When The Community Assisted Review of Project CARS went live last spring, the piece was less of a proper review, and more of a lengthy retrospective regarding the controversial development process, intrusive viral marketing campaign, and hilarious launch day issues plaguing the crowdfunded racing simulator by Slightly Mad Studios. An entire calendar year later, and following more patches than should ever be necessary for any kind of large retail release, the world has been graced with the Game of the Year Edition for a title that is anything but deserving of the award.
For as much as the game gets ripped on thanks in no small part to the antics of Ian Bell and the army of WMD members tasked with aggressively pushing the product on the sim racing community, merely sampling what Project CARS has to offer within the confines of the executable file warrants an equally frustrating experience. Make no mistake, reading about the woes of Project CARS is just as bad as physically sitting down to try and play Project CARS. Had it not been for the countless interviews, trailers, and and hyper-vigilant fanboys working their magic from here to East Jesus Nowhere, this is a racing simulator that most certainly does not reflect the fact that 30,000 dedicated users were helping to shape its future.
A full review of Project CARS? That isn’t on the cards today. Instead, I would rather share my personal experiences with the game, and guide you through my own discoveries with the title as I ran into them in chronological order. Typically, when I review software for PRC.net, I do my very best to comb through all that the game has to offer before busting my ass to write an extremely long review that will keep you occupied on the shitter at work. This will be a bit different. We’re going to walk through everything I’ve seen in my short time with the game, from the angle I approached the sim. It’s beyond disappointing that a title with this many resources thrown at it, has so little to show in the final product.
Let me get this out of the way to start things off, the persona presented on here gets almost completely turned off away from the keyboard. A good buddy of mine owns an Xbox One, he’s got his own racing simulator setup built out of PVC pipe, and he owns one of those low-end Thrustmaster Ferrari wheels primarily to play both Forza titles currently available for the system. Now, while Forza has a pretty decent game element to the whole thing, the driving physics aren’t nearly as good as the single player progression built around them. After a few nights spent seriously messing around with Forza, where we both realized something felt off with how the cars behaved, I checked out our local GameStop to see if the online rumors were correct – guys on Reddit were saying Project CARS had fallen to a pathetic $20.
They weren’t kidding. The nearest GameStop location had a pristine used copy of Project CARS available for the Xbox One, and for such a low price, why the fuck not?
I’m aware that we’ve spent several months encouraging people to avoid Project CARS like the plague, but for a friend starting to become genuinely interested in sim racing, this was the perfect introductory tool. It runs on the isiMotor engine, so it feels a bit like a PC simulator, but it’s got the game elements such as an established career mode to reel in those who don’t want to spend their afternoons aimlessly running laps and trying out random combinations. It’s a fairly harmless purchase, especially since the Xbox One doesn’t have many driving games to select from.
We were greeted by atrocious load times, and this made the initial setup of the game quite painful. It’s one thing for a modern console game to spend thirty minutes or so sitting at the installation screen, but once the game was fully ready to be explored, just messing around with the options menu was something I really don’t want to do again. After you’d back out of each sub menu – and I’m talking about the little stuff like configuring your driving assists or turning the music off – the game would spend a solid ninety seconds saving your settings. It’s obviously difficult to convey the experience pushing one slider to the left and having to awkwardly sit there staring at the menu for far longer than you ever imagined, but that was something we had to repeat, over and over again.
And if the load times weren’t frustrating enough, oh boy are the menus a complete nightmare. This is Windows Metro from hell, and I can’t imagine how painful of a quest this would have been for my buddy had I not been there quickly flying through things based on my experience with the Early Access version. From the numerous graphics options, to the multiple camera tweaks, to the downright perplexing force feedback menu, Project CARS almost takes pride in how unnecessarily complicated setting up the damn game can be. I knew it was bad from both the preview builds, as well as the initial reception, but just seeing the reaction of my buddy stare at the screen and say things like “see, I’m glad you’re here because I don’t know what the fuck this shit even does” – that goes directly against the overall goal of the project, which was to bring sim racing to the masses. I remember last year, we made a comment on how the Force Feedback menu was designed primarily to label negative feedback as user error, but finally seeing the finished product, dear god what were they thinking? No wonder so many people like my buddy were stumbling onto the forums and making their presence known.
