After many delays, the racing sim Project CARS
finally arrived on the consoles just over a year ago. The title immediately divided players, some heralding it as the first real hardcore simulation whilst others dismissed it as a bug-ridden unplayable game. The truth lay somewhere in between. Now, 12 months later, we have the Game of the Year Edition, a complete package of the game and all of the DLC (both paid and free), patches and updates. Cynics might say that this is finally the game that should have been released a year ago. In some respects they might have a point but ultimately it’s irrelevant as this is, quite possibly, the best track based racing experience on the Xbox One.
When the title first released it had many detractors, many of which focused on the issues, bugs and the difficulty when using a standard controller. The GOTY edition claims to have over 500 fixes and improvements. Some might argue that any title needing so many post-release ‘tweaks’ is not something of which to be proud, but it shows the level of commitment and effort that Ian Bell and the team at Slightly Mad Studios have put into the racing title over those months.
Right from the get-go, it was the graphics that made people take notice. The cars, circuits and environments all look visually stunning. Racing at sunset or sunrise is an amazing sight, albeit occasionally blinding, sufficiently so that you’d be forgiven for reaching for sunglasses. The transitions through the various hours of daylight and eventual night time is brilliantly implemented. It is possible to setup an endurance race with a time multiplier that makes the virtual time tick by faster than real time allowing races to appear to go from dawn to dusk and further. Lap by lap, the lighting, shadows and ambience all change.
Similarly, smooth weather transitions can also be configured with up to four weather changes per race allowed. This makes racing all the more challenging, especially considering the advanced tire model in the title. Changing weather means tire selection and pit stops are an essential race strategy. Such is this importance that you can create different pit strategies for different cars, different tracks and even different race moments like that last pit stop in a 24 hour race where you want a minimum fuel top-up for the sprint finish. It is all possible, just remember to inform your crew before you enter the pits or you’ll simply be passing through.
This gives an indication of the level of realism that the team has striven to achieve and, naturally, this carries over to the 125 cars that are included in the title. The cars are brilliantly recreated and captured, both from the interior and the exterior, and they look truly spectacular. Classes range from super-karts through to Le Mans Prototypes. There are F1 cars, named Formula A due to licensing restrictions, also something that prevents Ferraris and a few other marques from being included. However, given the level of realism, you won’t be jumping from car to car quite so quickly as each car takes time to truly master.
Whilst there are no parts or upgrades available, cars can be tuned in an infinite number of ways. Configurations can be saved for each car and for each track, allowing for a specific tune for a specific car on Monza, and another tune for the same car at Le Mans. Along with the car configurations there are also numerable controller options. Those using a force feedback wheel will find over 20 different settings for the wheel alone, some of which remain unfathomable despite the help prompts. Fortunately, an active community has provided a whole series of settings that can be applied. Just like all of the other settings, these too can be saved on car by car basis, unlike other titles where one setting applies to all cars regardless of class.
All of those settings add to the immersion. It’s hard to describe just how much tactile information the settings contribute to the force feedback. It is wonderfully nuanced and really makes every single car feel different. With so many options available, though, the title demonstrates the limitations in the number of buttons on the Xbox One controller. Whilst it might well be handy having wipers and headlights mapped for a GT3 car, it doesn’t do much for a Formula A race car; likewise, having DRS and KERS mapped for a go-kart seems a little wasteful. With so many options that can be mapped to buttons, it’s a shame that different mapping configurations cannot be saved separately.
The tracks and circuits have been carefully recreated with a mixture of current, classic and fictional tracks. Whilst many of the tracks will be familiar to players, such as Silverstone, Spa and Circuit de Catalunya, there are also those that are less prominently featured, such as Zolder and Oulton Park. The GOTY edition also includes a combined Nurburgring GP and Nordschleife circuit for an extra level of challenge. The classic versions of Silverstone and Hockenheim hark back to the early days of racing. There is something special about racing on a small tarmac track in open fields marked by straw bales and ropes strung between wooden stakes. Such tracks demand to be driven by equally classic open wheel race cars such as the Lotus 49 or the Lotus 38 Ford, where you can see the wheel struts and suspension working overtime as you hurtle around the track. Every bump, camber, and change of surface can be felt on each of the 100 tracks in the title.
