Project CARS Review

By Robert Settle on 30th May 2015

Project CARS is a game designed for the racing enthusiast, but somehow it’s also a game that anyone can play. This is the simulation game that Gran Turismo should have become long ago. Games like Forza have slowly made their way towards the center of the scale of simulation vs. arcade, paving the way nicely for Project CARS to enter and consolidate itself as the ultimate experience in simulation racing. In fact, everything about this game screams out simulation. It doesn’t sugar coat races with stupid techno music or fancy car crashes that seem to have been captured and modelled after scenes from the recent Fast & Furious movie. Unlike Forza, you don’t even have access to a rewind functionality! Whether the developers chose to miss all of this out or whether it was just due to a lack of time, the final package results in the most authentic racing experience that I have witnessed on a games console to date. This is a tough game. It punishes you for making mistakes and rewards you for clean driving.

With all of this in mind, how is this not just a game that will appeal to the hardcore racing fans? The truth is that the only way you can truly appreciate the game’s mechanics is to play it with all of the assistance switched off, however this game is all about customization. It lets you customize an exhaustive list of settings to let you tailor the game to suit your needs. Anyone can pick up and play this game. The list of settings won’t intimidate you either, since everything is presented in an extremely user-friendly interface. Project CARS is probably one of the most configurable racing games that I have played to date, making it the most appealing to everyone.

You’d think that other games have given you all of the necessary options to choose from. Surely there aren’t any that established franchises like Forza and Gran Turismo would have forgotten about? Project CARS answers this question by showing you the true power of customization. Options such as braking assistance, stability control and gearboxes are standard in this game. What differentiates it from other games is the ability to pretty much customize your entire racing user interface. You can shift the racing map to almost any section of the screen. There are a huge amount of views to choose from when racing. Helmet cam, bonnet cam, third person cam, viewing from the driver’s perspective, dashboard-cam without the wheel; these are just some examples of the views at your disposal.

Slider options are hugely underrated. The developers of Project CARS however realize this and they use slider mechanisms to allow you to fine tune options such as the AI difficulty to an extreme amount of precision. As an example, the AI difficulty configuration sits on a slider that ranges from 0 to 100! Yes, you have 100 different difficulty options and you can choose the precise difficulty that suits your capability. Another great feature is that the difficulty can be changed before every single race. You are not bound by a specific difficulty throughout a championship or series. This is a fantastic idea since it is very possible that gamers are going to be better on some tracks over others. The game is designed to let you race the way you want.

No matter what difficulty you choose, the AI is very good at keeping aware of its surroundings. That doesn’t mean that they won’t play aggressively. As with real life, sometimes drivers can get aggressive and make life a little harder for you. However I never felt that the AI was purposefully designed to give me a hard time. The moment you finally get the perfect difficulty level setting right, it feels like a huge reward being able to overtake them. I found that the best difficulty setting was always one where the AI was slightly better than me. It’s the only way I could ever improve myself.

The career mode is brilliant and packed with events. You aren’t just taking part in one type of race. There is open wheel racing, prototype car racing and even GT events. You have the freedom to define what events you take part in first. Eventually you do need to get through all of them in order to continue to the next stage, but at least the game doesn’t tell you what you have to race first. If you like kart racing, you can choose whether this event is first or last. If you don’t want to progress to the next level after completion of a season, you can even stay where you are. This is just another example of Project CARS giving you the freedom to play how you want. The career mode makes you feel as if you’re part of a team. You don’t need to worry about earning cash to buy a fancy car, since the team rewards you with them as you take on new offers to compete in further events.

What I love about Project CARS is that it is one of the best games at making you feel as if you’re part of a genuine race. A race is not necessarily won or lost if you don’t come first. Sure, the standings are what matter. However every individual in an event is racing against those around him. You may be coming 8th for example. There is no way you can come 1st. Does this mean that the race is over? Racing is not always about coming 1st, but instead about finishing in the best possible realistic position. Therefore, if 8th is the best you can do, you need to ensure that you hold onto that lead since there will be opponents trying to claim that spot. At the same time, you can always push forward to maintain your position or perhaps steal 7th. Within a large race, there are always several mini-races that are being fought out. This is what makes watching Formula 1 on TV such a delight and Project CARS manages to capture this essence really well.