We eventually made our way to the Single Event menu, and knowing the list of content in the Game of the Year Edition versus what’s available for plebeians in the Standard Edition, you can’t honestly tell me that sim racers were perfectly happy with locking all of the illustrious content away behind a paywall. Now for my buddy, he’s not going to care about the Dallara DW12 or Sauber C9 being DLC – he just wants a racing simulator better than Forza – but scrolling through the car selection screen, I was surprised at how thin the vanilla list of content truly was. Of the many unique vehicles available in Project CARS that you’ve undoubtedly seen in screenshots and thought to yourself “okay, I’d be interested in trying that even if I don’t like the idea of Project CARS” – unfortunately, most of them are DLC. Knowing how many gamers, and especially sim racers, dislike the business practices of Electronic Arts, it was a massive slap to the face to know 30,000+ WMD members gave the thumbs up to lock all of the good stuff away.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, the selection of both vehicles and tracks in the Game of the Year Edition are phenomenal, and this is really the one saving grace of Project CARS. Once all thirteen additional packs are injected into your game, there’s an extremely well-rounded variety of rides and locations to select from. Some classes and manufacturers are represented much more than others, and we really didn’t need four near-identical Aston Martin GT entries, but the unique stuff like the Roush Racing Trans Am Ford Mustang and Ford Falcon V8 Supercar more than make up for it.
We dove head first into Career Mode, starting my bro in the GT5 Ginetta Cup, which is basically a car similar in specifications to the Mazda MX-5 – perfect for someone who’s just getting used to a serious simulator. Even despite his decidedly budget wheel, and a flat-screen television exhibiting obvious signs of input lag, the game didn’t drive all that terribly, and my friend’s skill made a drastic improvement now that he was away from the world Forza. Placebo? Most certainly not. I jumped in for a few laps, cranked the steering ratio to the familiar value of 18:1, and aside from having to turn the wheel maybe a quarter of a second early to compensate for the visual lag, it was very easy to see why so many ex-Forza players had converted to Project CARS. No, I wasn’t pushing – I really couldn’t under these circumstances – but compared to Forza, the tangible improvement in the handling model almost immediately warranted positive results.
Now, my bro and I had a lot of fun playing this game together. The Ginetta Cup we were doing via career mode has a format similar to the Blancpain GT3 Series, where the sprint race is followed by a main event featuring an inverted grid and mandatory pit stop, and we’d nerd the fuck out with a genuine living room driver swap to complete the experience. But that doesn’t mean we didn’t notice some shit that was indicative of the $20 price tag.
My buddy royally fucked up the sprint race, which put us near the front of the grid for the main event at Donnington Park. For whatever reason, the back end came around on my bro, he smashed into a barrier somewhere, and there was enough damage to require a total restart – which wasn’t an issue. When the session reloaded, my buddy was placed all the way back in 20th position despite earning 5th spot on the grid for shitting the bed in the sprint race. This glitch continued with us throughout the entire season. Regardless of our position in the sprint race, we always started dead last for the main. It’s the little things.
The game’s artificial intelligence, even on a moderate setting intended to be somewhere in the middle of our combined abilities, were absolutely fucking spastic. Keep in mind, we’re in shitty little Ginettas, so it’s incredibly difficult for cars this slow to make any sudden movements that you can’t see coming from a mile away, but the AI was basically driving on crack cocaine. My buddy got wrecked a lot. I got wrecked a lot. Fingers would constantly fly at the television, pointing out a random car venturing off into the trackside foliage. Given that we both have fond memories of the older Forza games, as well as stuff like Grid or Project Gotham Racing, it was complete amateur hour watching the AI do its thing in Project CARS.
We spent the better part of a few days fucking around with Project CARS on the Xbox One together, and at one point, while he was shoving corn dogs into the oven, he suggested for me to hop into an online session to see what the overall talent level of Xbox Live is. I didn’t have much of a chance to look at the menu, but I ended up getting placed in a Group 5 session at Spa-Francorchamps with about six or seven other cars. This was arguably the worst online experience I’ve ever had in a racing game. The various glitch videos portraying online races in Project CARS as full of vehicles bugging the fuck out have nothing on what I saw over the course of ten minutes. Each user in the room had their own brand of warping, lag spikes, and other miscellaneous oddities, making the race virtually unplayable. This was NASCAR: The Game levels of bad.
