Since the inception of PretendRaceCars.net, we’ve covered the final four months of development for arguably the biggest racing franchise to debut in the past decade, Slightly Mad Studio’s Project CARS. Using our insider access and boldly posting controversial info that other publications are too afraid to mention, our little site has gained notoriety for daring to share the ugly and sometimes downright deceptive side of the community assisted racing simulation. Four years after the game’s initial brainstorming session on the NoGripRacing.com forums, D-Day is here and the game is finally on store shelves. However, since this is a game whose direction has been decided and funded largely by the community, our review will differ from the traditional reviews I was once seen writing over at RaceDepartment. We will instead explore what the community is saying about the title, now that it has been released to the wild.
Yet, to understand what makes today so special in the history of automotive video games, we’re going to need to go back almost a decade to learn how we got here, and ultimately discover why Project CARS isn’t worth the ridiculous hype surrounding it.
The team behind Project CARS was once part of the historic SimBin development team, producing a line of fantastic games based on the FIA GT Championship of the early 2000’s, most notably GTR, GTR 2, and GT Legends. Now ancient in 2015, these games were once landmark racing simulations that were incredibly popular among PC gamers and received incredibly high critic scores in an era where gaming journalism was not seen as third party marketing.
Splitting due to creative differences (at least from what I’m told), half of the team went off to become Slightly Mad Studios, whereas employees not wanting to tag along with Mr. Bell retained the SimBin name and promptly began work on the Race series of racing simulations – most notably the Race 07 series of games that were very well received and featured many expansions that extended the life of the game. The group that made up Slightly Mad Studios remained dormant until 2009, when a partnership with Electronic Arts led to the creation of Need for Speed Shift, and eventually Need for Speed Shift 2: Unleashed in 2011. A year later, the team released Test Drive: Ferrari Racing Legends using many of the same assets found in the Shift series of games.
All three games were well-received by mainstream critics who admittedly didn’t play many racing games and had no idea what to look for from these titles, but absolutely despised by driving game enthusiasts. The lengthy list of complaints ranged from criticisms of the boats on ice-like handling model, poor PC performance optimization, shoddy gamepad controls, and lack of any genuine racing features despite Slightly Mad Studios billing the games as racing simulations. While a small group of modders set out to rectify the issues surrounding the Shift games with numerous tire model fixes and community patches, some of which were simply re-activating lines of code that were mysteriously disabled, the games were immediately tossed aside by your average driving game fan. My friend actually snapped his Shift disc in a fit of rage one night over a Career mode event that featured a ridiculously overpowered rubber-band AI. It was one of those games.
In April of 2011, a thread on NoGripRacing.com appeared, started by Slightly Mad Studios head Ian Bell. He outlined a “cunning plan” and proposed their next racing simulation would be based on a kickstarter-like funding model, where community members could donate funds and see their suggestions on the direction of the game directly implemented into the racing sim; a completely transparent development process that heavily relied on the community’s involvement, something which had never been done before. While some skeptics pointed out the poor quality and glaring issues seen in the two Need for Speed Shift games, Ian simply blamed Electronic Arts for everything. Given EA’s horrible reputation in the video game industry, this whole mantra of EA messed up the Shift games for no reason was regurgitated as fact because it seemed like something EA would do.
In early 2012, I bought into Project CARS with the lowest membership option available. To put it bluntly, it was Steam’s Early Access model, without being on Steam. Where it differed were the membership levels – users could pay hundreds of dollars to have access to builds that changed daily, a louder voice in the WMD Forums used to develop the game, and several other perks, like having an AI driver named after you. The community ate this up, and it was not uncommon to browse the forums and see guys who had spent thousands of dollars on Project CARS memberships in the hopes that there would be a return on their investment, because that was also a large part of this big idea. People genuinely believed they were going to get rich off sim racing, and that this game would de-throne Forza and Gran Turismo on launch day.
And there was no way that was going to happen. From my time with the early builds of the game, it was severely underwhelming. It felt no better or worse than Shift 2 Unleashed, and in some cases, I actually preferred Shift 2 over Project CARS. The content list wasn’t very good and was heavily Euro-centric, with several road courses I didn’t care for, and many european street, touring, and open wheel cars that hadn’t interested me in the slightest. Other games had much better driving physics, and the game itself was poorly optimized. You were better off keeping your rFactor install up to date.
But when I stopped caring about the game, things got interesting. Somehow, even more people bought into the idea that they’d get rich off sim racing, and the few thousand members who had invested into this little game by a dev team that hadn’t put out anything awe-inspiring had now grown to a whopping 80,000 members. And it was clear to Slightly Mad Studios that there was no way they could take input from 80,000 different people, because the game would turn into a mis-guided piece of trash. So instead of trying to take input from 80,000 people, they turned everybody into viral marketers.
This ended up ruining a large portion of the community surrounding driving games. A lot of people who’d taken an interest in pCars were not average joes looking for another game to play, but in some cases, they ran major news sites or had YouTube shows, driven by the potential ROI and substantial number of hits they’d receive from posting content about a supposedly exclusive game. This lead to a lot of these media outlets, ran by genuinely decent people, being turned into third party marketing tactics. VirtualR stopped doing reviews, announced their affiliation with Slightly Mad Studios, and promptly turned what was a fantastic driving game news site into a blog where 90% of the content was about Project CARS – sometimes just posting random hotlap videos on a slow news day. Team VVV Automotive, my personal favorite driving game news outlet, was now spending sixteen hour days making as many YouTube videos as possible about the game. Part of the reason I created PretendRaceCars.net was due to the ridiculous influx of Project CARS shilling on sites I used to trust. And venturing onto the WMD Forums, these weren’t even making an effort to hide their affiliation and intentions with the game. With #Gamergate blowing up, this was the wrong thing to do.
