Project CARS has been quite the intriguing passion project throughout its dev cycle, and racing fans worldwide waited patiently, even through a couple delays, to see if the passion would match the payoff. It’s safe to say the answer is yes. The energy and vigor of Slightly Mad Studios is evident in nearly every facet and Project CARS is one of the most fun simulation racers in years.
Off the jump, Project CARS is quite the pleasant barrage on your senses. Cars and tracks betray incredible attention to detail visually and audibly. Engine noise is almost scary accurate and adjusts in a believable manner when switching between the abundance of points-of-view. Strangely, the tire-screeching seems to fluctuate at times and was almost entirely silent during a of couple races.
Now, it’s no small feat to reach 60 fps on consoles but this game comes close, though it’s not locked in and fluctuates noticeably when you push the race environment into the higher tiers. You can compete with 31 other racers and trek through intense and beautiful-to-behold thunderstorms, but that is when the frame rate takes a significant nose dive. In races with small casts and sunny environments, changes were minimal to non-existent. It’s worth it to note that at no time did the game feel broken by the shift.
The race experience itself is very good and a bit more engaging than other circuit racers as of late. Your pit manager/coach is quite vocal and the situational commentary doesn’t get repetitive. Having the instructions come through the controller speaker is also a nice touch that may catch you unawares initially.
The career content is fairly minimalist in its setup, only dropping a few cut-scenes into the mix. Via text, though, your faux racing career can get to be quite engaging. You’re courted by a bunch of different teams specializing in increasingly impressive cars as you exhibit different degrees of success. You may get an exclusive invite to a race series outside your class, adding some diversity to each season or you may receive a full contract offer at the end of your season. There’s even a mock Twitter on your dashboard, showing fans expressing their love (or distaste) for your racing skill or lack thereof.
Like the absence of tire-screech mentioned earlier, there’s another bit of a bug that can take you out of the otherwise solid experience. A handful of times, the start of a race will turn into a chaotic melee as it seems the opponent AI panics at the proximity of the other cars. Instead of cars accelerating into racing lines, you’ll witness sudden turns at the green and collisions that will make essentially half of your opponents useless for the remainder of the race. Again, this isn’t game breaking and could probably be addressed with a firmware update, but it is certainly a flaw of note.
Outside of that flaw, opponent AI produces some intense racing situations. Other drivers are realistically aggressive, sometimes to the point of creating some pretty fantastic crashes that you’ll have to navigate smartly to avoid. The damage models make nearly every piece of the cars expendable, so it’s no strange feat to lose a tire. Of course, the degree of damage can be adjusted. This leads right into one of the pivotal strengths of Project CARS.
Customization under the hood of the cars and even the player user-interface is almost overwhelming. The adjustable details for vehicles is expected in a sim, but the frequency of implementation is impressive. You can have multiple templates for each pit stop, allowing you to adjust in a multitude of ways as longer races go on. From tire set-up to the amount of gas (which affects your cars weight), the level of customization focuses on a strategic element often glanced over in racing games. Weather operates in real time as well, so your car setup could be completely different by the time you cross the finish line.
Though the game can be very unforgiving in its simulation roots, there are an abundance of settings to tailor to your strengths and not make gameplay feel like a chore. On top of that, the wealth of car types and arguably the best cast of tracks in a sim racer combine to make Project CARS a must-have title. Whether you’re a seasoned gear-head or a babe barely off the asphalt teat, CARS has something to offer. You may just have to get your feet wet in a go-kart first.
This review was based on a digital copy of Project CARS for PS4 provided by Slightly Mad Studios.