Project Cars is the perfect example of how video gaming marketing materials can be misleading. It’s not until you go hands on with the game that a game is actually fun to play. Heck, until you put some decent amount of time into the game, its hard to make a firm judgement at all. You see, with Project Cars, the game is beautiful, perhaps the best looking car game on the market still, one year later. But the career mode is a dull worn out by the books series of races, and worst of all, the driving is very poor by simulation standards. That is, if we are grading this game as a simulation driving game, which it clearly wants to be given the its marketing intent, the emphasis on vehicles and the types of tracks on offer. This might be the most disappointed I’ve been with a game for a long time.
At the heart of the problem is the driving and handling. From the driving games I’ve played, I’d put Assetto Corsa right at the very top in terms of handling. There may be other simulations just as good like Race Room, iRacing and rFactor but I haven’t played those yet. Right now Assetto Corsa is at the top of the pile for me. In Assetto Corsa you feel all the nuance as you drive around the corner and every lap you make adjustments to get it just right. The handling makes sense with a Logitech G27 steering wheel. When you add too much acceleration, you’re going to oversteer, go too fast into a corner, oversteer. The variances between these extremes are all there so as a driver, the job is always to get it millimetre perfect every lap.
Contrast that to Project Cars handling, there is barely any variance in the handling. Between cars there’s plenty of variance sure, but driving the car itself is a different matter. It’s almost like an arcadey experience, more like Project Gotham. But Project Gotham is a straight up cross between arcade-simulation. Project Cars presents itself as a simulation and its missing the tight nuanced handling. When I go around a corner, its too forgiving, and I feel I’m barely testing myself. I don’t feel like I have to drive perfectly nor do I have the feedback from the game or the steering wheel to do so. Put simply, the handling is terrible. I’m happy for anyone to show me otherwise, but for now the Project Cars handling is off.
As mentioned already the support for the Logitech G27 is bad. There is no feedback going around any corners, the handling is loose and has a significant deadzone in the centre, so the car only starts turning after 15-20 degrees turn of the wheel. The feedback is only fine when you run off the track, and the rumble then kicks in. I can’t even turn up the force feedback because its already set to 100. I have read on the Steam Forums, that some people have altered the settings and tried to ‘improve’ it, but it should have shipped with much better wheel support.
This would all be somewhat bearable if the actual game was fun to play, but the single player mode is incredibly boring. The game tries to cover a wide range of driving disciplines from GT3 to karts and everything in between. You can start anywhere you like and try to work your way up, which is a nice gesture, but starting near the bottom is kind of painful because the game just takes too long to get going. After selecting your level of racing, you can start a season of racing, and the seasons so far have been about 5 race weekends in length. Each race weekends consist of three parts, the qualifying which I skipped because it was taking far too long, and then two races, the first is a 2 lap race, the second a 5 lap race. While it was kinda cool at first, its just a little repetitive. I don’t mind long races in particular, but racing twice just felt redundant. In Grid Autosport, they at least reverse the grid on the second race. If you ever feel like starting a brand new category of motorsport, the game doesn’t let you, you’re stuck playing that category for the rest of the season and its only then you might get some offers.
The actual racing is also disappointing. I’m more used to games with various difficulty levels which I set it to and forget about. If I feel the game is getting too hard, I’ll drop from collecting Golds to Silvers. In Project Cars, AI difficulty is on a slider so it feels bizarre to adjust it to a level where you are ‘winning’ every race. But most problematic of all, is that this system doesn’t really work, there is far more time to pass all the cars in a 5 lap race, than there is on a 2 lap race, making the difficulty far easier on the longer race.
To top it all off, the overall UI is a ill conceived and needs a complete overhaul. In career mode, you get a calendar, but because you’re most likely walled off and racing in one category everything is greyed out except for the race that you’re about to start. You can’t click on other events and find out what they are, the calendar is literally useless except for telling how many days you had between races (1 week, most of the time). It’s terrible.
What I did enjoy about the game were its graphics, and they’re stellar. This is still the best looking racing game on the market. There’s dynamic time and weather, and the rain looks absolutely fantastic, rivaling Driveclub for sheer authenticity. On the PC, you can have up to 40 cars on the track at once, probably the most of any simulation. The game will slow down a little bit, so for performance sake, I lowered it to about 20 to still get a good sense of racing. With an i5-4690k and GTX 970 in 1440p, I was getting about 80fps with everything maxed out. With a GTX 1070, I got about 100fps. Performance is generally excellent.
Overall, unless you want to race just for some pretty graphics, I’d recommend Assetto Corsa if you want something similar or the best racing game on the market so far but in a completely different discipline – Dirt Rally. Project Cars feels like a bunch of cars, a bunch of tracks and not much else.
Score – 6 out of 10.