But at the end of the day, I understood the purpose the title served on the Xbox One, and why my bro was slowly becoming more and more immersed in this new and intimidating world. In terms of the raw driving physics, even on a budget HDTV and played with an entry level racing wheel, the game was leaps and bounds ahead of Forza; offering a near-complete PC racing simulator experience for those who just won’t be purchasing or building a gaming PC anytime soon. Yes, there was some truly pathetic shit taking place inside the virtual world of Project CARS on a fairly consistent basis, and we laughed in unison at the television when subjected to the same bugs that have been documented in countless YouTube videos, yet I couldn’t deny that the title was opening my bro’s eyes to how awesome sim racing can be. And the odd time I’d fire up a quick GT3 endeavor while my buddy was off taking a dump or ordering pizza, it wasn’t that bad.
On a whim, I bought the Game of the Year Edition on Steam, because maybe, just maybe, a portion of that magic would carry over.
Spoiler alert: It didn’t.
You have not experienced true sim racing pain until you’ve been subjected to the car setup screen inside Project CARS – both the menu itself, and the way you’re forced to save configurations for each type of track. I don’t know how any developer can take the isiMotor engine, which typically has a very streamlined car setup menu as seen in rFactor or Stock Car Extreme, and bastardize it to the extent seen in Project CARS. This is not fun.
I also don’t understand how anybody at Slightly Mad Studios thought merely listing all of the tracks in a row within the track selection menu was a good idea – the list quickly becomes cluttered with shorter variants of circuits you’ll almost never drive, especially if you’re a fan of the higher powered cars that are simply too quick for Dubai Autodrome Club. This whole thing is just a mess to sort through.
But alas, I took the 2015 Ford Fusion Stock Car to the NASCAR layout of Watkins Glen, as this is a combination I’m extremely familiar with and can push as hard as I can, right out of the box. To my surprise, the car felt quite good, and mirrored what real life Sprint Cup drivers have said about the current Generation 6 entries. They handle well, brake well, but send so much power to the rear wheels, there are some instances where it’s just not possible to go full throttle. I was truly, and I mean truly satisfied with this rendition of the car that Slightly Mad Studios had built, until I made a quick rear end adjustment based on what I felt during the shakedown laps, and blew out A.J. Almendinger’s 2015 pole time by three seconds. Suddenly, all of the accurate handling characteristics had been dialed out, and clicking off laps wasn’t even close to resembling the real thing.
And this got even more ridiculous when I took the Dallara DW12 to Sears Point. While I was just barely able to squeak by Dario Franchitti’s 2013 pole time, the manner in which I tuned the car to achieve those speeds was highly questionable.
Downforce? What downforce? I might as well have been running with the wings completely detached from the car, and if you were able to see my final drive ratio, the first three gears were being run through at a speed equivalent to that of a Formula One ride. Onboard footage of real life sessions indicate these cars can be quite a handful on corner exit thanks to modern turbo chargers, and in Project CARS, I was glued to the track. Throttle management was a thing of the past, as were any sort of oversteer or understeer situations. I threw a bullshit setup at the car, with the primary intentions of fucking with the game, and I was rewarded with a lap faster than the real life track record. That’s pretty hard to accomplish in a game where the version of Sears Point on display is a few hundred feet longer than the real world circuit, thanks to a woefully inaccurate track model.
The main draw of Project CARS, at least according to the viral marketers, was a proper offline single player career mode allowing you to climb the ladder from the world of karting, all the way to cars that indeed look like Grand Prix participants, but we assure you most certainly aren’t. This has been something sorely missing from all modern racing simulators, so even if the physics weren’t up to par, and the setups were a bit fucked, I’d have something to progress through and give some sort of meaning for my offline races. To ensure I wouldn’t waste my time configuring everything for the campaign, only to get buttfucked by a constant stream of AI problems when the race finally started, I decided maybe it was in my best interests to try a few single event sessions, in the hopes that I could dial in the last portions of the title.
Taking a flock of McLaren 12c’s to the Nordschleife, I ran into an issue where the cars became beached at the Karussell, allowing me to pass those AI drivers who had built up a bit of a gap. Next.
