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Project CARS / 07th of May 2015

Not since the announcement of The Last Guardian has a game in recent memory suffered from so many delays as Project CARS  Well perhaps that’s a bit harsh, after all Project CARS is actually here. But the feeling that it would never arrive, much like The Last Guardian, has been about the only consistent feature of the development cycle of Bandai Namco’s and Slightly Mad Studios’ latest offering. Initially scheduled to arrive sometime last year, it’s repetitive last minute delays over the past few weeks and months have been somewhat ridiculous. That being said, I’m sure we can all agree we would rather it be delayed, than released on time and in an unfinished state.

So now that it’s finally here what sort of verdict can we come to? Well a split verdict is how I’d opt to describe my final thoughts on the game at this point. So far I’ve clocked roughly a dozen or so hours of game time, although not enough for me to draw a final conclusion on the amount of content on offer, but certainly enough to answer the fundamental question; is it good? Well the reason I describe it as a split verdict basically boils down to the fact that when it comes to racing Project CARS is so, so good, it’s just outside of them that things start to fall a bit short.

Its roster of fifty to sixty cars feels as if it’s been handpicked to give you a varied, yet surprisingly focussed driving experience. In contrast to other popular simulators, the cars on offer here feel vastly different from one to the next. Slightly Mad Studios have gone to great lengths to ensure quality over quantity, by making every car feel distinct and unique. Where other games give you access to just about every production car you can think of and have no discernible difference between them (unless you’re the racing game equivalent of a train spotter), Project CARS car’s feel as if each one requires you to re-learn how to drive it, whether that be from an M3 to R8, or Zonda to Clio.

Furthermore the effects of driving in different weather conditions adds another layer to this already in-depth system. Driving any particular track on a sunny day in an M3 is a drastically different experience to driving on a rain soaked circuit. And for part-time Formula One fans, who may not grasp the challenge of driving cold tyres in such conditions, you’ll soon find a new level of appreciation and admiration for individuals that attempt such feats. Getting heat into your tyres can feel as important as hitting apexes, as judging breaking distances and cornering speeds. It adds a whole layer of complexity to the experience that so far no other driving game has successfully replicated.

Codemasters F1 series may make you race in the rain, Drive Club may make you race in the snow, but all of these games compensate that challenge by giving player tyres appropriate to those condition. In Project CARS  karting round a track on a standard set of tyres in bleak conditions comes down to your skill as a driver alone, and it’s not going to forgive you should you push your luck too far. And speaking of said weather, it’s another aspect of the game that manages to impress. Graphically the rain, puddles and other effects on show are very well done, some slight screen tearing aside, the final product is a very pretty, and very polished affair.

Unfortunately however it still suffers from the same sterility that blights almost every simulation orientated driving game. The rain soaked tracks and, bright sunshine goes someway to countering this effect, but the typical circuit racing is, and always has been, a stilted affair. It’s something Slightly Mad Studios haven’t managed to overcome and you can’t help but think the inclusion of something like flocks of birds swooping over the circuit, or spectators, marshals and track officials moving from one place to another could all go a long way to making the world feel less clinical. It may sound incidental, and is perhaps it’s less of a concern for those actually focussing on winning the race, but for those like myself standing back and looking at the game it’s something that still needs work.

The menus and presentation in general is another aspect of the game that could do with a bit of refinement. They’re all functional and work as you might expect, but there’s a real lack of depth in the information to hand. The difference between signing for one team or another over the course of a season has no support information to help guide your decision, there’s no expected targets for race or season rankings, there’s no information on a team’s history or reliability. It’s not something that affects the quality of the game from race to race, but it does remind you it’s a game and lacks the immersive experience one might get from a Codemasters or Turn 10 game.

In essence there’s more than enough here to warrant picking up Project CARS if you’re at all inclined towards the genre. Its cars handle exquisitely, its learning curve is tough but rewarding, and the experience is possibly the most varied - for a simulator - that I’ve come across. Unfortunately the cold, clinical feel that blight the majority of simulators hasn’t yet been overcome, and the lack of depth outside of the individual races themselves still requires a lot more content. That being said, it’s a new I.P. and should it do well enough to earn a sequel then there’s plenty of good work here upon which to build. Even the likes of Forza and Grand Turismo didn’t nail the formula at the first attempt, and should Project CARS enjoy similar longevity, then it’s may prove to be more than equal to the two pillars of simulation racing we have today.

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