By – John Williamson

Project Cars PC Review He

Motorsport enthusiasts have been treated to a wealth of exhilarating driving simulators including Assetto Corsa, iRacing, Richard Burns Rally, Race 07, Raceroom Racing Experience, rFactor and Grand Prix 4. While some of these titles are showing their age, the modding community has vastly improved their longevity through liveries, car packs and revised driver data. This means that new entries in the genre face an extremely difficult task to be classified as a bonafide racing simulator. Project CARS could possibly be a revolutionary game based on the open development model relying on user-feedback to make handling tweaks. Over 80,000 backers were directly involved and the final version has a different feel to earlier builds. Expectations are astonishingly high as Project Cars strives to be the most fulfilling racing simulator ever conceived.

Project CARS utilizes an authentic physics engine which revolves around throttle control and a smooth, consistent driving style. Applying any degree of acceleration requires patience due to a lack of mechanical grip which hinders your ability to engage in immediate throttle after braking. Adopting an overly aggressive approach results in wheelspin which negatively impacts your delta times and slides you off the racing line. This is important as rubber is laid down on the racing line which enhances grip and offers improved exit speeds. When you encounter faster disciplines such as Formula A, it is incredibly easy to spin out and be involved in a severe collision. To maintain a competitive pace, you must feed the throttle and gauge the amount of grip on a constantly evolving circuit. Another hazard to be wary of is rumble strips when you tackle the apex of a corner because mistiming this slightly and using too much kerb will veer you offline or propel your vehicle into the air. This emphasizes the need to practice and find the limits of each track without ruining an entire race weekend.

The braking phase relies on nailing the optimum entry point and progressively building up speed out of a corner. If you attempt to be unrealistically ambitious, the rear wheels will lock up making your vehicle run wide onto the circuit’s dirty line. Analyzing the correct moment to hit the break is a trial and error process and greatly depends on each vehicle’s maximum speed and braking prowess. Unfortunately, there are some major anomalies across technical circuits like the Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps which feel far too easy to master. For example, Eau Rouge has no sense of being a dangerous corner and Pouhon can almost be taken at flat out after a small lift. This is a shame as Pouhon consists of acute directional changes and a extremely small margin for error when braking. Nevertheless, the braking aspect is engineered fairly well barring some unusual speeds around chicanes or other tight corners.

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Manoeuvring any vehicle in Project CARS is a rewarding experience due to an exemplary sense of speed. Even on the main straight, vehicles will sway slightly and never feel planted on the racing line. Throughout a race, you need to constantly correct the steering and react to oversteer and understeer. This is implemented in a fairly realistic way but there are moments when the understeer feels rather muted. For the most part, vehicles opt for a stiff steering mechanism and wide turning circle. However, open wheeled cars are surprisingly loose and contain a level of sensitivity which comes across as quite synthetic. As such, F1 fans may be disappointed and forced to try other motorsport disciplines.

Controlling each tyre compound is imperative as sliding around the circuit increases total degradation. In Project CARS, you are required to monitor tyre temperatures and deal with tyre wear as oversteer/understeer become more prevalent later into a stint. You have a number of options at your disposal; do you go flat out, and try to gain track position or save the final push on a better set of tyres towards the end of the race? Slightly Mad Studios have done an excellent job with the level of tyre wear because you can feel the grip wearing away and it’s a struggle to maintain track position on old tyres. The same applies with cold tyres which creates a great deal of instability and make it exceptionally easy to spin out.

In direct contrast to the authentic physics system, the AI can only be described as suicidal and representative of an arcade title. Firstly, the AI doesn’t change depending on the championship selected and exposed racers in Formula A will ram into you in a similar fashion to heavy touring cars. Your opponents have zero spatial awareness and fail to react when overtakes are occurring in front of them. Throughout the game, it’s extraordinarily difficult to have a clean race and perform passes without the AI touching your tyres on the exit. This is nothing short of a farce as on full damage, your opposition can easily touch into sidepods, front/rear wings, tyres and still experience no punctures or other failures.. Damage only incurs on the AI when they career into other vehicles at high speed. In reality, behaving in this manner would either result in a ban from the sport or multiple fatalities.

