Namco Bandai and Slightly Mad Studios’ Project CARS has taken a long and unusual road to launch. Built with an improved Madness engine, Project CARS shares roots with the Need For Speed: Shift games. In the not-too-distant past there was plenty of room in the marketplace for racing games, but recently that space has been consolidated by first party offerings from Microsoft and Sony. As a result of that market consolidation, Project CARS was actually funded by the community and developers themselves, without a traditional publisher, though Namco is distributing the game.
Having eschewed traditional video game financing, Project CARS is actually a game by racing fans for racing fans. Through the purchase of special tool packs through World of Mass Development accounts, community members could actually contribute to the development of the game in roles like content creation, quality assurance, and media marketing. Members gained special perks, depending on their purchased tool pack. They will also receive a share of the game’s profits, generated within the first three years after launch, as compensation for their efforts. With such close ties to its community, it’s no wonder that Project CARS is as user-friendly as it is.
Unlike many other racing games, Project CARS doesn’t lock up its vehicles. Pretty much every vehicle and location is available from the start. While this allows players to race the way they want to, it also takes away the incentive to spend more time with the game. With about 70 cars available, Project CARS is a bit lighter than some of its competitors. There are representatives from each of the classes, including karts, but no class seems to have quite a full roster. Considering Namco is serving as the distributor of the game, the scarcity of iconic Japanese vehicles is a little surprising.
Due in no small part to the large community involvement, Project CARS supports a huge number of racing rigs for PC, in addition to the Xbox One controller. The control schemes used are the standards, and the large number of available views are what you would expect. The interior view effects are actually pretty impressive, but I did run into some inconsistent rumble effects while using the Xbox One controller. The game is even compatible with the Oculus Rift virtual reality headset, and 12K Ultra HD, with Project Morpheus support also in the works. There is no word on the Microsoft Hololens yet, though.
Project CARS as a whole is impressive-looking, though a few of the individual effects are better implemented in other racing games. That being said, there are no glaring holes in its level of presentation, and even the audio is pretty good. Day, night, and weather conditions are all adjustable. Of course this is a racing game by racing fans for racing fans, so outside of the menus, there is no in-game soundtrack. It’s just your crew, your engine and the sound of the road. Though your crew instructions are appropriate, it would be nice if they were a little more dynamic and varied.
Project CARS offers a career mode, a solo race event, time trials, online races, and a free practice mode. In the career mode, the player creates a driver and then picks a discipline to start in, and there are three different career scenarios available, if you’re interested. Once you get started, you’re offered a sponsorship and the season kicks off. Though the game does a good job of making you feel you’re involved, because of Project CARS’ open system, the monetary aspect is fairly useless.
Once started, each event consists of practice, qualifying, and a couple of races, with the second race requiring a pit stop.
The pit stop area is actually where I ran into the most significant gameplay issues with Project CARS. My first problem was in getting the game to recognize that I was coming in for a pit stop. It’s supposed to recognize when you’re coming in and then take control of your car and run your pit stop. With my first attempt, it never actually let me into the pit area. I had this issue only once. However in a separate session, something happened where after the pit stop, whenever I turned left, my car kept flipping over. Like all of the available driving assists and difficulty settings, the pit stops are somewhat customizable.
Of course Project CARS wouldn’t be complete without multiplayer. In addition to the standard multiplayer options, Project CARS does allow for the creation of custom race weekends. As more of a niche racing game, it has an online community that I found a little more professional than what is typical for first-party console offerings or more casual racing games. Unfortunately, that also means you need to be pretty good to win. I was somewhat surprised at how quickly the matchmaking system worked, allowing for quick racing sessions.
Overall, I really did enjoy my time with Project CARS, though I’m not sure how many more times I will go to that well. As a fan of slightly more extreme rally car racing, I enjoyed the touring sessions the most, but longed for some dirt and snow tracks. The karts were by far my least favorite Project CARS translation, but every else was pretty accurate. Even with a large amount of options, and assists, you probably do need to be something of a gearhead to enjoy Project CARS, and probably a bit of a eurocentric one at that. Hopefully, the game, at least on the PC, will continue to grow. It’s certainly a commendable effort.
Project CARS is rated E (Everyone) by the ESRB. This game can also be found on: Xbox One and PlayStation 4.
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