Saturday 9 May 2015

Project CARS

Community Assisted Racing Simulator
The recently released title "Project CARS" is a video game I've been looking forward to for some time. This game was created by UK developers Slightly Mad Studios in collaboration with the racing games community. Project CARS is a racing simulation featuring a good selection of notable cars and real world tracks to race on. I opted for the PS4's Digital Edition as it includes some additional bonus cars.

There are four aspects to the basic gameplay which are the Career, Solo, Online, and Community Event modes. The Career mode is the traditional racing game campaign where you can start out in karting and progress through to winning the Le Mans 24 Hours and Formula A championship. This is where the game takes a different approach to the likes of Gran Turismo and Forza - everything is unlocked from the beginning, you do not have to earn or unlock any cars. I found this to be both refreshing and a little strange. With all cars and tracks available from the start, where is the purpose or sense of progression in the game?

The developers probably thought the same and in response have included three "Historic Goals" to work towards. These are intended to mimic the real life achievements of notable drivers. "Zero to Hero" tasks you with progressing from humble karting to winning the LMP1 World Championship within ten seasons. Movement up through the motorsport categories comes via "Contracts" that are sent to you by other teams if you perform well on track. The "Defending Champ" goal requires you to win three of the same high level championships back to back. Finally to achieve the "Triple Crown" goal, you need to win a high level championship in three distinct categories.

Main Menu Screen

Karting is a good place to start...

...before you work up to the LMP1 Prototypes

Once you have completed all three goals you are well on your way to entering the game's "Hall Of Fame". These goals are all optional of course, you don't have to do any of them, but working towards them does give the single player game a welcome sense of progression. It's perfectly OK to start a career and go straight into Formula A (the game's F1 equivalent) or LMP1 prototypes, the game gives you the freedom to choose.

Solo is basically the free race game mode. Pick a car, choose a track, set all the options for opponent skill, number of laps, weather settings, time of day and so on. You can also set whether to have free practice, qualifying, standing or rolling starts, damage, penalty system, and pit stops - it's a really good simulation of a full race weekend.

The Online mode is pretty self explanatory, you can either create a lobby and invite friends, join a random game, or search for something with particular settings such as novice handling or a short track. There is no XP or anything to earn by racing online but your stats are kept track of through your Driver Profile. If you tend to crash into other cars and receive a lot of penalties you'll likely be matchmade with similar players.

Can't see a thing but it looks great

Community Events are special modes that feature various challenges to enter and compete with other players online. For example, there is currently a time attack challenge using Formula A cars at the Barcelona F1 circuit, to tie in with the Spanish Grand Prix this weekend.

In terms of presentation the game looks fantastic on PS4 and even better still on a high-end PC. The detail on the cars is very impressive from the accurate interiors with working gauges and driver movements, to the detail on the engines underneath the damageable bodywork. There're plenty of tyre smoke, exhaust flame, and undertray spark effects too, in fact the only thing I noticed that was missing was glowing hot brake discs.

The simple photo mode includes various filters

Race-ending damage can be turned on or off

Graphics are only half the experience though, the sound is what really makes the game for me. Previous racing games (yes, Gran Turismo is guilty) have suffered from disappointing fake droney engine sounds. Not so in Project CARS, here we are a treated to a symphony of engine notes, flaming exhaust bangs, transmission whines, screeching tyres, variable turbo boost whooshes, gearbox shift sounds, and rumble strips.

Your race engineer will also talk to you through the PS4 controller's speaker, offering race information that isn't always relevant, but still a nice feature. This can also be distracting and provide you with hilarious real life Kimi Raikonnen inspired moments.

Certain cars really standout in the audio department. For me it's the Zonda Cinque Roadster's V12, the Merecedes SLS AMG GT3, the Group C Sauber C9, and the screaming V10 from the Formula A cars, they're genuinely exciting to drive. Some sounds do seem to be missing, the ignition and startup for example, it would be nice to see these added in an update.

As good as this Zonda looks, it sounds even better

Wet weather makes driving even more difficult

Since the game is intended to be more of a simulation than arcade racer, there are many adjustments that can be made to car setup for gear ratios, suspension, brake bias etc. I imagine this would be quite intimidating if you've no idea what you're doing. Likewise with the handling model, it can be pretty brutal out of the box if you're using the PS4 controller.

The game is best played with a steering wheel for more precise control, but how many console players have one? That's not to say you can't use the pad, it can be done and there are lots of assists and adjustments that can be made to controller setup, but be prepared to initially spend a lot of time off track and having your lap-times invalidated.

Expect to see this message all too frequently

Possibly not the ideal racing line

After quite a bit of practice, finally putting together that clean lap and seeing those green sector times becomes really satisfying. The cars genuinely feel on the limit as you put them through their paces, being careful not to run too wide, respecting the kerbs, and easing on the throttle for a smooth corner exit as the revs climb and you feel the turbo spool up - the game becomes very rewarding.

Moving up through the pack can be good fun

I'm basically Jim Clark

The track selection offers a good mix of fully licensed real world circuits. UK staples such as Silverstone, Oulton Park, and Brands Hatch are fully realised. As are the Mazda Raceway at Laguna Seca, although curiously there are no Mazda cars available. A version of the Monaco GP track is included, here it's called Azure Circuit. Of course, no racing game is complete without Spa and the Nurburgring, both are here present and correct, along with the full Le Mans circuit. There seems to be a mix of real life sponsors and virtual ones too.

Project CARS' actual cars include some iconic models from licensed manufacturers mixed in with some community inspired designs. Audi, McLaren, Mercedes, BMW, Team Lotus, Caterham, Aston Martin, Radical, Ford, Mitsubishi, Gumpert, Pagani, Renault, RUF, Ginetta, and Ariel, have all contributed at least one car. Slightly Mad have also promised additional free cars each month. If the game takes off and becomes a success, like I think it deserves to, there will likely be DLC car & track packs. If you're in the market for a new car game, I would definitely recommend Project CARS

Racing Icons Car Pack

Slightly Mad have just released the first DLC car pack called "Racing Icons". This DLC pack features 5 new cars and is priced at £2.89 which is about 58p per car. The five iconic cars included are the beautiful Bentley Speed 8, McLaren F1 GTR Long Tail, BMW V12 LMR, Bentley Continental GT3, and Mercedes CLK-LM. Each car features the same level of detail as the original cars, with the appropriate sound and damage effects. I remember being stood next to a Bentley Continental GT3 at Cholmondeley and can confirm the engine sound is very accurate. I think the chance to get behind the wheel of these cars is well worth the asking price. I'm told more cars are on the way and if they're of this quality that's definitely something to look forward to.