A few nights ago, I fell asleep watching some guy on iRacing run the Lotus 79 at Oulton Park. The version of Oulton Park in Project CARS is nothing short of phenomenal, so I brought whatever the equivalent historic Lotus is to the extremely fast and furious British circuit, only to be rewarded with AI cars launching off of the turn one rumble strip. This happened with such frequency, I was able to continue restarting the race until I was able to capture the perfect shot.
The times we did make it through turn one without having our lives affected by the kerb of death, the AI would exhibit an array of extremely disappointing behavior – and by that, I’m talking about how they’d just sort of drive somewhere near the racing surface, as if I had been subjected to a spontaneous avant garde art project. I’m sure somewhere, a social justice warrior believes this racing line to be empowering and free of oppression from the patriarchy, but over in this realm, it was really fucking retarded.
Mixing up the car & track combinations produced basically the same result, no matter where I went. I know a couple of our readers will rag on me for my liberal use of track boundaries, but there’s being a wanker in a competitive environment, and being five years old and driving straight across the grass. The AI in Project CARS were the latter.
I don’t know who coded the artificial intelligence in the first place, I don’t know who was responsible for testing it, and I’m completely dumbfounded at how over 30,000 hardcore sim racers believed that this was all somehow so fantastic, it was worth the aggressive viral marketing campaign. The AI in Project CARS is simply not in a finished state by any stretch of the imagination. Yes, they are able to complete laps of a track at speed… Poorly… Yes, they are able to drive in a pack of other bots…. Poorly…. Describing the AI reads like the disclaimer at the beginning of each South Park episode.
But given the admittedly fantastic selection of vehicles and locations, is Project CARS at least a good hotlap simulator? Surely a title based on the isiMotor engine is worthy of some solo laps from time to time, even if single player racing is not an option, and online is no more or less of a ghost town compared to the other simulators, correct?
Project CARS is stuck in a weird middle ground between simcade and simulator, and I’ll try my best to give this title, as well as it’s evil twin Assetto Corsa, a new sub-classification. Project CARS is what I’ll label as a Point and Shoot Simulator. This is not DiRT 3 or Formula One 2013, where you can get away with busting out the Xbox controller if you’re too bummy to buy a proper wheel. Nope, you’re still going to need a wheel for Project CARS to get the most out of the game, and you’re still going to have to put in the practice laps to bring yourself up to speed, but for an experience sim racer, you can get away with much more here than you can in other titles.
I enjoyed making quick laps in the Lotus 78 that comes with the Game of the Year Edition, but it’s no Grand Prix 1979 mod for the original rFactor. The 2015 Ford Fusion Stock Car is pretty realistic out of the box, but once you dial in the setup, it’s clearly too quick and too planted for a stock car. Everybody’s favorite class of cars for the rich and famous, the GT3 sports cars, can be driven without much regard for careful throttle and braking inputs. The Dallara IndyCar is much more tame than its rFactor 2 counterpart, and the longtail McLaren F1 GTR seen in the Racing Icons DLC takes a back seat to the superior rendition of the car in the World Super GT mod for Race 07. In fact, if you’ve got one of the Race 07 expansions installed, or you can at least recall how the game was slightly easier in comparison to other isiMotor simulators, Project CARS continues moving in that general direction.
You’ll still need to warm the tires on the outlap, make sure the setup doesn’t bottom out, and use the same reference points on locations you’re familiar with from other games, but you can drive in an extremely sloppy fashion with virtually no punishment. I personally don’t think the Force Feedback is as bad as everybody makes it out to be, but this is one of those titles that has the potential to regress your skills. In the same way an electric guitar played through a solid amplifier can easily mask mistakes in your fundamentals compared to a traditional acoustic piece, Project CARS lets you get away with being lazy behind the wheel. You don’t need to roll on the throttle. You don’t need to be smooth. Point the car at the apex, and shoot it there. Provided you’re not man-handling the wheel like a teenager’s first time trying out Crusin’ USA at the arcade, you won’t suffer to the extent you would in real life, or other simulators.
Which, is extremely odd, given how 30,000 people helped provide feedback on this title, to ensure it would stand head and shoulders above basically every other racing simulator on the market. I’m sure this was not the end result they were hoping for.
Despite all of the issues I’ve knocked it for, there are a few key things I feel Project CARS does very well.