Even sites like Kotaku were not safe from this intrusive style of advertising, as the popular gaming blog ran the exact same article about the graphics in Project CARS a whopping sixteen times throughout the course of a year.
While I had continued to try the new builds of pCars every now and then, I was time and time again let down by the progress being made. It didn’t drive very well. It didn’t run very well. The car and track selection wasn’t very good. The sounds were exaggerated beyond belief. And yet, despite this, a growing chorus of Project CARS fans appeared to pop up on every message board I visited, with grandiose claims of how the game would destroy Forza and Gran Turismo upon release. I didn’t get it. As a very accomplished sim racer, with championships across multiple different games, I didn’t think Project CARS was all that special. In fact, it kind of sucked. The few times I voiced my own opinion of the game, just in random message boards when the topic came up, it’s as if I cut the head off of someone’s dog. Out of nowhere, a legion of fanboys would come to either bash me, discredit me, or offer the same “the game is in pre-alpha and the new build released only to premium members is much better” excuse.
Through 2013 and 2014, the chorus of pCars is coming only grew louder. You could not visit a message board without seeing this huge group of guys praising a game that hadn’t even been released yet. I know through my time on 4Chan that viral marketing definitely is a thing, but this stuff was starting to shit up genuinely informative places, like the iRacing forums, 4Chan, Reddit, and RaceDepartment. It was like this weird nerd cult.
And after starting PretendRaceCars.net, I learned that’s pretty much what it was. In an effort to pump out news on a daily basis, I often simply had to visit the WMD Forums for five minutes. Our entire Slightly Mad Studios category consists of this creepy nerd cult trying to generate hype for their broken racing sim. An entire thread was dedicated to press articles released about the game, and anything that didn’t paint the game in a positive light, users would link the post, cooperate, and spam the comments section with the typical cries of “that’s an old build”, “it’s pre-alpha“, “this bug won’t happen in the full game“, or “did you delete your user profile before installing the new build?” In one thread a guy straight up admitted to lying about upcoming DLC to generate hype, and in others there would be a tangible effort made to “dox” whoever had been writing negative articles about the game. Meanwhile, diving through some of the Quality Assurance threads, I’d see several users being pretty blunt and saying the game was nowhere near ready for release as numerous glitches were greatly affecting Gameplay – and as a result the game was indeed delayed twice in six months to iron everything out. The bipolarity of the WMD members, going from admitting the game was a rush job internally, to intentionally lying about features, to passing it off as the greatest sim ever made, shit up many different message boards that were otherwise very informative places.
When I reported on stuff like this, as someone running a news site with insider info is supposed to do, I received comments that outlined the general level of maturity with these viral marketers:
Some guys would take things a step further, claiming I violated an NDA for simply taking screencaps of posts in the WMD Forum, and that Slightly Mad Studios could take legal action against me.
Sorry guys, they can’t.
But this just goes to show the cult-like atmostphere the WMD environment and Slightly Mad Studios have encouraged over the past few years. And now that it’s out in the wild, they can’t hide that the game’s a pile of trash.
First up, we’ve got a video comparing the FPS issues between the PS4 and XBOX One versions of Project CARS.
Both struggle to reach 60 FPS, and dance around the 30 FPS range during hectic on-screen moments. This sort of thing shouldn’t happen in a console game, and you’re an idiot if you allow yourself to accept this.
Next up, the PS4 version has this weird sort of motion blur going on that most people aren’t too happy with.
And this is confirmed to be an issue with the PS4 version:
The Xbox One version suffers a much more serious glitch, causing the game to lose all sound at random points during gameplay.
And lastly, on the PC version, don’t bother playing this with an AMD Graphics card. It’s pointless.
So none of the platforms the game was released on can play the game adequately. We’re certainly off to a great start here! Totally going to kill Forza and Gran Turismo, and totally worthy of a sequel.
We’ve already done as close to a review as we can get of Project CARS, breaking down the game’s 1990 Winston Cup Stock Car in a detailed article that you should probably read, as it actively addresses the main aspects of gameplay I’m concerned with – vehicle physics, tire physics, car setup, and AI. In the end, I found the driving, racing, and physics to be as lackluster as my first impressions of early builds of the game back in 2012. Other games do it better, and I found myself having no reason to even consider buying pCars in its finished state.
Cue several replies jumping on the OP, followed by…
Not a good sign at all. So what do proper review sites have to say about it?
PCGamer points out the gamepad issues we pointed out weeks ago:
GamesRadar points out the abundance of bugs:
And DailyStar thinks it’ll soon be forgotten:
I don’t know what to say, other than we told you so. It sucks that a large portion of the community was turned into viral marketers for a game described as “middle-of-the-road” and playing with a traditional controller “borders on impossible.” We pointed out the abundance of bugs mentioned in the WMD forums several times. We pointed out the internal discussions of poor controls. We had others confirm performance issues. We called the lackluster driving physics and shoddy AI. It’s a flop, guys.
Score: Probably not worth your time / 10