If you were to ask me what the premiere driving simulator was, I would undoubtedly say Gran Turismo. Now, if you asked me that and limited it to the PlayStation 4, there would have been a time that I was at a loss for words. Need For Speed aims for a completely different style of racing, veering far from realism and Driveclub riding the line. With no Gran Turismo on Sony’s latest console, it’s up to developer Slightly Mad Studios, an independent studio that’s built from the pedigree of previous Need for Speed Shift and Test Drive titles. Can Project CARS match the same quality of its contemporaries, or is this racing simulator in need of a pit stop?
Project CARS opens with a robust career mode that has you working up the ranks long before you get your hands on one of the game’s many supercars such as the Pagani Zonda Cinque Roadster or W Motors Lykan Hypersport. Long before you can get behind the wheel of any such vehicle, instead he career puts you in the seat of a 125cc shifter kart. In fact, I spent perhaps four hours of my racing career in various flavors of shifter karts before I was allowed to even touch a car.
The core of Project CARS‘ career mode is built on earning accolades and sponsorships through repeated performance. As you proceed through minor cups and championships, your fame and notoriety slowly accrue in the form of social media fans and trophies as you clear through events on a racing calendar. New events and cars open up at a steady pace, keeping the experience going with the thrill of getting behind the wheel of a new ride. If you’re feeling anxious and don’t want to go through the hassle of unlocking everything, a quick race option is available, giving you access to any car on the roster for any track.
Unique to Project CARS is the ability to toy around with just how much fluff and extra content you want to work with in every aspect of the game. Taking the career races for example, each even lets you try a practice run of the track to get a feel for the road followed by a qualifying round to determine pole position and lastly the race itself. If you feel short on time, the game allows you to simulate a qualifying round and adjust your position accordingly. On races with a healthy number of laps, you can even simulate the last few legs of the race and let the game calculate where you would have placed. It’s a novel feature for those that suddenly find themselves suddenly short on time.
If you’re looking for the simulation aspect of racing, Project CARS has more options than you can possibly imagine. Nearly every part of the car’s performance can be tweaked through sliders and customization settings. Slightly Mad Studios has certainly lived up to their namesake with just how crazy precise the tuning can go. Various sliders can let you tweak individual tire pressure or acceleration lock on your differential. A brief tutorial exists for each option, but it’s difficult to know just how each setting can affect your driving performance without hopping out to the race central and join into a quick race. A casual racer may find themselves lost on all of the performance options and may want to stick to the basics. However, for the hardcore, the rabbit hole even goes as deep as to allow custom button layouts to adjust the seat forward and backwards during cockpit view.
Project CARS is a title that makes very little compromise when it comes to its authenticity. If you are not used to the fine art of driving, be it in game or in the real world, Project CARS will feel quite alien at first. Approaching the title with the mindset where you can just hold down the accelerator at full blast and slingshot around corners will only cause you to spin out and lose in breathtaking fashion. Driving a car requires a certain level of finesse and Project CARS mirrors that almost to a T. Without a proper tutorial to guide you on the finer mechanics, newcomers to the racing genre may find themselves facing an impenetrable skill barrier. Even with the 125cc shifter karts to start with, learning to handle one of these takes time and practice that the game doesn’t quite give you beyond quick races. Project CARS is set up for car enthusiasts first and foremost and as such throws you straight onto a raceway with little guidance on just what button or what or even how to drive without immediately burning out.
During my tour with this particular driving simulator, a few quirks and bugs did pop up that marred an otherwise pristine experience. As a method to deter drivers from driving off course or cutting a corner to save a few seconds, the game will occasionally penalize the player by invalidating their lap time (for leaderboards and such). On more than one occasion, the game would also drop me down to last place and take an entire lap off my current progression. This would happen anytime from the first offense to perhaps the third or fourth attempt throughout a track and it’s unclear whether this was an intended feature or not.
Despite just a small number of issues that popped up during my tour with Project CARS, the bulk of the game performed admirably. I learned more about my inability to drive and handle a stick shift in my hours behind the wheel than in years of playing various other racers. Slightly Mad Studios has certainly set a precedent in the car simulation genre and Project CARS is a new record for what to expect out on the track.
[Editor’s note: Project CARS was reviewed on the PlayStation 4 platform. Review code was provided to us by the publisher.]Project CARS (PS4) Review,