Developer: Slightly Mad Studios
Publisher: Bandai Namco
Platform: PS4 (Reviewed), Xbox One, PC, Wii U
Release Date: 7/5/2015
Price: $99.95 (AU) – Available Here / $59.95 (US) – Available Here
Slightly Mad Studios had a dream to deliver a love letter to the motor racing industry and after four long years of hard work and community involvement, the release of Project CARS is upon us. Featuring over 65 cars, over 110 tracks, four game modes, a near unmeasurable amount of customizable options and great presentation, how does Project CARS stack up against the competition? Read on for our full review.
Not so much a story mode but the main single player draw here is career mode. Project CARS is all about freedom and career mode is no exception. The game gives you a couple of milestones to help shape your career and once you start the way you progress is rather linear, but where you start in this mode is ultimately up to you. The race calendar details past and future events and allows you to race in the scheduled race for that day. Along the way you will be offered contracts, gain social media praise and be talked about in news headlines along side your other racers. There is no currency or unlocks in Project CARS, so having a better contract doesn’t mean much outside of some special race invites, but all the new stories and contracts make the mode feel more tailored towards your own career, even if ultimately it’s superfluous and becomes repetitive quickly.
Solo is the games free play mode where you can race or practice with your own settings. Like I mentioned before Project CARS is all about freedom right from the gate and that couldn’t be more true here as solo mode will literally let you race on any track, with any car, right from the outset. People that see unlocking content as a reward may feel this detracts from their experience but for the audience this game is marketed towards I imagine that being a dream come true. With 65 cars and more coming with free updates, players should be able to find a car from one of the games chosen car selection fields including Retro Touring, road cars, Go Karts, Track Cars, Super Cars, GT, F1 and Prototype. The track variety is also impressive with over 30 unique locations that provide over 110 courses to race on. Many are closed circuits but there are also two point to point races that occur on popular stretches of road in California Highway and the Azure Coast in Southern France. There is no shortage of variety in Project CARS.
Online at time of testing was very smooth. Even with my extremely average, Australian connection I experienced no lag and minimal cars bouncing around the track randomly as everyone left me at the back of the pack. Users create a lobby with certain settings and players can either search for a room they like or create their own. It’s simple and it works well which is all you can ask for in an online experience.
The final mode is Driver Network which offers specific challenges such as race on a certain track in a certain car. Each event has leader boards so you can see where you place against the worlds top drivers and these events last for a certain period of time before getting replaced with a new event to keep the mode fresh. This mode also contains time trials with ghosts support and is where you can view all your photo and video replay highlights. The photo mode in game is fun to play with and comes with a nice bevy of options for you to take the type of shot you like. The only negative I would say is that you can not take internal photos and for some reason the filters don’t always seem to work.
If you’re an arcade racer only fan or looking for an arcade experience, there are plenty of high quality games to suit that but this game is not it. From it’s inception Project CARS has always been about delivering a highly focused car racing simulation experience and Slightly Mad Studio’s has never wavered from that during the development process. That being said, even a beginner who has no experience with racing sims but wants to get into them can start here thanks to the user friendly options that cater to all levels of racer. Players can set A.I. difficulty on a hundred notch scale, turn damage to visual only, turn on automatic gearing, turn off penalties for bumping and going off-track, turn on the race line, tinker with all the driving assist and more. All these options provide an experience that caters for someone who wants to easily just come first in every race, someone who wants to practice and get better or someone wanting the most hardcore of experiences.
As for how cars control there is a definite learning curve. Those new to the racing simulator genre will most likely find themselves spinning out or running off the track even with assists on, but should you stick with it you will be rewarded with steady, yet satisfying improvement. At a base level with default settings, the cars feel very responsive and satisfying to drive even with the DualShock 4 controller as opposed to a racing wheel peripheral, but enthusiasts can reset assured there are plenty of control and car adjustment settings to be found in the options menus to get your handling how you like. The physics aren’t quite perfect (I somehow managed to land a car on the front bumper and have it stay like that) but they feel very realistic for the most part. The sense of speed is well implement, with even the low horse power Go Karts having you feel like you’re flying.
