Format: Sony PlayStation 4
Setup: Default settings / 60% AI
The concept of Project Cars when it was first proposed is the embodiment for me, of the perfect racing game. No need to start off in a production Honda Jazz (or equivalent), or purchase and tweak components, be limited on progression in a game based on finishing in the top three of a race, compete on made up tracks or have AI drivers glued to an invisible railway track. Project Cars is a game for the motor racing fan, and after a couple of weeks Slightly Mad Studios (SMS) have made a damned good effort at getting it right. It isn't perfect, but I will come back to that.
I decided to jump straight into the career mode. It starts well with details about who you are, your nickname, a social media account for your persona and preferred racing number. The career mode lets you start in any racing category – a nice feature in that if you only want to race in F1 specification cars (known as Formula A here) then that is possible. I opt for Tier 8, which is right at the bottom – karting. To give SMS credit they have captured the essence of go-karts very well. In order to be a success in this category when using a gamepad, it is largely down to luck and making sure you are in 1st place going into the first corner. In hindsight, tackling the karts is far harder than say the Formula 1000 cars so the game gives a very challenging start – if simulation racing is not your thing, it could turn some people away immediately.
In truth, I got through to the premium kart category and then gave up from sheer frustration in cars which are largely undriveable – one slight brush with the grass and you go spinning off into the tyre barriers – SMS, please note that the word "tyre" is spelt with a "y", not an "i". I have no doubt that with persistence and continued attempts you can hone your skill to master the karts (as with any other car type in Project Cars), but there was a growing eagerness to get into the single-seater – I will go back to the karts at a later point. So I restarted a career, but this time from Tier 6 – and starting in Formula Rookie. Single seaters racing around the best racing tracks the UK has to offer – Donington and Oulton Park amongst others. Really fun, pure racing and sets the tone for much of the racing within the game – you can push for fast times, use all of the track and really attack each lap. I use the right analogue stick for acceleration/braking on racing games – and you can really judge the force of acceleration very well through the corners in Project Cars.
One week on and I had won the championships for Rookie and Formula 1000 – and now looking at Formula C. For those who have wanted to race GP3, GP2 before getting to F1, SMS have perfectly recreated that feel of progression and success. I love the little videos you get upon winning a championship – it has that wonderful feel of games from the early 90's when you were awarded with nice FMV treat – something a lot of games lack these days. Project Cars also has a wonderful immersive feel when driving and whilst the graphical transition from say PS3 to PS4 isn't as drastic as it was from PS2 to PS3, it adds much greater depth to the visualisations. Why you would want to switch off the lens glare of the sun is beyond me as when it cuts through the trees and into your eyesight it looks stunning. Equally the rain, night time effects and sense of speed is spot on regardless of car category you are racing.
I said at the start of this blog that the game isn't perfect. Where SMS have clearly spent their time is on the actual racing action. Which is a great thing as that is what the game is all about. But the experience of using a product in its entirety can be the difference between a 10/10 game or a 7/10 game. I have a few gripes …
Controller options – I tend to use automatic gears on a gamepad. Whilst it is great that you can map controls to any button on a pad you have to select gear up and gear down even if you have automatic gears selected. This annoyingly uses up two buttons that could be used for far more useful functions.
Forced career options – during your career you are invited to take part in other races or championships that are perhaps very different from your current prime goal. For example signing on to race for a team in the Formula 1000 championship, I was invited to race in Ford Escort Historics Championship. An invitation implies you should have a choice to accept or decline. Instead you are forced to compete in it – if you don't want to (I didn't) you have to enter each race and then skip to the end of the race. It's an annoyance and I should be allowed to withdraw from a championship if I want to.
Unrealistic crashes and AI – the ultimate goal of any racing game maker is to ensure the AI is as close to real life as possible. SMS have some way to go yet. Don't get me wrong, Project Cars is the most realistic and satisfying racing experience I have had on console to date. Additionally it is great to see AI cars make mistakes and take varied racing lines around a lap. However, when qualifying for example you might be told to get out of the way because of a faster car approaching – when it's the other way around and you are approaching a slow car you can guarantee that they will not get out of the way – and more likely to keep their foot in when you pull out to take the inside line of an approaching corner. If you do touch it will most of the time end in one of two ways – you flip on your side or the opponent flies over your head. It is just a complete over reaction and needs to be toned down – or bring out the Project Cars: Pastor Maldonado Edition.
Finally if you do not finish a session in first the default option on the end of race menu is “Restart” or “Exit”. Why is this? It should be simply “Continue” shouldn’t it? Instead of pressing one button, SMS forces you to press four – sigh. Like I said, I have a few gripes.
In summary however, this is a fine racing game and I will be spending many hours on this game. It is as close to a simulation racing game as I've seen on console and I look forward to seeing this develop over the coming years with undoubtedly some exciting DLC and tweaks to its gameplay. It does pain me though to see some comments by people saying it is too hard to play. It is a simulation – that is the point. It is a game for motorsport fans and it isn't trying to overly embrace everyone who plays racing games. When I play FIFA for example it is on the easiest of settings and wouldn't slate it for being too hard – for football fanatics it is probably the best thing out there. Project Cars is attempting to do the same. Project Cars is also the first proper racing title on PS4 and my PS4 can finally stop being unused. With F1 2015 due soon, Project Cars has finally shown what potential can be brought to racing games on this generation of consoles and for that I am excited.