Project Cars has taught me a valuable lesson. It’s one that I’ve always known but this console racing simulator has driven the point home, so to speak. The lesson is: I can’t drive. Not as well as my brain seems to think that I can. Sure I can navigate Johannesburg traffic or take a lengthy trip down to the coast but the only use I’d be on a real track would be as a crash-test dummy.
This harsh truth is as much a testament to Project Cars‘ realism as it is an indictment of my terrible driving skills. When you’re careening around a track, whether you’re in a little 125cc kart or in a McLaren supercar, you’re going to feel like you’re actually there. And that feeling of realism can be customised, both by the wealth of in-game settings and by the addition of a few optional extras.
On The Right Track
Right from the outset, you’ve got access to everything. It’s up to you where you’re going to start. There’s no unlocking race tiers, no need to move up the ranks, if you’re interested in starting off in prototypes or open-wheel racing, you can. You can also start right at the bottom, in little 125cc karts and the relevant series, and work your way up from there. Every track, every car, every option is available to you right from the start. That’s the way to go.
The numerous race series are all distinct, with markedly different handling between vehicle classes. The karts are speedy enough as they hug the ground but they tend to turn unexpectedly sharply. If you’ve ever actually been karting, you’ll have a framework to base Project Cars realism against. Scooting around, the skittering of tyres on a bad corner, the total lack of control once you leave the track – it’s all there. I have to assume that the bigger tracks and the bigger events are the same but I have no basis for real-world comparison. Never driven a Formula A car, fortunately, but it sure does feel how you’d expect it to.
There are more than enough tracks for you to go fooling around with. You’re going to want to fool with them too, because Project Cars is going to punish you. Hard. If you don’t know every inch of the track, where you’re supposed to be braking and turning and where your danger areas are, you’re going to be smoked – by the AI and by other players online. Especially other players online. Project Cars is all about the racing and mistakes, just like the real world, often spell disaster. You’re not going to barge players off on a corner, you’re more likely to catch a nudge and spin off the track entirely while the pack passes you by.
All The Trimmings
Just to drive home the point about this being a racing sim: That track you think you have taped? Better hope that the weather doesn’t change, because then you’re riding on a completely different track. Vehicle handling doesn’t just change a little, it becomes a whole other ball game. Your braking distances lengthen, the entire feel of the car alters and visibility becomes a rare thing. And that’s just when it gets overcast or you’re racing towards evening. You’ll feel the differences in a track just depending on the time of day, in-game, that you’re driving.
Weather and even just atmospheric pressure have an effect on your driving. How much of a difference can the player make on their own? Users can adjust their car’s tyre pressure, including individual pressures for each wheel if that’s what you’re in to. There are a few other adjustments available too. And each configuration can be saved for each vehicle in Project Cars, which is a nice touch. Players are also at liberty to adjust the various camera views, so you have gave the bumper, bonnet or helmet-cam just the way you like them. There are a large collection of image settings you can tweak as well, so if you want to get rid of lighting bloom or heat haze, that’s also up to you.
What you don’t have control over is the vehicle’s appearance. No painting, no spoilers, no… fluff. Everything in Project Cars is useful, in one way or another, and there’s no space for mere cosmetics. They’ve even made a large effort with the damage model. You can opt for realistic tyre wear, your fuel tank will drain over time and, if you have damage set to full, a slight collision will dramatically alter the performance of your vehicle. Oh, and you can blow your engine if you drive like a novice.
Out Of Control
Being a simulator, Project Cars is designed for use with additional peripherals. I spent most of this review playing with the PlayStation 4 controller, which is an adequate method of control, but if you’re the sort of player who likes to leave all of the driving assists turned off, you might want to look at investing in a steering wheel and pedal setup. That’s when you really can tell how much detail is in Cars, because real-world to on-screen response with a steering wheel is top-notch. Throw in a bucket seat and perhaps the Oculus Rift, which will be supported when the VR headset launches, and you’re sitting with a full-on driving simulator in your home.
But it’s not all sunshine and roses. Or tarmac and fumes, as the case may be. There’s the occasional glitch to be seen, especially with the AI. Sometimes things will roll along without issues, other times the AI will just follow a predetermined path without accounting for its surroundings. Result – player spending some time kissing the barrier. But considering how much detail has been cramming into Project Cars, I’m more surprised that there are as few problems as there are.
Project Cars is all about the driving. If you’re serious about your simulators then this is the sort of game that you’re capable of building an entire setup around. And then spending months pretending you’re roaring around Catalunya. You could probably teach someone to drive a real car, if you have the right peripherals. If you’re more of a casual player, you’ll also be able to experience what Cars has to offer but you’d be missing the point of it. The technical aspects of driving are the star here and you’re be remiss if you were not immersing yourself in them completely. There’s a lot to Project Cars and it’ll take you a long, long time to master. Like the real thing, there’s always something else to learn about driving on the track. And like the real thing, it’s not perfect. But it’s the best sim racer I’ve seen in a long, long time.