You aren’t tied down to just one race either. Project CARS lets you save multiple career modes. Therefore, you can take different paths in each one and see how they pan out. It doesn’t seem like such a huge feature, but in the modern era, save and load slots are becoming less popular.

Outside of the career mode, you can take part in race weekends where you can enter events that are customizable. You can even change how the weather dynamically changes throughout the entire race! Each race (depending on the track and number of laps) contains weather slots that let you change the weather patterns as you progress. This is one of my favourite features. Being able to change the weather from bright and sunny to heavy rain and then watching it unfold as you race at night is sensational. You can even change how drastically the weather changes.

These customization options aren’t just limited to the single player experience either. In fact, the online multiplayer is clearly the most enjoyable aspect of the game and it only helps that the user-friendly nature of the offline portion is brought to the more complex multiplayer component. There were a few issues at launch with people experiencing the rare glitch when certain racers were able to enter the rooms with cars that weren’t eligible with the race type, but this is really a red herring.

Graphically, Project CARS is one of the most beautiful looking racing games to date. Perhaps it’s because the studio had more time to play around with the capabilities of current-gen consoles. However there is no doubt that races, no matter what the weather conditions are like, are outstanding to watch. Is every weather condition the best looking? No. In fact, there are other games such as Drive Club (albeit that’s on another console to the one we tested CARS on) that look much better especially in conditions like rain. However, CARS is more than good enough to make you feel as if you’re genuinely sitting in the driving seat, especially if you have a top of the range racing wheel to compliment the game.

The track and vehicle list is more than large enough to pack a huge punch. More importantly, the variety in cars is truly outstanding for a game that is a brand new franchise. You can race in hypercars, supercars, saloons, hatchbacks, Le Man prototypes, karts, GT vehicles just to name some of the options. Not every single vehicle is fully licensed, but most of them are. I hope that after the success of this game, the developers will be able to get 100% licensing for future iterations. Unfortunately, Japanese vehicles are lacking, but I’m hoping that they may release a DLC pack of Japanese cars in the future.

Project CARS is all about authenticity of the vehicles depicted. It’s what drove the developers to make this game and they have succeeded. It’s astonishing to compare the likes of a race car to a regular road vehicle. The way the race cars are fine tuned for cornering and braking are evident from the get go. I have not played a game that places such an emphasis on distinguishing the different types of vehicle quite like Project CARS does. You can tell that the game was made by a bunch of racing fanatics.

When racing, the game puts you in the shoes of what a driver goes through mentally. It’s not just about racing around a track and trying to gain first place. Races are much more than that. Ones with many laps require you to take pit stops. No race is ever won individually. It is often won by a team who has worked together to help achieve the same goal. You have staff in the back who are monitoring your vehicles and are giving you advice. You have people working in the pit stop to ensure that your wheels are catered for whenever they take a bashing. If someone in the pit stop makes a small mistake that results in you having to wait an extra second, you will need to keep calm and try to make up for it through some better laps. All of this is factored into the game to give you a sense of realism and tension that you won’t feel in any other racing game on the Xbox One.

Project CARS is a game for everyone. It is the type of game that will help turn you into a racing game fanatic if you already aren’t. It’s the racing simulator that the console so desperately needed. With an extremely user-friendly interface and a huge plethora of tracks and vehicles to choose from (along with continued DLC), I cannot imagine why anyone would want to stop playing this online. The true essence of racing is felt in this game. It’s the game that makes you want to buy that high-end racing wheel to help maximize your experience and shave off those precious seconds in any particular lap. There was a huge amount of pressure on Project CARS to deliver and I’m happy to say that it has far exceeded my expectations.