Project Cars – First Impressions

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There’s a rumble of burbling engine in my ears, the wheels twists slightly under my hands as track tyres deflect off tiny imperfections in the pit lane. There’s no-one else present, just me, a high-speed car and all the tarmac you could hope to coat with rubber. None of it’s really real of course; this is just the launch event for Project Cars, a crowdfunded racing sim that has been in the works for at least four years. But it sure feels real.

Last night at Microsoft’s offices in Johannesburg, SA game distributor gave us our first real hands-on time with Project Cars, which launched around the world yesterday.

Media from around Jozi met up at Microsoft’s HQ, where we were all greeted by game director Stephen Viljoen. Yeah, he’s a South African working on what could be the best racing game we’ve ever seen – something that was Slightly Mad Studios’ stated aim when they started making it. After a brief rundown on what we could expect from the game, how it was made and what they achieved with it (laser-accurate tracks in some cases, adjustable seats, persistent custom car setups and more) it was off to burn a few laps.

Project Cars 1There was a bit of a queue for the large display and Thrustmaster TX racing setup, which also launched at the event, but eventually I got to slide behind the wheel of… I’m not even sure what it was but there was more power than I could handle. The new Thrustmaster setup brings the sensation that you’re in an actual car closer to reality than I’ve ever seen before but that wouldn’t be possible without Project Cars‘ gameplay and insane attention to detail.

The tracks and cars look incredible and, while we were playing on the Xbox One, Stephen tells us that they were after visual parity across all platforms. Seems like they got it. Whether you’re selecting a rear exterior view or the view from inside the driver’s helmet (and you really can position the driver’s seat to where you’d like it), Cars has left nothing out. A dynamic weather system swoops in, wetting the track and obscuring the windshield – there’s probably a way to turn on the wipers but you might as well be looking at a video recording based on the way that the feel of the track changes and the wind takes drops of water off the windshield.

The Force Feedback on show with the driving gear also shows how much detail is in these tracks. The wheel actually deviates when imperfections on the track come under the tyres. And it’s not just the shoulder, lumps and bumps in the middle are reproduced as well. And the sound… you’d be forgiven for thinking that you were trackside (with a loud enough home theatre system, anyway).

I’m not usually one for racing sims but the draw of Project Cars is still strong. Would I be able to guide a high-powered motorcar around an iconic track without scraping or breaking it? Based on the first play, probably not (I still maintain those crashes were intentional), but I’m definitely going to try.

As I’ve mentioned, this is just a first impression – based on the few laps I managed to score on the track using Thrustmaster’s racing setup. Will it fare just as well with a standard controller? I don’t know yet. There’s a full review coming so keep your eyes peeled for that but if it’s all as good as what’s been seen so far, racing sims will have a new high-water mark to aim for.

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