Slightly Mad Studios’ Project Cars promised to be the most realistic racing sim in the business. A no holds barred racing experience that throws away the frills in favour of racing thrills. We gave the Xbox One version a test drive.
As a fan of all things to do with racing games, I was ecstatic with the announcement of Project Cars. This game was a project funded by the community and developers, rather than a traditional publishing house. It had all the buzzwords that I like to hear when it comes to racing Sims, from real world locations to a bespoke physics engine. I followed the development of this game all the way through, including the launch date delays, nonetheless, it was finally here. Immediate comparisons between the Gran Turismo & the Forza series were being made across the racing community, but I knew that this game was going to be different. Everything about it reminded me of one of my all time favourite racing games, the Codemasters classic, TOCA Race Driver 2. I eagerly anticipated a game that focused on a Race Driver’s journey from being an amateur making his way up the ranks to becoming a world champion rather than merely building up a garage of customised cars.
As you watch the intro video to the game, you’re given a taste of things to come, dynamic weather, lighting effects, the catalogue of cars available to you and a soundtrack that is reminiscent to the golden era of Formula 1.
The attention to detail is quite amazing with raindrops collecting on your bonnet and windscreen as you drive and occasional glare during sunset. Every now and then you do see through the mask and realise that it was not crafted by one of the big studios, but on the whole it is a fantastic looking game.
The Menu screens for example are straight forward and business like and not always the most logical. It’s clear that this game is all about getting you onto the track instead of wasting hours circling through menus.
Straight off the bat, you quickly realise that this is not a “pick up and play” game. Rather than something you fool around with to kill some spare time, Project Cars is poised as a serious racing game that requires your utmost attention. Unlike other games in the genre, there are no cash rewards, a multitude of upgrades or unlockables, which at first does make you wonder what you’re trying to achieve in this game. Instead you’re given the option to start as an Amateur racer, a Professional or a Defending Champ.
A unique feature of the game allows you customise just about everything, from the placement of the rear-view mirror on your HUD to fine tuning every mechanical aspect of your car. I do urge you to do some homework before playing around with the latter, as it is not clear how every change in your car’s setup would affect the driving characteristics, there is a disclaimer on the screen to “talk to your engineer”, by this, I think that they are referring to one of your friends who is a Mechanical Engineer because you won’t find any help in the game.
Once you have decided what your path is going to be, you are immersed into a Race Weekend; Practice, Qualifying and Race Day. There is dynamic weather which affects your car’s handling but curiously not that of your AI opponents.
After installing into my console, I started my career and took to the track, that’s when a few problems arose, it felt as if the game was not completed, there were glitches such as the steering locking in either extreme left or right, the frame rate made you feel a little giddy at times, the AI competitors behaved rather randomly on the track and the physics would sometimes decide that the game needed a touch of sci-fi. I decided to power through, but the more I played, the more frustrated I began to feel with the game, so after about 2 weeks, I parked it off. During the last week of May, I saw a notification that there was a major patch available. Willing to the give the game a second chance, I installed the patch and I have to say that it has transformed what was once a huge disappointment, into a game that has yet to be ejected from my console.
This being said, the game is still not without its flaws. For example there is no in-game radio meaning that you are subjected to the sounds of your car and others on the track, which is fine, except that the sounds don’t seem to be synced correctly. There are issues with loading screens hanging and the only way to resolve this is to exit the game and restart, I don’t need to tell you how frustrating that can be. Hopefully these are issues that will soon be addressed, but for now, if you ignore these niggles and once your tyres are warmed up and you get familiar with each car and track, the experience does take control of you.
This is the part of the game that had me asking the most questions. There are no shortage of tracks, 30 locations to be exact; most of which are fully licensed recreations of the some of the most famous and loved race tracks from around the world and with 74 vehicles available, from Karts to Le Mans racers, and the game does answer most needs. However, the phoney sponsor livery on the cars and fake Twitter feed in the career mode does take away quite a bit of the game’s legitimacy, the game would have been just fine without the costume jewellery.
There might not be millions in fictitious currency to be won but it forces you to set your own goals, be it the fastest lap time, on that track, in that car, in that weather or learning how to tune your car for race day, the sense of achievement in this game is a real victory.
Project Cars was developed by Slightly Mad Studios and published by Namco Bandai Games. We reviewed the game on an Xbox One, it is also available on PS4 and PC.