It’s at these moments where the title really shines. The level of simulation and the visuals are aimed at delivering an outstanding and exhilarating racing experience, and until Assetto Corsa
finally arrives, there is simply nothing that comes close. You can feel the braking and when you are approaching the limits of traction; with such a simulation it really is the only way to race. Project CARS
is possibly the most engaging and realistic driving experience currently on the console. Once out on the track, the depth of the simulation is totally absorbing. A full race weekend can include optional practice sessions and qualifying sessions before even racing. Then there is the weather, the time of day, the date, and level of AI. Depending on the circuit you can face up to 39 other opponents, something that no other title can offer yet. The AI opponents are as tough and uncompromising as only to be expected in such a title, although they're not infallible and they will be seen making mistakes, going wide and losing control.
All of this configuration and realism comes at a price. Whilst it is possible to adjust the level of AI and the level of driving assists, the title has always aimed to be a simulation and that means it is not particularly easy, nor is it especially welcoming to novices. Initially, and with some justification, the title was considered unplayable using a controller, but given the number of times set on the leaderboards during the regular community challenges, this is clearly no longer a valid argument; as with a FFB wheel, the pad will need a fair bit of tweaking to find the ideal settings for each player.
Originally, there were also occasional glitches with stuttering audio but those have now been solved. The engine noise and sounds add to the sensation of racing. When concentrating on the track ahead, the nearby growling of another engine lets you know that another racer is breathing down your neck. You might not see them in your mirrors, but you are acutely aware of their presence through the soundscape.
With such an uncompromising and detailed racing model, the title had enough to endear it to the hardcore driving community, so it feels strange that the only compromise made to gaming feels strangely unnecessary. The career mode is meant to mimic the real life journey of any prospective driver, starting in a particular class and rising through the ranks season by season. However, as virtual time progresses you find yourself being invited to an increasing number of more varied events, which become distracting and confusing. Additionally, there are faux email and social media messages relating to the driver’s performance that all feel just a little bit too forced. Whilst some might enjoy the virtual fame and stardom, the title would have been strong enough without it; after all, it’s about the racing experience that is thrilling enough to stand alone.
That brilliant racing experience continues online. Dropping into the multiplayer mode will present a server list of races that are currently running, listing the class, circuit and the number of drivers. It’s simpler than waiting in lobbies, although there is still the delay whilst other drivers join. You can host your own race and set up the race conditions in any way you feel, including car class, weather conditions and whether a mandatory pit stop is required. Anything possible in the offline mode also works in the online mode.
Online racing remains a nerve wracking tense affair with a maximum of 16 cars on the circuit at any time. Qualification sessions can be used to determine grid position, which may take a little longer, but ultimately seems fairer than being dumped in a random grid position. Just like any other online racing title, it is about getting through that first corner unscathed, which becomes a minor victory in itself. Curiously – and this might be as a result of the nature of the title – races online are less of crash-fest than other titles, although you do still see people quitting before the end of race. Performance online can be mixed; it is generally lag-free but, naturally, this seems to depend on the quality of the connections. Lag at the wrong moment can be fatal to your racing aspirations.
Inevitably there will be comparisons with the Forza
series, but it is not a fair comparison. Project CARS
set out to be a simulation for racers, Forza
remains a playable game that is accessible by all. Project CARS
is about the racing and driving experience, whereas Forza
seems more focused on the cars themselves. There are no rewards, extra credits or XP to gained whilst racing, and there are no ratings on hitting perfect corners or passing manoeuvres, although it’s nice to hear the voice of ex-Stig Ben Collins congratulating you as pull off a daring double overtake move. Project Cars
goes deeper than Forza
-- it's a struggle to get there sometimes, it's a struggle to win, there is more fight, and it feels as though there is more 'driving' involved.
There are 45 achievements for the title, covering singleplayer, career and online. Most will be obtained through normal player progression but with the online achievements it is difficult to say just how long the full completion would take. This would be dependent on individual skills.
is now a complete package and a deep and engaging racing sim. Marketed as “For Racers by Racers” with gamers not even mentioned, it’s clear at whom the title is aimed. Fully patched with a fuller catalog of cars and even more circuits, there is little left to complain about. The racing is as good, as real and as uncompromising as it gets on the console and it is a truly exhilarating experience. Prospective drivers will have to work hard for it but, ultimately, for those prepared to work and put in the effort, there is a massively rewarding driving experience here.
- Stunning visuals
- Exhilarating racing experience
- Simulation level physics and handling
- Difficult for novice drivers to break into
- Everything needs to configured and setup for individual drivers
- Aimed at sim-racers with wheels
The reviewer has spent 177 hours playing Project CARS since its release, including all DLC and the newest GOTY expansion. He has unlocked 24 of the 45 achievements. An Xbox One copy of the game was provided by the publisher for the purpose of this review.