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While I’ve been critical of passive AI in Codemasters’ F1 games, Project CARS has taken things to the other extreme and virtually destroys the concept of clean, fun racing. It’s hard to take seriously when race starts are nothing short of carnage. For example, I had to perform 22 restarts during the Monaco GP in Formula A as every single time the AI barged into me and caused tyre failures.. Speaking of tyres, there is a bug which means the AI has ludicrous levels of grip in wet conditions and can easily outpace your lap times. Other problems revolve around qualifying and how the AI tackles in/out laps. They seem to make rash overtaking moves to get past you on an in-lap even if you slow down and offer them the racing line. Another issue is the AI can almost match the track speed on the grass and easily recover from mistakes. This is completely unfair because the grass should ruin the traction for at least the next few corners and massively slow down the car’s approaching speed and trajectory.

On a more positive note, the AI’s difficulty can be altered up to 100% which allows players of various abilities to fight near the front. As an experienced racer, 70% wasn’t a great challenge and outperformed AI laps by an average of 5 seconds. Then, I increased the setting to 80% and still held a small gap of 2 seconds before trying 90%. I’m still fairly competitive around 90% but can’t match the AI pace at 100% as of yet. Project CARS manages to incorporate slipstreaming (drafting) rather well and there’s a distinct increase in speed when tailing the car in front. It’s such a shame that the racing is spoiled by the reckless AI and I hope future patches will resolve this.

There are also a host of issues with the penalty system which allows for flagrant cheating. For example, cutting the chicane at Monza and overtaking half the field will only result in a warning. At the very least you should be served with a stop and go penalty or disqualified. Similarly, if the AI overshoots the first corner and cuts the track, they retain position even after gaining an unfair advantage. The rules and regulations state that the any position illegally taken should be given back on track within 3 laps or a penalty will be served. Strangely enough, there are no flags for unsportsmanlike behaviour which gives the green light to smashing into other racers. I find it bizarre that the only real penalty you receive is having a laptime revoked by cutting the track or slightly stepping onto the grass. Sometimes this penalty isn’t even needed as you used the outer track limits to avoid a collision. In simple terms, the penalty system is unnecessarily basic and not conducive to sim racing.

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The majority of racing games consist of a career mode which forces you to earn a reputation in less prestigious events before accessing the higher echelons of motorsport. Project CARS bucks this trend and grants access to any discipline including Le Mans Prototypes, GT Series, Formula racing, and more across 110 unique courses. There are a wide array of iconic tracks such as Imola, Silverstone, Monza, Laguna Seca, Watkins Glen and the Nürburgring. The career mode operates by entering championships on a calendar and signing with a team. Winning races and championships attracts scouts who delegate information about your potential to other teams. There is also a social media presence which heightens your profile as emphatic performances improve your fanbase. I commend Slightly Mad Studios for implementing a career mode which focuses on the racing and winning trophies. There is a lot of variety on offer and you don’t have to waste time doing interviews or other gimmick additions that become boring very quickly.

One problem I have though is the complete lack of objectives from your team who rarely give prior notice about their expectations. While you do get feedback after the race, there’s no indication if a 3rd place is disappointing, above standard or exceptional. Success is judged by the Accolades mechanic which is oversimplified and just credits you for winning a particular championship. Despite this, the Career is packed full of racing events and fairly easy to navigate.

Other gameplay options are available and designed to provide a quicker thrill. You can choose between Time Trials, Quick Weekend, Practice, Community Events and the Online aspect. These follow the pattern you might expect and offer a range of customizable attributes to hone your skills. Community Events are a wonderful edition and focus on a single time trial leaderboard contest. However, I do find it strange that you can enter these tournaments using different control methods and presumably aids can be turned on/off. While this does make the contests more accessible, it may cause some confusion. Unfortunately like many leaderboards, the top 2 times are ludicrously fast and the result of hacking.

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The Multiplayer component is brimming with detail and allows you to alter virtually any aspect of a race weekend from number of laps to degree of realism. In theory, the system is so customizable that it shouldn’t be too difficult to engage in superb, online races. In reality, online contests are chaotic with drivers ramming into you and trying their utmost to avoid corners. One moment which sticks out involved a driver who cut a corner onto the grass, spun into the track and collided into my vehicle. I was astonished after being given a disqualification notice for hitting another vehicle while this player continued to run amok. The only way to have genuine simulation-grade fun online is through leagues or private lobbies. Slightly Mad Studios deserve a lot of credit in this department as you can implement password protection on private lobbies to avoid randoms joining a group of friends.

From a technical standpoint, Project CARS is exquisite but extremely buggy. The visual fidelity on maximum settings is divine and contains day/night cycles with the sun setting through wonderful lighting effects. The vehicles are modeled in extraordinary detail and it’s a complete joy to use the interior viewpoint. Each circuit is recreated superbly and there are small touches such as leaves gliding across the track which adds to the immersive feel. In terms of audio reproduction, Project CARS is staggeringly good and probably the best racing simulator I’ve experienced when it comes to audio tones. The noise of turbochargers setting in and pushing through the gears sounds lifelike especially through high quality headphones.

