Project Cars should really come with a disclaimer. This is not a racer to play for five minutes here and there. You definitely can’t have a few drinks and stick it on to unwind. Being a racing driver, kinda sucks. This isn’t for Vin Diesel, it’s for Ayrton Senna.
For a start we should be happy games like this still exist. Countless cars and tracks, available on one Blu-ray disk. In an age where DLC ruins many things, the developers Slightly Mad Studios, promise to release free DLC regularly. To be honest the game doesn’t need it, it’s already full of content and longevity. Being a game for the purists, the allure of this game will be in the community challenges. Setting the best time on a certain track with the best car then seeing how you compare against the world, will be the addictive element of the game. But before i gush about the good things, I’ll start with the bad.
Karting. I’m going to put this out there straight away. Karting in Project Cars is horrible. If you want to do the career mode properly, you start at the bottom. The bottom is clearly a horrible track in Scotland called Glencairn. Anyone that has tried Go Karting in reality will know what it is like. It is a series of small bursts of acceleration, where the secret is carrying speed through the corners. Accelerating or braking with any ferocity will make you stop dead or spin out. This is hilarious when you are on a work night out or as a member of a stag party but translating it exactly onto a video game has many problems. The main issue is the speed of the karts. You think Mario Kart on 200cc is bad? It’s nothing compared to this. Do yourself a favour. Make sure the restart option is on. You will find yourself continually restarting, for a variety of reasons. Playing on PS4 with controller, you quickly have to realise that the slightest touch on the triggers is the same as a full on press in other games. You miss corners, you stop dead, you run over the top of the braking kart in front, you stop dead and get passed by three and by far the worst of all you can’t see the track because of racing at night or in the perpetual lens flare of late afternoon.
These are all issues with karting that could be avoided by dialing back on the speed or just maybe, me being a bit better. I’m willing to accept the latter but I wish they were slower. If they were slower, karting could be the gradual introduction to the game, that prepares you for the long driver career ahead. Instead it achieves Mad Max levels of insanity as you somehow try to make it around tracks that are designed for reality not gaming. I would love to hear from a proper karting expert to see if the fictional Glencairn track is possible in a real kart.
Another low point is the overall presentation, in-game the presentation is serious with nice options for lap times and splits available. The menu screens are another issue. I have tried to do the community challenges but as yet none of my lap times register. Again either I am so rubbish or there is some bug not worked out yet. Loading the game up, I found myself unable to play anything but quick race for ages. Checking twitter I was able to see that the content was still loading. All that was needed, would have been a warning or a note somewhere along the menu screen.
My final big issue is auto drive. Now when a game needs you to do a pit stop there should be an element of auto drive. Pit lanes are notoriously hard to simulate in games due to the speed restrictions and narrow turns. Project Cars auto drive, kicks in when you leave a pit lane or when you have a rolling start. Both of these are poorly implemented. You will run into problems firstly in the karting. The rolling start could hand over manual control at the worst time. My worst example was when it gave me control as my kart was on the apex of a corner. Being a hyper realistic simulation, any acceleration when you aren’t on the tarmac leads to a spin, I had to restart again and again until I just gave up and let my kart lose its positional advantage to get some form of traction. Not ideal when you are on pole position. Auto drive also is an issue on pit stops, you never know when it is going to kick in. After struggling around the track in an F1 car I had to pit, I cruised into the pit lane and somehow negotiated the ridiculous corner just as I thought auto drive would kick in, it didn’t and I slammed into the wall. Things didn’t get any better on the way out either. I was expecting to be guided at least some of the way around the treacherous pit lane but no, manual control was handed over at almost 100 mph as I approached the blind corner. You can imagine where it ended.
Now you may be surprised to know, that despite all this I think Project Cars is a gem of a game. Nothing has given me the feeling of racing better in recent years. Forza and Gran Turismo are excellent simulators but they can get a little stale because of the variety of cars. You can pick the best car in these games and cruise to victory, whether you make mistakes or not. In Project Cars you get very little choice over your car. You have to earn drives for the better teams and even then there will be many racers in the same car as you. It generates real, competitive racing that both excites and frustrates in equal measure. You will be a picture of concentration hitting apex after apex when suddenly a computer character will take a chance and dive up the inside. What do you do? Do you rigidly take the contact and hope to end up the better for it or do you alter your line and try to get them on the next bend? The choice is the definition of racing and it is this bottled lightning that makes the game so addictive. There is no pointless free-roam or collecting billboards here, you are a racing driver, you are placed on a track and after that you race.
The graphics are acceptably stunning, if not up to the pc level, but there is a notable amount of screen tear and slowdown when it rains. This in no way effects the gameplay, it just jars a bit when the realism of the rest is right up there. I don’t need to go into them any further as a simple google search or twitch stream will give you a good idea.
This painful realism of Project Cars makes me think that my chances of being a professional driver at 32 are gone. I don’t have the will to dedicate my life to learning all the tracks, cars and techniques needed to win the world championships. Luckily I have Project Cars, the game where finishing in the top ten is enough to scratch the racing itch.