Racing simulators seem to be popping up everywhere these days. PC gamers are being treated to a flurry of racing sims which vary in style and delivery, but offer mostly the same deal in terms of driving experience. The latest, Project Cars, recently arrived with much fanfare and hype. Is it any good?
From the get go, it promises a lot. With a whole range of steering wheel support for those with serious gaming rigs and a taste for realism, Project Cars represents a PC alternative to the tried and tested racing simulators on other platforms, namely Gran Turismo on PlayStation and Forza Motorsport on Xbox. While it would be unfair to compare the PC game with its console based rivals, the latter options are the yardsticks to which all other simulators have been compared over the last decade.
The driving dynamics are quite realistic, accurately recreating the severe understeer and torque steer characteristics of the Ford Focus RS while cornering, for example. While the road cars are quite accurately represented, the hypercars and race cars in the roster are the main attraction and the game's brand of realism sadly render these cars un-drivable till you've progressed beyond a certain skill level. The main complaint with the driving dynamics in the game would be the “weightlessness” that afflicts quite a few of the PC based racing simulators: enter a corner hard with a rear-wheel drive car and prepare to do some major steering adjustments because you couldn't predict the weight transfer. Its difficult to factor in the weight shift of a car when you can't “feel” the weight of the car when on the move, something that is present and can clearly be noticed with simulators such as Assetto Corsa or Gran Turismo.
The career progression is open-ended, allowing you to go straight to LMP1 or GT1 class racing, or start with karting competitions if you prefer. All the cars in the impressively varied cars list are unlocked in Solo mode, so pick a car and head to a track. The racing is intense and rewarding because it is difficult to win if you're not relying on any of the electronic nannies in the game and have the realism options cranked to max. The tyres wear out, fuel depletes, damage to mechanical bits will leave you crippled, and the opponents react to your driving style with aggressiveness or reserved respect returned equally. It's not a game for the ham-fisted and the impatient.
The downsides? It'll have you strung up taut on a wire, which makes it hard to enjoy the drive. You might think all simulators would do that when driving supercars with many horsepower, but one spin around Monza in a La Ferrari on Assetto Corsa will tell you that its more a fault of the simulation mechanics and twitchy handling than the nature of simulators themselves. Another complaint comes from the race telemetry system, which is an important factor in helping you improve in any discipline. Compared to the incredibly detailed telemetry available on the likes of Assetto Corsa and Gran Turismo, Project Cars features a scant and slightly bland on-the-fly telemetry system which is neither very useful nor very informative. Then there's the rift between the name and the customisation options in the game; many expected Project Cars to feature full on customisation, whereas it offers detailed component tuning and pre-set liveries. It doesn't really make sense when the cars are outwardly stock but can be tuned for race-spec aerodynamics.
Overall, Project Cars is a decent game, considering it happens to be a crowd-funded effort. The menus are polished and really nice to look at, the graphics is incredibly detailed even on lowest settings, and the gameplay is not bad for the budget the developers had access to. A worthy effort at providing alternatives to established simulators.