Some years ago, Namco and Slightly Mad studios posed each other an interesting question: “why don’t we ask the people who play our games to help make the next one?” I know right?! A game for the fans, by the fans. And, after several years of input from people just like you and me, along with several professional racing drivers, here is the fruit of their/our labour: ‘Project CARS’.
Project CARS lets you create your own driver and identity, then lets you loose in the big wide world of auto racing. Choose a starting series, and you’ll earn invites to events and find yourself surprised at how quickly you unlock a host of different cars from different disciplines. CARS goes a long way to making sure you’re immersed in the life of an auto racer – you’ll receive emails from your driving team as well as potential sponsors, not to mention special offers to various events that help break up the routine. There’s also a calendar of all the race meetings on each month, letting you see when your next race is, as well as what other events are on that weekend.
You can skip practice and qualifying sessions, and adjust the sessions length, the AI level, and whether or not you can restart. Along with the usual championships, once you prove yourself you’ll end up being invited to invitational meets as well, which can help you advance into other series and gives you a nice break from whatever discipline you’re currently competing with. Another nice touch I liked is the ‘Fan chat’ that appears beside the menu for your career. It’s very twitter-esqe, with posts about the coming season, and how you’ve been doing. Seeing people cheer for your team, congratulating you on win streaks, and being able to prove wrong the people who write you off, is all a part of the experience. The characters are well thought out as well; you can almost hear the regret in your engineers voice when you tell him you’re leaving for another team next season.
The game itself is quite pretty to say the least. It’s hard to remember at times that you aren’t looking at real photos of places, or that you aren’t watching the replay of a real race. With a full 24 hour day and night cycle, and a host of weather effects that can come and go even during a single event, the world of Project CARS is without a doubt the prettiest place I’ve ever raced. Many famous circuits are a part of the tour, including our very own Bathurst (a track that is fast becoming a pre requisite for racing sims.) There are street circuits, road rally stages, real world tracks and fictional ones, all designed to test you and your machine. Sand traps actually work as they should, grass is your enemy if you drop a wheel, and I highly recommend staying clear of the ripple strips, unless you want to have a bad time. It’s highly detailed; from the plumes of smoke you can leave as you slide out of corners, the little pieces of rubber that fly off your tyres, and little things like the realistic sun glare, rain drops that race each other down the windscreen, and the constellations that change throughout the night sky.
But of course, the real star in game with a name like Project CARS is of course, the trees. Yes, the trees are very well textured, and several tree experts were brought in to oversee their…oh wait, wrong game. I meant the CARS! Whilst the list isn’t as long as other titles, they have tried very hard to give you diversity in all disciplines. Heck, when it comes to Le Mans prototypes, they have even built their own models of cars to race with, alongside the more established names in endurance racing. Everything from karts, road cars, supercars, touring cars, GT, open wheel (including F1/not F1 because copyright etc) is at your disposal. It really is as simple as deciding what you want to start in, and where you want to go.
The handling can be a bit of a trick at first; open wheel cars demand precision and gentle inputs of throttle, the legendary Group 5 cars are as every bit of a handful as they should be, and even the supercars twitch and fight, like a wild horse you’re trying to tame. If you’re used to the more relaxed Forza and Gran Turismo titles, you might be frustrated at first. But it’s a good feeling when you finally tame the beast, and whoop the field with it. Slightly Mad studios have a long and esteemed history with sim titles, and they know what they’re talking about when it comes to making cars as they should. I own a BMW 1 series coupe like the one in this game, and you know what? Project CARS is the first title where they’ve nailed it-the sound, the feel, the handling, it all feels familiar to me.
Project CARS has been in development since 2011. In that 4 years Namco and Slightly Mad have taken the time and effort to listen to the pros, and listen to you, so that they can make a game that we actually want to play. Not many other companies do that. They asked us what we wanted, and delivered it the best they could. And thinking back on my gaming career, thinking of all the racing titles I dearly remember and love the most, there are little things in this game that remind me of all of them at one point or another. They’ve captured what a racing sim should be; taken the sort of action those PC mater race jocks brag about and put it in a game for all to enjoy. Whether you’re a novice who is just starting, or a pro settling in for another season, it’s all about your choice, your race, your career. Where you want to go is entirely up to you, and considering Gran Turismo 5 took about the same amount of time to develop, believe me when I say this guys: you did it much better.