The tire sounds, first and foremost, are fantastic. Seriously, with how the isiMotor engine handles audio files, it can be quite difficult to convey exactly what all four corners of the car are doing at any given moment. Project CARS gets them right, and this is in a game where many people have felt the engine sounds are too obnoxious. No matter what car I was driving, the audio feedback I’d receive from the tires did a wonderful job of telling me exactly when they were starting to slip, and how much more I could push in each corner. Whatever sample they used, it was definitely the right one.
You can use a custom cockpit view. I’m that guy who has to bust open the INI files for each car I drive in Stock Car Extreme, and manually move the eyepoint forward to accomodate for my single monitor setup. Inside Project CARS, you can access an advanced level of cockpit seat adjustments with the CTRL+K keyboard combination, which lets you go absolutely crazy with your camera and FOV positioning. Out of the box, I can drive each car in the exact way I feel comfortable with, letting me spend less time poking around in text files, and more time pushing each car to its limit. Or watching the AI fail spectacularly in a wide variety of vehicles. One of the two.
You can mess with the Heads Up Display. A simple feature, but one I gladly welcome given how many games by default don’t always provide you with the best information layout. Buttons on the wheel also allow you to cycle through the various MoTeC LCD display panels provided your car has a digital dash, which is really cool inside something like the IndyCar, where you can toggle to a screen displaying your split times. In some cars, this makes it possible to run an entire race without any trace of floating HUD boxes for maximum immersion. Other times, it just lets you move shit around to your liking, which is nice.
The laser scanned tracks are beautiful. Not every location has been granted with the privilege of being created with this highly accurate technology, but the tracks that have received this special attention – particularly Brands Hatch and Oulton Park – are downright fucking gorgeous, even if you’re like myself and can’t run everything to the highest of graphical fidelity. Graphics aren’t everything in a racing simulator, but there are a few select locations in Project CARS that will definitely make you stop and appreciate the virtual environment that has been built.
Watching the development of Project CARS unfold over the past four years has been absolutely excruciating. The way Slightly Mad Studios have handled the abhorrent viral marketing campaign, and how they’ve responded to post-release reception makes lack any sympathy for the title’s numerous issues, some of which still haven’t been fixed, while others are just being discovered. During my short journey across two different versions of the game, in two distinctly different settings, Project CARS throws little gremlins at you with each passing minute of gameplay – gremlins that slowly amass into a small army that becomes difficult to ignore.
You are constantly stumbling upon elements of the game that don’t work in the way they were intended or imagined to, and as a result there isn’t much of the sim that’s left untouched by technical woes. When you try to run a race against the AI, the AI shits themselves. When you try to race online, the warping is worthy of a YouTube video. When you try to mess around in the garage menu, the car setup screen is a pain in the ass to navigate. As you attempt to fine-tune your car, hilarious setup oddities are exposed. Just attempting to run some laps, the overall driving experience doesn’t require you to focus or even care about perfecting your craft to the extent usually required by a hardcore racing simulator.
From an experienced sim racer’s standpoint, I can’t say Project CARS accomplished anything the simulator was intended to be when it was first announced. I truly struggle to understand how a product like this was given the thumbs up by over 30,000 internal testers, who had a vested interest in the long term success of the product. I understand that Slightly Mad Studios aren’t the most reputable of developer teams, so there’s a chance they simply couldn’t get their shit together and hold up their end of the bargain, but there is a massive disconnect between what many of us outsiders were led to believe about the title prior to release, and what the game actually is. For a release that was supposed to shift the landscape of the sim racing genre, an extremely buggy variant of Race 07 is not what anybody had in mind.
However, because many of the game’s issues will only be noticed by hardcore sim racers, this is a title that can easily be recommended to someone who’s looking to move on from Forza, but doesn’t know where to start. I can sit here and rag on the game all I want for getting grip levels horribly wrong, or implementing an unfinished kamikaze AI behavior that puts this supposedly glorious Career Mode entirely out of the question, but people just crossing over into the genre won’t know what to expect, and therefore won’t know the difference.
If you know what you’re doing, Project CARS is going to piss you off to no end for all of the messed up shit you’ll be routinely subjected to, stuff that Slightly Mad Studios has no excuse for not rectifying this far into the game’s lifespan. If you don’t know what you’re doing, there isn’t a better game you could have bought to get your feet wet in the world of sim racing. The moment you start realizing it’s a bit of a mess, is when it’s the right time to move onto something more competent.