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Project CARS Review - Racing the Slightly Mad Way

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Project CARS is one of the most anticipated console racing games released this year. There are two major reasons for this. First and most important, it's a viable competitor to the Forza Motorsport series. It's also the first simulation-oriented racer to appear on the PlayStation 4. Second, its creators were behind some of the most compelling simulators created. GTR2 and its predecessor were strong racing simulators for their time. The focus on driving experience, physics and authenticity made them stand out. Project CARS, then, is an amalgamation of ten years worth of experience. Many of the tracks featured in Slightly Mad Studios' previous games return. Some of the fan favourite vehicles also make an appearance. Project CARS opens its inner workings for console and PC gamers alike. That sets it apart on platforms where restrictions have become par for the course.

So how is the final product? Brilliant, exceptional, daring and a lot of fun.

This is a racer for the enthusiast

While Project CARS is a racing game, it is first a driving game. Road cars as well as track vehicles are present. You'll have access to Open Wheel racing to those sharp-handling GT3 classes. As for road cars, some key brands are missing - such as Porsche, Ferrari, VW and Lexus. I do hope we'll see more brands appearing in the game for the future.  It'd be good to see more road cars as well. We'll still see McLaren, Mercedes-Benz, Renault and BMW. There's a healthy mix of classic and modern vehicles too. The car selection is strong all round. No matter your driving style you'll find a car catered to your taste.

I'd give one piece of advice: Start learning to race on slower cars. Formula Rookie or Super Karts are solid foundations to build on. You'll learn braking, racing line and steering much easier than with faster vehicles. Once you're ready, move onto something faster until you're ready. The learning curve will be far less steep than when driving high power GT3 cars first.

The track selection Project CARS has is bigger than any console racing around. Classics like the Nurburgring Nordschleife, Bathurst and Brno are here. New road tracks like the Azure Coast and California are welcome entries. This is because they bring open road sprinting on top of circuit racing. They're also great venues to learn new vehicles due to surface and turn variation.


Physics that demands precise driving

Project CARS has the best physics engine of any console racing game around. Slightly Mad Studios have made a simulation racing game, and it shows. Cars are more planted than in say, a game like Assetto Corsa and iRacing.  They'll still give you a challenge, though. If you're using a controller you'll need to learn to drive with assists on. I'd recommend a steering wheel and pedal setup for maximal control. The game has its issues; track-side objects tend to get stuck on cars and do not fall off until you reset your car. One issue I had caused force feedback to disappear until race restart on the Xbox One. If you're looking for a solid controller configuration, I'll provide one later.

If you're going to use a steering wheel, there will be some setup needed on both the car and wheel. Higher gripping vehicles will need tighter feed back. If you're going to use a classic car like the Ford Escord Mk1, reduce some feedback. Do not try to play this game as you would Forza Motorsport or Need for Speed.  Project CARS will punish you for that. Slow, gradual and smooth movement rewards results. The tracks in-game are laser-scanned, and demand precise driving. You'll often hear undercarriage scraping as you race through some of these demanding courses.


Here are some solid settings for your controller, in case you were looking for some:

  • Throttle Deadzone: 0%
  • Throttle Sensitivity: 30%
  • Brake Deadzone: 10%
  • Brake Sensitivity: 15%
  • Controller Filtering Sensitivity: 50% (you should try different values to see what you like best). A higher value means smoother (less twitchy) steering but it can cause input lag.
  • Steering Deadzone: 15%
  • Steering Sensitivity: 0%
  • Clutch deadzone: 0%
  • Clutch sensitiviy: 45%
  • Speed Sensitivity: 75%

I also suggest increasing your steering ratio in the car settings under My Garage. When driving, use gentle inputs and let go of the joystick to straighten up your car. This will go a long way to improving your driving experience.


The best looking racing game on consoles

There is no denying how good looking this game is. Bits of rubber pelt wind screens and exhaust fumes limit your vision. Water droplets move around with the wind and wobble on your car's bonnet. Night time is as beautiful as it is dangerous. When night falls your pace drops with it. You rely on working headlights and opponent tail lights to navigate. Rain and fog limit your visibility, making it harder to see into the distance.

You can take a look at my recording of a day/night cycle with different weather effects.

Lighting has had particular attention given to it. Dark and light are start contrasts. Depending on what you drive that can be somewhat terrifying. The first time you see the day-night cycle work, you feel as if the world is changing. It's more than just cosmetic. Your tires cool down faster at night, or in a winter season. When the track dries up, you gain grip with tire temperature. The dirt on your tires causes more spin-outs and loss of grip after losing control on a turn.

Textures were sharp, even on the Xbox One. Slightly Mad Studios Studios worked hard to make the game look good for everyone. It seems that the 3D modellers took pains to animate the smallest things. I found it fascinating to see suspensions move on open wheel cars like the Formula A.

Slightly Mad Studios have made the graphics in Project CARS functional and pretty. That is how all racing games should play, in my opinion.


Your ears will love it too

The level of compulsion applied to this game goes beyond anything I've experienced. Every car sounds unique. Audi's R8 V10 Plus growls along just like the real thing. Each car you drive jars every time you change a gear. Your tires will squeal under pressure, and you'll know when you've made a mistake. I enjoyed hearing the bottom of my car as I landed hard after a fast and high jump. I loved how engines screamed as engine revolutions increased. If there were a lesson in sound design for Polyphony Digital and Turn 10, this was it.


Do you like to tinker? This game's for you

Project CARS allows more customising than any other racing title on any console. You can change your field of view, control sensitivity, seating position and view options. Don't like the helmet filter on the in-car view? You can turn that off. Want to remove the steering wheel from the cockpit view? Turn that off too. You can enable speed tunnel vision as well. This is just the tip of the iceberg.

It's not perfect

Project CARS is a wonderful celebration of driving. It's not without issues, and you need to be aware of this. On the Xbox One you're going to experience some framerate loss. Turning down video quality in the options is going to yield better performance. The game will run at a more or less constant 60FPS in the end, though. I found that gamepad settings and controls needed serious tweaking. Yes, Project CARS plays better with a wheel, but many players will use a gamepad too. I hope that these issues get ironed out soon. They can hamper game enjoyment. Even racing wheel settings need fixing out of the box. I found them too harsh and jittery. Turning down some lateral forces helped make the game play better.

Small physics issues plague the game. On-track objects will get stuck on your car, and these can be immersion breakers. This is disappointing, since Slightly Mad Studios was so meticulous with driving mechanics. Some screens will have a red tint on black objects. You can fix this by removing and re-inserting your HDMI cable.



Project CARS is a solid racing simulator not without issues. It thrills, frightens and delights. It's this mixture that makes the adrenaline pump all that faster. If you're willing to put in the time to learn its nuances you're going to have a blast. If you're expecting an easy racing game that holds your hand, look elsewhere. It's not a game for everyone, so don't expect Need for Speed or Burnout fans to get into it. If you want customisation, a sheer sense of awe while driving and an absolute sense of fun while being challenged, this is the game for you. Just don't use the game's default configuration.

Project CARS was reviewed on a Xbox One with a Thrustmaster TX Ferrari 458 Italia Edition Steering Wheel and Gamepad.

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