Project Cars: Driven by the details, powered by racing fans

Our biggest concern with Project Cars, despite it not being financed by a big publisher, was that it would feel like a game made by committee. Having sought funding from the sim-racing community, seeking feedback and even using many fans as QA testers for the game, it could have ended up as something generic. Thankfully, that’s not the issue we encountered as we played this near-final build of the game. What it does have is a laundry list of impressive features, though it remains to be seen whether they will bind together as a package. It's not generic, but it may not yet have any real character behind its wide range of eye-catching features.

One of the game’s most impressive elements so far are its visuals, which we’ve all been gawping over for the last few months. It’s a great looking game most of the time. Some urban settings had a tendency to look a little flat the midday sun, but begin to switch on the weather effects or just change the time of day you’re racing and Project Cars comes alive.

It’s a stunning racer when you start to implement its array of sliders. The dynamic weather and time of day in particular are a lot of fun once you start speeding up their turnover. Having four different weather systems swing through every other lap is insane, but quite a thrill as you move from fog to sun to thunderstorms every few minutes. Because of this, we have to put those times it didn’t quite look as good down to a few odd areas of lighting.

While still on the subject of looks, we should mention the game’s excellent range of viewing options. Both the in-helmet and in-car views are worth praising. You can catch the edges of the padding inside the headwear, and the sound effects are slightly muffled through all that foamand fibreglass. We found ourselves switching through many of the views and enjoyed most if not all of them for one reason or another. They’re exceptionally well done and it’s testament to the kind of attention to detail inherent in Project Cars that each view has clearly been tested, tweaked and refined to perfection.
“  The change in release date allows the game the greatest chance of success and visibility, and the opportunity to polish even further  ”
Perfection is demanded of you as a player, too. This is a really demanding game with very tricky handling. There’s no concession to the casual fan like you might have had with, say, Forza Motorsport 5. You either play by the game’s rules or you spin off the track straight into a wall. It can take a while to get used to. In this respect, Project Cars feels like a game that’s going to need a racing wheel to really enjoy. Playing with a pad could well be holding you back in terms of sensitivity.

Finally, the open nature of how you explore and improve through single-player is a refreshing change. Take the wheel of any car you like. Prove yourself as a driver first and foremost and worry about everything else later. The lack of traditional structure puts the onus on self-motivation though. You’re going to have to really want to play this game to keep on going, because it’s certainly not going to lay out rewards or incentives to keep you coming back, beyond your will to keep competing and proving yourself, that is.

This is a game packed with detail, from the car models to the weather systems. The handling is subtle and demanding. The lighting is gorgeous and often breathtakingly rendered. The openness of the solo campaign is impressive. What it felt like it was lacking at times though was a sense of personality. There’s heart here  the passion of the team seeps through every pore of this game but we don’t yet feel it coming together as an immersive experience. It's not helped by a menu system that is currently rather bare and impenetrable. In fact, the user interface on the whole is a little behind other aspects of the game, but since we’re still only experiencing a slice and without the online side of things to drive competition, that’s a concern we’re happy to leave to one side for now. Hopefully the remaining weeks will see some flair added to Project Cars’ promising package.

One Of The really standout features of Project Cars, among a long list of superbly crafted additions, is the use of sound in the game. While our finely trained ears may not be attuned to the subtle differences between the many cars and engines featured in the game, we’re talking more about how the sound changes depending on your car view. For instance, the cockpit perspective sounds very different to when you have the camera hovering behind the car, and both differ from the bonnet cam. Our favourite though was the in-helmet view, which adds a muffled effect to all the sounds of the track, from the roar of the engine to rain hitting the windshield.

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