you get the hang of the tap-on-the-accelerator mode of driving, and can expertly weave around tight hairpins while your AI drivers behind you squeal their tires in frustration.
On that point, Project CARS boasts AI opponents who will grow to learn your driving style the further you progress, working harder to circumvent your favourite vehicular tactics. I'm not sure I entirely noticed this in the time I played, but there were a number of points where, during a particular race, the AI seemed a little too easy to overtake on smooth bends. Of course, that was then juxtaposed with the AI in the following race being murderously difficult to beat, once again affirming Mr Social Media Follower's lack of faith in my abilities. I thought this might've been showing the AI adapting to my driving style, but in the race after the tough one they went right back to being easier to beat than a bowl of cracked eggs. So maybe they felt sorry for me, being so difficult to come first place against, and decided to drop things to my level a little? Way to be condescending, AI drivers.
In all seriousness, the AI is fairly competent at enhancing the driving experience. There are differences between certain named AIs styles the further along you go, and some can get pretty aggressive when it comes to trying to smack your car off the track with their own. Makes me wish I had the star powers from Mario Kart on hand for those guys.
It's obvious from the outset that Slightly Mad Studios have put a ton of time into rendering every car
It all comes together to create a marvelous tableau within which you win your championships. I imagine it would play significantly more immersively if, unlike me, you had a driver's seat and steering wheel setup for your console. That'd also really work well for...
SOUND AND VOICE ACTING
The Witcher 3, what really helps sell Project CARS. The cheer of the crowd, the screech of tires, the clunk of gears changing and brakes applying, it's all rather magical. It's exactly what I imagine sitting in a race car actually sounds like, including the occasional vocal interjection from my pit crew when they warn me I'm cutting too many corners on the track (in my defence, this was during my initial kart-driving run, before I got the hang of the acceletapping).
The in-game and menu tutorials are also helpfully voiced to inform you which elements in both areas do what, alongside pop-up messages that say the same thing. It feels a little redundant to have pop-ups read to me in the menu, instructing me on how to start a career mode or how Mr Social Media Follower's posts can scroll on the side and tell me what a disappointment I am. Seriously, Mr Social Media Follower, I think you need a job besides being a critical Social Media Follower.
If immersion and a solid if complex mechanical system are what you're after in a driving experience, Project CARS has got what you need. I'm not sure I'd heartily recommend it to newbies or the un-revheads like myself, but there's a sound experience for them, too, if they don't mind spending a couple of hours taming the tiger. For those with an affinity for vehicular sportsmanship, I'm almost positive you'll have the most immersive and dynamic driving experience that's currently out there.
And just remember, once again - Mt Panorama. In go-karts. With rain incoming.
Try and criticise me for that, Mr Social Media Follower.
It will be available for iOS and Wii U later in 2015.