The performance numbers greatly depend on the number of vehicles on track and weather conditions. With an i7 4770K, 16GB RAM and a Gigabyte G1 Gaming GTX 980 at 2560×1440 maximum detail barring AA, I achieved an average frame rate of 65 fps, minimum of 36 fps and maximum of 140 fps. The statistics show that there is a wide scope of performance and heavy rain effects dramatically alter the frame rate. Turning AA on made the game virtually unplayable but there are loads of options to choose from. This means AA could be implemented with reduced quality in other areas. The options menu contains settings for AA, AF. Texture Resolution, Reflections, Car Detail, Track Detail, Grass Detail, Particle Level, Windowed Mode and pages of other settings. This results in a very scalable game that works across a wide range of PCs. Additionally, there is support for the Oculus Rift, up to 12K resolutions, customizable HUD, adjustable camera angles and an FOV setting.

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Annoyingly, the game suffers from a ridiculous bug which allows cars to sporadically drive through you and acts as a ghost car. This often happens when drivers exit the pit and the game engine struggles to compute which line the AI car should take.  Project CARS aims to be a more accessible outlet for gamers trying their first racing sim and included a number of driving aids. You can enable Traction Control, Anti-Lock Brakes, Steering Assistance, Braking Assistance, Visible Racing Line, Stability Control and more! The only minor grievance is a lack of mid-race saves which encourages users to opt for longer race formats. It’s important to recognize that Traction Control doesn’t allow for sudden full throttle and you still need to feather the accelerator in a gentle manner. However, it is much more forgiving and better suited to controller setups.

In terms of controls, Project Cars is calibrated to work with high-end wheels such as the Thrustmaster T500RS, Logitech G27 and Fanatec Clubsport Wheelbase V2. It’s far from perfect as I had to manually configure my Fanatec Clubsport Pedals V2 but this wasn’t a massive cause for concern. Project Cars relays the feedback with the wheels I tested perfectly and even resulted in a solid feel on the TX 458’s light stock rim. While the game is playable with an Xbox 360 controller, it doesn’t manage to portray different track nuances and gauging grip points. This isn’t an issue with Project Cars as any realistic sim feels rather stale without a decent racing setup.

Finally, there are two glaring features omitted which may deter a certain demographic in the racing market. Project Cars does not support mods and has no plans to allow for custom cars, circuits or other tweaks. On a similar note, you cannot customize a vehicle’s aesthetics and apply user-designed paint jobs.

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Conclusion – Is It Worth Your Money?

The physics engine is impeccable and each vehicle features a distinctive feel. Furthermore, the variety of racing disciplines and track selection offers magnificent value and caters to motorsport aficionados. The team has also perfected the tyre scaling and fuel usage mechanics which adds a certain strategy to longer race events.  Project CARS is a spectacular masterpiece, and I do recommend the game, but Slightly Mad Studios must address the infuriating A.I. or else it will become a dark cloud over an otherwise fantastic PC racing experience. 

Project CARS Technical Summary:

Project Cars PC Review Sum

  • Time Played – 28 hours
  • Widescreen Support – Yes
  • Resolution Played – 2560×1440
  • Windowed Mode – Yes
  • 5.1 Audio Support – Yes
  • Control Scheme – Steering Wheel, Xbox 360 Controller
  • System Specs – I7 4770K, 16GB RAM, 4GB Gigabyte GTX 980
  • Game Acquisition Method – Review Copy
  • DRM – Steam
  • Demo – No
  • Save Game Location – Steam-folder>\userdata\\234630\local\
  • Version Reviewed – 1.3
  • Availability – GreenManGaming, Steam, Amazon
  • Bugs/Crashes – A.I. passing through your car
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  • Sophie Jones

    Another great review! Keep it up your work is always so thorough :)

    • John Williamson

      Thank you very much! I always feel the need to analyse the important aspects of every game in meticulous detail.

    • Shawn

      Agreed. I always go here if they have a review on a game I’m interested in as they provide enough information to actually make a decision, while other pc sites are like “I don’t play racing games, but I guess this is ok with my 360 controller…graphics are a little slow on my laptop but whatever”.

      • John Williamson

        Thanks Shawn, I really appreciate that! With racing games, there’s always so much to discuss and I feel it’s very rare for reviewers to properly analyse critical gameplay elements such as the physics, AI and tire scaling model.