It’s got to be said that racing fans have been a bit spoilt of late. We’ve had Forza 5 and Forza Horizons 2 on the Xbox One, Driveclub on PS4, Ubisoft’s The Crew across all platforms and Codemasters with their F1 2014 and Grid Autosport on last-gen and PC.
With superior lighting and weather effects, huge road networks and meticulously modelled car physics this next-generation of racing games have raised the bar when it comes to virtual motorsport.
Enter Project CARS, a motor-racing simulator that seeks to push the genre to even greater heights.
The game has been in development for over three years, as a partnership between Slightly Mad Studios and a community of racing fans from around the world, as well as a number of professional racing drivers. The result is an epic game with a nose-bleed inducing attention to detail and a crazy amount of race settings.
The game features over sixty meticulously modelled cars from 125cc karts to exotic prototypes. Out of the box there’s a combination of eighty track layouts across fourteen different countries. Alongside all your usual circuits like Mount Panorama, historic Nordscheife and Laguna Seca you’ve also got less familiar tracks like the Glencarn kart circuit and Watkins Glen.
The game is based around four modes: Career, Solo, Online and The Driver Network.
The career mode provides players with a structured racing experience, but at the same time offering a refreshing degree of freedom. Instead of slotting you in at the bottom with a low-end car in an amateur championship, players get to choose their career starting point from fifteen race categories. Project CARS has no problem with you starting out as an endurance racer and moving onto karting later.
As players win races and complete challenge goals they start to getting noticed and receive offers from other teams to race with different car types in different categories and tiers. The progression feels natural and less of a grind, leaving the player to concentrate on winning races rather than collecting XP or money.
The Online mode and The Driver Network provide the game’s social connectivity. Players can create their own race events or join someone else’s. The Driver Network provides additional community challenges and the opportunity to get ranked on the time trial leaderboard. You can also download ghost cars to help improve your times.
The Solo mode offers players the freedom to check out the game’s race customisation. It’s in here that you can dive into a quick race weekend on a track of your choosing with the date, time and weather all set up as you wish and with your choice of car.
And this is what I liked the most about the game- how it gives players the opportunity to race anyhow they want. And I’m not kidding when I say that. Want a one-off race around Bathurst against thirty-nine other competitors all driving 250cc karts, at night and in the pouring rain? You’ve got it. Got some spare time and want to do a few quick laps of Road America in a Trans Am? No problem. Want to check the glare off the sun at it sets over Donnington Park’s Wheatcroft Straight? You can.
Project CARS presents players with an unprecedented amount of choice. I spent hours setting up different weather and time of day combinations in the Free Practice mode.
You can pick up to four different weather types from clear skies, cloudy, s rainstorm, thunderstorm, fog and haze and have the game transition through them as the race goes on. You can see the clouds roll in and the speckles of rain on the windscreen before the downpour. You can then watch as the rain stops and the glistening wet road starts to dry out, with the sun just shining through the haze.
Unlike many other racing games, the physics and features in Project CARS are not baked into the circuits. The developers would have me believe that everything has been modelled: car tyres, climate, atmospheric conditions, sunlight and weather. And you know what, I believe them.
You get a glimpse of what’s happening under the hood from all the tuning options. You don’t have to but, in addition to your usual suspension settings, if you want you, you can even adjust your car’s individual tyre pressures and wheel tracking.
The game has an almost overwhelming array of option and tweaks, and this is what sets it apart from your usual racer. As intimidating as they all look at first, novice players can use the settings to wind back the realism and tune the game to their requirements. If you just want to hoon around Brands Hatch in a Ford Focus using your gamepad, you can.
On the other hand, the game’s scalable player experience means that Project CARS is just as fulfilling for the serious motor racing fan who wants to shave a few seconds off their lap time around Mount Panorama with a full-on Thrustmaster wheel and shifter kit.
It’s great to see that the developer’s attention to detail at a technical level extends to the game’s presentation as well. Too many serious simulators fail to refine the front end or add any finesse to their product. Slightly Mad Studios has not cut any corners in delivering a top class experience from the moment the game loads.
And the graphics are absolutely stunning. I reviewed the game on upper mid-spec PC running with a GTX 680 graphics card the game was solid with a mix of high and ultra settings including SMAA. The PC version has plenty of graphics options for players to tweak the game according to their performance/image quality requirements.
The game’s lighting system is amazing, with the sun’s rays beautifully shining through the trees on a clear day. But it’s the more adverse weather effects that really showcase the effort put into the game’s visuals. In overcast and low light situations the game is almost photo-realistic. The way that the rain collects on the camera and windscreen (depending on which view), puddles on the ground, and sprays behind cars looks fantastic.
The game’s audio, for the most part, is spot on. Some cars seemed to whine a bit, whilst others produce a satisfying growl befitting the car’s grunt. When applicable you can hear the hiss of the dump value with every gear change, the buzz of the turbocharger kicking in and the high-pitched sweal of the brakes.
For my Project CARS review I also tested the game using a Thrustmaster T300RS racing wheel, the T3PA three-pedal add-on and the TH8A add-on shifter. Anyone thinking of investing in this premium racing set-up will not be disappointed. The Project CARS can easily be set up to make full use of the manual shifter and clutch pedal to create a mind-blowing level of realism.
I’ve never experienced the feeling of acceleration, of speed, in a game in quite the same way as I did in Project CARS with the Thrustmaster kit. Screaming through the gearbox in a suped-up Ford Capri as it careened along a Californian freeway was absolutely exhilarating.
Whilst there are other more established racing simulators out there that cater for racing enthusiasts, Project CARS is unique in that it is immediately accessible and can be scaled to the users desired experience. Whether you want an arcade-style experience or a real racing experience Project CARS will satisfy.
Project CARS is the racing game that we have been waiting for, a game made by racing fans for racing fans. Is it the best racing game ever made? Quite possibly. I know it’s the best racing game I’ve ever played, and I’ve played quite a few.
Project CARS is out now on Xbox One, PlayStation 4 and Windows PC via Steam. The Physical PC version will be available in stores on Wednesday 13th May.