If you own either an Xbox One or PlayStation 4 and like racing games, your options up until now have been pretty limited. For PlayStation fans, Gran Turismo 6 is still the best bet, but it’s a game designed for the older generation console. Xbox One owners have had it better, with the excellent Forza Horizon 2 and Forza Motorsports 5.
But there’s a new player in town, and it may just be the best racing game yet.
Project CARS was birthed from a crowd funding campaign in which the developers and the community all chipped in, without using a traditional publisher. Those community members were an integral part of the game’s development and will receive a small percentage of profits deriving from sales within the first three years.
Developed by British firm Slightly Mad Studios, the guys responsible for creating “Need for Speed: Shift” a few years back, Project CARS is said to be for racers by racers — with a twist. The game can be dumbed down in the settings to give it a more accessible feel, so even those inexperienced racing gamers can have fun and win races.
It’s a game many, including myself, have been itching to try for sometime, and over the past few years the release date was continually pushed back. Here in the United States, it eventually went up for sale May 12 on Xbox One, PS4, and PC. But even still, it’s not without glitches.
I’ve now spent many hours on the Xbox version using a Thrustmaster TX racing wheel and pedals, and there are problems where it occasionally hangs or the sound inexplicably cuts out. At 720p, the resolution isn’t that of the 1080p available on PS4 or higher still on the PC, and some have complained that the frame rate can dip below 30 frames per second (it remains 60 fps on PS4).
What this means is that the graphics aren’t as sharp on Xbox, but in no way should that deter you. It’s still more beautiful than Forza and the gameplay is — for the most part — utterly astonishing.
During my 21-year spell as a race car driver, I’ve driven many of the machines on offer in Project CARS. Little open wheel Formula Fords at a pokey Oulton Park racetrack in northern England? Sure. How about a Formula One car at Silverstone? I still count my blessings on that one.. A vintage American muscle car? A German DTM touring car? A Formula 3 open wheeler? An Audi R8 GT3?
I’ve been fortunate enough to drive them all. Point is, I know how the cars and tracks "should" feel from behind the wheel. And compared to other console games like Forza and GT6, in terms of real life driving dynamics, Project CARS wins hands down. It also scores higher than both those alternatives in terms of gameplay.
The computer-controlled racers are perhaps a tad aggressive, but they respond much as you’d expect an actual human driver would. The races consist of practice sessions, qualifying, and races — which may include pit stops or even driver changes. You’re submerged into a world that no game, including iRacing or any of those PC racing sims, can replicate, primarily because of the graphics and the way the track can turn from day into night while you’re driving or how the rain drops bounce off the windscreen or how the onboard view reveals the rim of your helmet as if your head is snugly squished inside.
The driving dynamics may not quite be on par with a top PC racing sim, but the attention to detail is where Project CARS wins out.
Even the engine noises are replicated to perfection. They’re evocative, and the volume adjusts based on the car in which you’re driving. I found the older cars, like the Ford Escort Mk1, to be less realistic when behind the wheel, becoming overly wallow-y and unpredictable. But the open-wheel machines and modern sports cars are pretty much bang on — with the exception that the braking remains less forceful than in real life; it’s as if the Formula 1-equivalent in the game is using steel brakes from a Ford Focus.
But if there’s one series that’s perhaps the most fun of all, it’s the Renault Clio Cup. The cars are low power, front-wheel drive, and the opposition enjoy bumping fenders — a lot. The closeness of racing is intoxicating.
Talking of cars, most on the list are primarily racing machines — which fans of GT6 or Forza may be disappointed about. You also cannot modify these cars (you can find the full list of vehicles on offer here). This list will grow with free updates over time, as will the number of tracks (list seen here). It has more real venues than fictional ones, though, and a career mode that allows you to start as a rookie in go karts and work your way up to Formula One (called Formula A in the game) or LMP1 in the World Endurance Championship, competing in the 24 Hours of Le Mans (you can even drive for 24 hours straight if you’re suicidal).
The game, then, is most definitely designed for the racing enthusiast who knows and loves the sport, but for those gamers that just want to jump in and have fun, you most definitely still can. To me, as a racer at heart, Project CARS is every bit the game I’d hoped it would be — and it blows Forza or GT6 out of the water. If you’re more of an arcade gamer when it comes to racing, it may be a bit too hardcore.
Short of using iRacing or some other high-end PC racing sim, Project CARS is the most lifelike game around. It beautifully recreates the world of racing, from the UK to Asia to Australia to America. And despite having lived that world myself in real life, I still can’t get enough of it.