Slightly Mad Studios went through an unconventional development process with Project CARS. The game was entirely created through community collaboration. Not only was it crowd-funded, with people pledging hundreds of thousand of pounds to the project, but the community was invited to create content for the game as well. The end result was supposed to be a driving simulation game people would love to play, because the people had created it. Of course, this all relied on Slightly Mad Studios producing a frame work with a great driving model and a fantastic game engine.
As I understand it, Project CARS was released to a disappointed crowd of hopefuls who were waiting for the complete driving experience, but received something far less. I wouldn’t know, because I never played it. Recently, the team at Slightly Mad Studios re-released the game, along with 28 downloadable content packs and “over 500 improvements” included, as the Game of the Year edition. That’s the version I purchased a few weeks ago, and it must have come a long way over the last eighteen months, because it would seem I’m getting a completely different experience to everyone else.
Project CARS is a fantastic sim racer. Even with twenty-two cars on screen and racing in the awesome helmet-cam, it maintains a perfectly smooth 60hz refresh rate, with – according to the packaging – a 600hz physics engine. That’s six hundred calculations per second creating the driving model. For me personally, the realistic feel of all the models I’ve driven, from karts to classic, sits right in the narrow gap between Forza Motorsport 6 and Assetto Corsa. In other words, they’ve really nailed the simulation, and that, for racing enthusiasts like me, is the most important aspect. Unlike Kunos Simulazioni and their Italian driving sim though, Slightly Mad Studios have also built a great game around the experience of driving. This aspect isn’t as polished as Turn 10’s ridiculously shiny and smooth Forza series, but it’s a close second.
You can jump straight into any car on any track, should you so wish, and hit the Time Trials and quick race options. You can also take your experience on line and get battered from pillar to post by kids who have no idea what gentlemanly conduct is. But the draw for me is the career option; a chance to live the life of a racing driver.
Starting out as a fresh driver looking for a rookie team to enter the Kart One championship with, you’ll spend your opening year deliberating over contracts, and taking up offers from teams in other disciplines to drive for them in exhibition races. Of course, while you deal with all of this, you’ll also be racing for the glory of your first ever team in your humble Go-Kart. As well as an e-mail inbox to keep track of communication with your employers, race engineers and other people, there’s a calendar you can skim through which shows you all of the action on any given day. You can look over this to see when your next race is and where, and if you have any invitations to exhibition drives coming up. There’s also a news feed in your career hub, with reports and post-race comments from drivers, and even a Twitter-style feed which has funny and cheesy quotes from the public: “Cooper FTW!” “@WMD_Mat, YAAAAAAAAAAY!”. Just like the real thing.
Races can feature practice, qualifying and, of course, race day action over the course of the event. They’re also part of championships, with points gained at each race built around the structure of their real world counterparts. You can go from Karting to Touring Cars, through endurance racing and even up into the game’s unlicensed equivalents of Formula Ford, F3, GP2 and F1. The ability to move up through the disciplines is only hampered by your ability to drive well and get good results. Each car you drive throughout your multi-year career has a distinctive feel, and the physics model is simply superb. With all of the assists turned off, when you’re pushing a vehicle to it’s limits, you feel that exhilarating rush of adrenaline, knowing that one tiny mistake can see you bouncing across the grass or beached in a gravel trap. Of course the karts you start off in are very forgiving and famously twitchy, but manage to get beyond this and start your career proper, and that’s where the real fun comes in. That feeling of being right on the edge of control, neck and neck with first place, twenty other drivers breathing down your neck, the fantastic AI pulling off the racing line looking for opportunities to pass, or blocking your overtaking manoeuvre. It doesn’t matter if you’re in a sixty year old classic with four gears and a top speed of 100mph, or a modern hypercar which hits that speed in four seconds. Whatever you’re driving, that amazing feeling of being on the fine line between glory and disaster is perfectly emulated by the game.
All of the cars I’ve driven out of the hundreds available in the game behave exactly as I would expect them to in real life; as far as the simulation engine goes, it’s one of the best. Even the tyre simulation is dynamic, reacting to everything physically – there are no hook-up tables here, just great physics interacting with one another. Slightly Mad Studios built it around the rFactor 2 simulation platform, which in turn is used by Formula One teams and the like to give them an advantage in real world situations. On top of this, the game looks stunning. Not just the cars, which are detailed and recreated intricately from inside to out, but the tracks themselves are really superbly built. You can race at any time of day, in rain, fog or sunshine, or even at night under a cold, floodlit track. At dusk the sun can get right in your eyes as you’re going over a crest, and it adds yet another level of realism to the game; just how brave are you? Project CARS epitomises risk/reward racing.
With a fantastic physics engine where each car feels realistically different, great graphics for the tracks as well as the cars and a satisfying, extensive career mode, Project CARS is petrol head heaven. The hundreds of tweaks, improvements and optimisations, not to mention the wealth of cars and circuits included in this Game of the Year Edition make this a priority purchase for anyone interested in simulation racing on consoles. If you’re exhausted with Forza and Assetto Corsa isn’t complete enough for you, don’t hesitate. Buy it, slip the disc in and rev her up.
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