I listed all the car types before and it should be noted each car type (and to a lesser extent each car in that type) feels, looks and sounds vastly different from one another. So while 65 cars at launch may be relatively low for a AAA racer in this day and age, rest assured quality over quantity was the mantra here. Tracks also have plenty of variety with some tracks suited to certain vehicle types, but that being said nothing is stopping you taking to the Azure Coast in a Go Kart if you wish.
In terms of modelling this game is pretty much perfect. Cars look absolutely incredible with true to life models and only a rare slightly sharp edge to speak of. Interiors are equally impressive, especially the accurate dash displays and gauges. Mirrors reflect what they should (although if you watch them closely you can see objects constantly disappearing) and damage models also look fantastic and have great variety from light scrapes to bumpers, hoods and even tires becoming dislodged. The only negative with the interiors that detracts slightly from the realism is when you look back and only see a camera view from behind your car as opposed to the backseat. While falling slightly short of the standard of the cars, the locations are very well modeled with lots of small details hidden within them. Even the crowds look great in Project CARS. All this shines through at 1080p on the PlayStation 4.
It’s not just the models that are terrific though. Lighting and shadows are very realistically represented to create a fantastic looking image on your screen and textures are sharp and of a high resolution. Weather effects are another highlight, from rain droplets building up on your windscreen until you have to use your wipers to clean it, to the harsh glow of sunrise coming up from over a mountain. Seeing small puddles build up on the ground and lighting reflect off them realistically just goes to show the amount of effort and care that was taken with the visuals to create one of the best looking racers ever created. Time of day and the aforementioned weather can all be adjusted to your liking in solo race as can the speed of time, allowing you to create days that look like they occur over multiple days, night time races during a storm or a race that begins on a foggy sunrise and turns into a beautifully clear day. Once again freedom is king here.
With all these fantastic effects and models there is bound to be some negatives however. The game aims for a 60 frames per second framerate and it does hit that peak in optimal conditions. But start throwing in heavy weather effects or become surrounded by opposition vehicles and the frame rate can drop to the mid 30’s. Screen tearing seems to happen though luckily in my experience is retained to the California Highway track which is populated by lots of foliage. Pop in is another issue that occurs rarely, again on heavily detailed tracks. Image ghosting is an issue that is being reported to only affect the PS4 version. It is most noticeable during Go Kart races and your eyes will get used to it, however its a very jarring experience at first as the screen turns into a blurry mess. The devs are aware of this issue and are hopefully going to patch in an option to remove the odd effect in the near future.
The user interface for menus is another issue. Clearly designed for those sitting closely to a PC monitor, users will struggle to read a lot of the tiny text from a comfortable distance away from their TV’s. Strange colour choices such as fluorescent pink on Dark Grey look cool, but you can not read the current menu option while it is highlighted which is a pretty poor design choice. Another U.I. problem is that control settings can not be adjusted mid-race, meaning you will have to exit a race, play with the options and hope it works better in your next race if you don’t like how your car is handling.
I would say the most important audio in a game such as this is the car sounds and no one will be dissapointed here. I’m no car buff but each car has it’s own unique sound that I imagine is tailored to sound just like it does in real life. I liked the touch of the engine noises sounding different depending on your camera choice. Ambient crowd and weather all sound accurate and the pit crew voice overs sound good and are completely functional. All this sound is delivered with crystal clear quality with 5.1 channel support.
The menu music has an epic tone to it and accompanies menus nicely along with voice recordings from races. While there is no in race music there are several official Project CARS playlist up on Spotify you can listen to on your PS4 while playing including house, drum and bass, rock, epic and one prepared by famous DJ Deadmau5. I found the drum and bass one particularly fun to race to. There’s not much else to say about the audio except that it matches the highs of the visuals to deliver a truly engrossing experience.
Project CARS is a racing simulator fans dream come true. An extremely solid and accessible core racing experience delivered through one of the most polished audio-visual experiences this generation has seen. Four great game modes including a well implemented online structure ensure you can enjoy the racing the way you want to. There might be a few minor performance issues that stop this game from being truly perfect and maybe your favourite car isn’t in the relatively small but impressively unique roster, but Project CARS just stepped up to the plate in a big way for king of the racing sim genre, both for the hardcore and newcomers alike.
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