For any self respecting gamer who has even the slightest interest in motorsport, the arrival of Project Cars would have been a significant moment. Touted by Slightly Mad Studios for the last couple of years as the ultimate driving journey, a game created and approved by the pros with an unprecedented track and vehicle roster and graphics that are beyond reality, Project Cars should be the game that all racers will need to be involved with from day one. So does it live up to the hype, or do we have nothing more than a podium finisher behind the market leading Forza Motorsport?
It’s no secret that I’m a massive fan of the Forza series. Whilst I’ll play literally any videogame that involves vehicles, and engine, four wheels and a competitive race, both Forza 5 and Forza Horizon 2 have recently blown my mind. From the old days of taking in Outrun, to simulating entire Formula One races with damage, mechanical breakdowns and punctures as a student a couple of decades back, give me a racing game and I’ll be like a pig in muck.
For that reason, I’ve been hotly anticipating Project Cars from the very first moment I heard it would be coming to Xbox One. And with the magnificent trailer and screenshots that have been dropping from the developers over the last couple of months, it ensured that the anticipation reached fever pitch the closer we got to the eventual release date.
Unfortunately, I’m now sat here with a huge sense of disappointment sweeping over me.
For all its glorious detail (and believe me, Slightly Mad Studios cannot be faulted for the work and effort that they’ve put into Cars), Project Cars is in fact a little, dare I say it, boring.
Games have evolved immensely over the years and what was a genre confined to the race track, we now see the asphalt play just a small part in the whole experience. Track racing still has a place alongside the open world environment that we find in something like the Horizon series, but the sheer adrenaline rush that accompany racing games these days, comes in much larger swathes when the gamer gets the chance to leave the track and explore a little.
But hey, that’s not what Project Cars is about is it so I won’t digress. It’s all about the track, it’s all about the physics and it’s all about the stunning design and roaring sounds of the cars involved. Oh, and it’s all about the racing!
And give Project Cars its dues, the visuals and audios on offer are off the scale. From the moment you sit yourself in your first small Kart and drop into the extensive career mode, you’ll immediately recognise that Slightly Mad have poured much time into the finer details. Not only have the cars been meticulously created both inside and out, the huge number of camera views ensure that no matter how you wish to play, there should be something to cater for all. The in-car cockpit shots just have to be checked out in order to see your driver dude ploughing his way through the gears and wrestling with the steering wheel on the tightest of chicanes. I’d even go as far as to say that the in game visuals are the most stunning that I’ve seen so far on the new generation of consoles, whilst the sounds that emit through the rear of the cars included (especially those track pedigree machines with lovely exhaust notes), are simply a joy to behold.
The visual glory extends out to the tracks which you’ll get the chance to drive around as well. Every single inch of the 80+ track variations that are present see real world tracks spring into life, with every bump and deviation in the track surface felt brilliantly. Throw in the inclusion of weather effects that include the ability to set up to four different weather variations taking place over one race, with the choice of fog, storms, rain and the good old sunshine at various times throughout your competition and you’ll never tire of the gorgeous graphics that accompany the racing.
But you see, this is where things are let down. The racing.
Whilst it’s all good being able to throw your vehicle round Silverstone alone in a practice or qualifying session, jump into the race proper and things are a bit strange. Collisions both online and offline are nigh on perfect and if you can grab a load of mates, then you’ll have a fairly decent time battering each other out on track. But have no friends and you’ll be left frustrated by the multiplayer search facility that nine times out of ten throws you into a session alone, or a session in which the other racers are taking part in a half hour practice with little to no involvement for others. Get in a race or five and you’ll be happy. But just getting there can sometimes be a struggle.
Sticking offline in the huge career mode isn’t the best either. As you progress through life as a pro driver, starting at the very bottom and moving right up to the ranks of the world’s best racer, you’ll have to put up with some AI who perform either as Lewis Hamilton or Lewis Carroll, with very little middle ground. You can amend the difficulty settings and AI skills to the nth degree, but no matter where you leave the marker, the artificial intelligence that has been included is nowhere near a match for the Forza Drivatars. Instead it ensures that you’re left either struggling around as a mid-pack racer, not getting anywhere with your career, or as a driver who leaves everyone else in your dust, with your opponents not putting up much effort at all to stop you from succeeding. It’s these AI inadequacies that ultimately turn Project Cars into a bit of a single player bore-fest.
You could of course hit some time trialling or race through some of the community events found in the Driver Network, but neither of those options make up for a faltering career.
Include some mega frustrating menu choices and seriously small text boxes that are a struggle to read even on a 50 inch TV, and Project Cars is without a doubt so obviously setup for PC players as opposed to console gamers that it’s unreal. Navigating your way through the hundreds of menus and settings is much more of a chore than it should be and I’m disappointed that the focus on PC has been to such an extent.
If however you’re after nothing more than a great sounding and outstanding looking game, then Project Cars will keep you going forever more. But if you want a single player racer with a career of the highest degree, then I’m afraid you’re going to find this lacking. By all means go and hit the racetrack for some custom one-off races in your favourite speed beast or go up against your mates online, but truth be told, there is still only one champion in the racing genre.
Now, where’s my Forza disc.