While this generation of consoles is fairly young, it’s already seen some fantastic new IPs launch for racing fans. Slightly Mad Studios has crafted some great games, but they’ve had some really rough edges at times too. Shift 2: Unleashed furthered the Need For Speed’s sim-inspired series, but suffered from poor controls. Project CARS is the company’s most ambitious title to date. Beyond giving players the usual array of dream cars, it also allows you to play in more racing disciplines than any sim racer currently on the market. The TOCA/Race Driver series did, but that series is lying dormant for the time being.
Project CARS offers up many different racing disciplines and executes them all fairly well. CARS is a tougher racing simulation than most, with a handful of assists that make things easier, but nothing that quite makes it as user-friendly as the Forza games. You’ve got three different default difficulty levels to work with and can tinker with a variety of settings before a race if you want to.
Those used to racing sims and anyone who loves a good challenge will want to go with the medium setting, while most will want to go with the easiest difficulty. At that level, the handling isn’t quite as easy to get a hang of as the Forza games, but it’s not too challenging. Sim die-hards will thrive on the hardest setting, which goes for a race-accurate level of tire wear and car damage that will put your skills to the test in every race.
You can race in either a basic offline race, online, or take part in the career mode. Like many, this career mode lets you start at the absolute beginning if you so desire – but it isn’t mandatory. The theoretical start of things is go kart racing, but you can skip ahead and just do formula racing or more regular track races if you so desire.
While starting from the bottom makes sense, the karts are actually harder to control than the formula cars – so I recommend starting there instead. Races are far more intense, and that can be both good and bad. Unlike most racers out there, CARS lacks a rewind option. That feature has been quite divisive, but the lack of it in Driveclub made that a less fun game than it should’ve been, and that holds true here as well.
Enemy AI can be ruthless at the start of a race and run you off the road, which results in a lot of restarts early on. This also means that you’ll be hearing from your crew a lot as well – and on the PS4, as we’ll discuss, that can’t be skipped. It makes things that should be fairly simple, such as continuing a single series of races, far more frustrating than they need to be.
Hopefully a patch is released down the line that adds rewinds in or maybe they fix the AI to be less bump-heavy in the corners. Currently, they alternate between being too aggressive and not doing anything. They might veer in your general direction, but if they’re not careening into you, they’re not going to do much to you. There really should be a happy medium struck between these things, because it winds up with too many races either getting a little bit boring or being too frustrating.
Despite issues like that though, Project CARS remains really fun to play when things click into place. Much like Driveclub, there’s a fantastic base here that just needs some tweaking to unleash its full potential. The default control layout is pretty good, with logical setups for acceleration and braking, but switching cameras with Square and using Triangle to look behind you takes some getting used to. Photo mode is nice, but keeps the racing line on, which hurts the photos you want to take – unlike the Forza games.
Online play is a bit of a cluster due to the game’s convoluted menus, but is otherwise well-executed. You can have public events, private events with friends, or invite friends into either. If pickings are slim due to playing at a weird time of day, you can choose to have AI opponents fill out the field. You can either do individual races or even do a full setup of races complete with qualifiers and practice runs. Overall options are plentiful and racing is usually lag-free. Cars spinning out fairly easily do make things frustrating, but if you have a race without many collisions, then online is a ton of fun.
Visually, Project CARS is a stunner. It’s got the most detailed car models in a game to date. In terms of lighting effects, Driveclub might just top it at night. During the day, you’ll get the best-looking sunlight effects yet. Sun beads down onto the tracks and hits the cars fairly realistically. The first time you see the sunlight go through the windshield and vary depending on the sun’s angle in relation to your car, you’ll be shocked. It’s clear a lot of care went into the graphics, and the meticulously detailed car models show that. Their interiors are lush and the exteriors are some of the finest yet in gaming.
The in-menu soundtrack builds suspense with booming songs that get the blood pumping while the in-race sound focuses on atmosphere. The sound of your car hitting the pavement varies with each camera angle and PS4 owners get something special. The speaker on the Dual Shock 4 controller is actually used to convey messages from your crew. When it comes to building atmosphere, they really did nail down the sound of a walkie-talkie perfectly. Unfortunately, there doesn’t appear to be any way to turn this feature off – for the times when you just want to have a quiet, relaxing play session.
Overall, Project CARS is a very good game that winds up being greater than the sum of its parts. It has some rough edges that will hopefully be ironed out in time and remains a must-buy for racing fans even with its flaws. When you’re actually in the heat of the moment, you don’t notice the game’s problems – but when time has passed and you analyze things, you start seeing some flaws. Still, it’s an incredible experience and the best racing offering to date on the PlayStation 4 and PC, while Xbox One owners should definitely keep it on their radars since it offers up something that is about on par with the Forza games as well.
Reviewed By: Jeremy Peeples
Publisher: Bandai Namco
This review is based on a retail copy of Project CARS for the PlayStation 4 provided by Bandai Namco.