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Project CARS Review: Lap Time Invalidated

Project CARS is the latest racing sim promising to offer a definitive racing game offering almost as much realism as racing itself, but does the game deliver on that promise, or is it a false start?

As someone who’s fond of the Need for Speed series, and has recently fallen in love with the Forza Horizon series, and I almost could have liked The Crew, I thought I’d try my hand at something a little more serious. Project CARS is advertised as “for the racer” so what better way to experience a proper racing sim than with this game?

Granted, I’ve avoided games that try too hard to be real because it’s just not my thing, like Forza Motorsport for example. I’d rather thrash my car around unrestricted streets than be limited to a specific track with a specific route all planned out. So you’re probably expecting me to say that Project CARS just isn’t my thing too, but that’s where you’re wrong, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the game and have even surprised myself how much I’ve gotten into the game.

Why? Because of the challenge. Project CARS offers a challenge unlike any other racer that I’ve experienced. It’s difficult, but not difficult enough that it’s frustrating, sure it does take a bit of learning but the learning curve can be tweaked and refined to make the experience more pleasurable. In fact, that’s the whole appeal about Project CARS for me, the entire experience can be customised. Every. Single. Part of it.

Whether you’re someone who wants to jump in and out of your racing career every now and again or someone who wants to literally simulate a racing driver’s career, you can. For example, if you’d rather just race a few laps and chalk that up as a win, you can choose to complete just ten to twenty per cent of the race. If however you’re wanting the intense feeling of racing ten or fifteen laps and get the whole experience, you can choose to fully complete the race.

Project CARS Review: Lap Time Invalidated - n3rdabl3

As with most racing games you can also tweak almost every aspect of your car, from the tyres to the brake balance, to the aerodynamics and weight all the way to the dampener, and if you’re looking at all of those words wondering what the hell they mean, like me, you’ll be pleased to know that each section has their own little explanation letting you know exactly what they do if you adjust each one.

Project CARS also doesn’t tell you what to do. You’re free to do what you want, when you want to do it. Want to start at the beginning and race a Go-Kart, you totally can. Want to dive in at the deep end and race Prototype vehicles, sure! You can do that too. Not really feeling your current career and want to try something new? You can do that too and still keep your old career intact.

Speaking of Careers, in Project CARS the simulation hasn’t just focused on the game’s cars, a hell of a lot has gone into the game’s main career path too right down to a little custom social network ticker that shows you “fan thoughts” of your performance. This can sometimes be really rewarding, and other times really eye-opening when a performance that you thought was pretty good, is trodden on by some lousy person on the feed. Not that this happens too often as you can quickly tweak the settings so things are a little more enjoyable.

The ability to tweak the race before you head to the starting line can sometimes be both a blessing and a curse. It’s a blessing because you can choose to be the ultimate champion, all of the time, if you know that setting the AI difficulty to 10 means you’ll be zooming ahead in no time.. It’s a curse because winning all of the time can quickly become a drag. This is where you need to make the decision on whether you want an easy ride, or more of a challenge.

Personally, I found that whenever I hopped in a vehicle I hadn’t driven before I’d turn AI difficulty right down so I could get used to the car without the pressure of being smashed into by some clumsy AI. After a few races I’d start to turn it up until I was faced with more of a challenge.

It is however awfully easy to just turn it right back down again if you’re having too much of a difficult time, which for me is just too tempting, and I find myself ruining my own fun quite easily.

Project CARS Review: Lap Time Invalidated - n3rdabl3

One of the most stand-out things for me in Project CARS is the ability to jump from one thing to another at your absolute free will. This isn’t just including the campaign and the game’s solo play options. There’s also the game’s multiplayer functions which really aren’t the main appeal of the game but from what I’ve played so far they’ve been functional and relatively bug free, even when playing with those with a low connection.

If however you don’t want to play directly with other players there are time trials where you can compete against players asynchronously, or even more interesting, Project CARS own community challenges which recreate some iconic races and challenges for everyone to play and come out on top.

As for the solo modes and quick race days, one minute you could be dashing around Donington in a Renault Clio, then the next minute you could be blasting around the California Highway in a BMW Z4 GT3. This not only adds variety to the overall gameplay, but can keep the gameplay fresh, especially for those who find competing in the same events with the same cars on the same tracks a little too tedious at times.

Slightly Mad Studios have done a perfect job appeasing both casual and expert racers. As a pretty novice player I haven’t once found myself overwhelmed with the game. Sure the customisation options can be a little overwhelming if you want to attempt to tweak the finer points of your vehicle, but I’ve actually managed quite well through the game paying little attention to this.

If you look back at games like Need for Speed and Forza Horizon, you’re never really penalised for being a shit driver. Often I’d find myself using the walls as a way to slow myself down, or I’d slam into another car in order to take the corner better. In Project CARS (and probably other racing sims) you’re penalised for being a shit driver, but in a really clever and likely realistic way.

If you find yourself cutting corners or taking corners too wide and hitting the grass, not only will you likely lose control of your vehicle, but you’ll also receive a penalty in the form of “Off-Track, lap time invalidated” a totally painful punishment if you’re trying to qualify for the main race and just can’t climb up the leaderboard. There are harsher punishments too if you want to go into real simulation such as damage being more than just cosmetic, faster fuel consumption, and more. But as a simple player I wanted to steer clear of having my games effected even more by my poor driving.

Project CARS Review: Lap Time Invalidated - n3rdabl3

Now, one of the main things you’re probably wondering is how good the game performs and looks. Graphically, even on the Xbox One with its poorer graphic fidelity, Project CARS is a truly stunning title both while playing the game, and while taking a break and playing with the game’s in-built photo mode. It also performs quite well graphically too, there were little signs of tearing, graphics seemed to come and go as quickly as you passed them, and overall showed a truly polished game.

There were however some hiccups, unfortunately due to the pre-release nature of the game, it’s Day One update hadn’t quite landed, so I did discover a few bugs when playing the game, from the car’s steering being locked when flicked from one direction to another a little too quickly, to the game’s sound stuttering during random intervals (or in some cases having no sound at all). Though chances are these have been fixed with the game’s D1 update.

Would I recommend the game? Without a doubt. If you love games like Forza or even the more defined games like Gran Turismo, Project CARS would fit right in. Whether you’re a novice or an expert, Project CARS offers so many customisation options that even if you’re terrible at the game, a few tweaks here and there can at least make your driving experience more enjoyable.

This review is based on the Xbox One version of Project CARS provided to us by Bandai Namco.

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