Update: With Project Cars having now having been out for two weeks, we’ve finally played it enough to update our review and put a score on it. Well, Brett has. We just watched him play it. Anyway, his final thoughts are below, followed by the original text.
Every race in Project Cars continues to be a challenge. Any time spent away from the sim means re-learning all the intricacies of whichever car I last raced in, remembering the breaking points and trying your best to keep the thing on the tarmac. Career mode will go through highs and lows, much like any racer, as you find yourself in cars that fit like the perfect pair of shoes, and others that fit your racing style as well as a stroppy toddler fits into a pram in Tesco.
There are many difficulty tweaks available for those who seek an even greater test of their abilities, but for most players Project Cars’ greatest obstacle is something rather mundane: being able to commit enough time to it consistently so that the muscle memory developed in each of its tracks doesn’t fade. That said, I love the challenge that Project Cars presents, both on the track and off it, and as soon as I find a moment of spare time, I’ll use to to shave a few off of my fastest times around the tracks in my Caterham.
While Project Cars is certainly demanding, I remain willing to put the time in because the reward of nailing a perfect overtake or completing a clean lap is so satisfying. You must improve in order to get the most out of the cars, and you naturally will. Every spinout is part of the learning curve: you’ll start to get a feel for the car, its limits, and how far you can push them. There isn’t a new-gen racer that is as grounded in reality as Project Cars, nor one that asks as much from players. The rewards, however, are worth the effort.
I never fully understood the significance of cold tyres before Project Cars. Trying to survive a lap from the pits in order to put a decent qualifying time on the board has consistently proved one of the biggest tasks I’ve ever faced in a racing game, and it’s indicative of the Project Cars experience so far. It may not have the bells and whistles of other racers, but its attention to detail makes nearly every race sublime.
Those expecting anything approaching arcade-style racing, however, may as well give up now, because Project Cars is for the biggest of petrolheads. The menus don’t do anything to wow or grab the attention: they’re merely functional, there to get you from one race to the next. The events themselves are equally unwelcoming to the novice. Even with all assists turned on it’s an achievement in itself to make it around the track incident-free. The smallest of mistakes can lead to utter catastrophe, and you’ll be restarting races often in the early going. Learning how to adapt to different conditions is key to becoming a competent driver. Your tyres are first on the list of things that must be mastered: getting them up to a decent track temperature before setting a qualifying time is an absolute necessity. Your car feels like it’s on ice before the tyres warm up, and taking corners at high speed is a gamble that more often pays off through sheer luck than absolute skill.
You simply must learn to get to grips with the car. Slightly Mad’s racer may not boast a garage to compete with the likes of Gran Turismo, but it certainly makes up for this by presenting each of its 60+ cars in incredible detail. Every vehicle you jump into requires a learning period. Touching the apex in a kart will see control ripped from your hands followed by a quick trip to the dirt, while Formula A cars fly off the line with so much torque that keeping them going straight requires incredibly delicate handling: so much so that you might forget there’s a race to be won.
The uniqueness in feel of every car is key to Project Cars’ addictive nature. You want to jump into every motor because you want to see what it has to offer in comparison to the others. Racing titles with billions of cars often tire quickly because you only really drive a small percentage of their cars, with inevitably some soon becoming indistinguishable from others. That’s not the case here.
This is also helped by amazing sound design. There’s no musical score to accompany races, which at first felt a shame, but as the hours ticked by, I began to appreciate the diversity in the roars of the engines. Porsches have a deep grumble, while little karts squeal their way around the smaller circuits, and you can hear every jolt in the engine of a Caterham Superlight R500.
The overall presentation of races is only hampered, at times, by mundane weather and vacant racetracks. While Project Cars looks great during the more extreme conditions, when the skies turn a little more ‘British’ it tends to dull the track, too. Nobody wants to race around Silverstone on a grey afternoon in February: we want to see pouring rain and glorious sunshine, and this is where the game looks best. Equally, the lack of anything interesting beside the roads means circuits can look a little lifeless. The stillness of the air can take away from the atmosphere, perhaps more so for those watching the race than actually playing, as you’re often going too fast to pay attention to the barriers. Unless you’re on your way into them.
Elsewhere there are other, more technical issues, including some noticeable instances of screen-tearing. It’s disappointing, and seems to happen more often during intense moments, such as multiple cars piling up into corners, when you want the game to be at its smoothest in order to pull off the most delicate of overtakes.
So far, however, Project Cars is an enjoyable and challenging sim, one that is as eager to keep you racing as you are to get back out there. Slightly Mad knows its strengths: the campaign structure, like the menus which serve it, is basic and functional. It offers three initial entry points: low-level, fighting for a championship, or going for a triple crown. But, crucially, you won’t be out of the action for long. Progress is made via pure performance on the track – teams will invite you to progressively-better track days and events if you do well – not just accumulating credits and splashing them around. There’s still plenty more to dive into, but for now it’s looking like Slightly Mad is on to a winner.
Version tested: PS4