Project Cars: A Disappointment

Before I get into the reasons for my decision and as to what actually made the game a disappointment, let me outline why this game had so much hype surrounding it and why everyone was looking forward to when it would finally be released.

There hasn’t been a platform-wide racing sim for a while. You have Forza on Microsoft’s Xbox platform, GranTourismo on Sony’s PlayStation platform, and any number of PC racing sims, ranging from the casual sims to the extreme hyper realistic sims which take everything that they possibly could into account (it’s extremely easy for indie developers to release games on PC, as it doesn’t require any licensing and simply a place for people to buy/download the game from, which means naturally PC breeds loads of these indie devs). There was Need For Speed Shift (and later Shift 2: Unleashed, a more realistic sim and something I will be mentioning a lot later on). The problem was that Shift was released under the Need For Speed name, a racing series which is renown for NOT being realistic, a truly arcade fun style of racing that everyone can do with their keyboard (oh the horror). This meant that people who would actually look at Need For Speed games would be disinterested in racing sims, and people who would look at racing sims would be disinterested in Need For Speed. This meant the almost total removal of the NFS labeling on Shift 2 (apart from the new fancy logo), but still didn’t do very well for them, selling very few copies and is one of the lesser known Need For Speed games.

 

Anyway, this has meant that there hasn’t been a well-known platform-wide racing sim in a long time. Not only that, but Project Cars was hyped up a lot. Cars ranging from go-karts to LMP1 cars? Check. Courses ranging from simple go kart tracks to the famous Nordschleife? Check. Online mode with all the previously mentioned features? Check. The graphics also looked stunning, with tons of promo footage being released showing how, on a decent enough PC system, it almost looks better than real life.

This would be expected of course. Shift 2 was one of the last racing sims done by a big company for PC, so the rest of the high-budget racing games have been released on console. Because of the huge limitations of consoles in terms of hardware, graphics were never going to be amazing on them. There were of course much more indie racing sims available for PC, such as Assetto Corsa, iRacing, RFactor, Live for Speed, e.t.c but those were only known to those who were actively looking for racing sims and not just going by word of mouth for good racing games. For those Forza and GranTourismo were the main names, prominent on their respectful consoles and causing many arguments.

A big major release of a racing game on PC would not only get all PC gamers excited (for suddenly a game no one knew they had been waiting for came out of nowhere) but also console players, as it meant a break from their respective racing series and something new for them. The console gamers were also reeled in by the promise of mindblowing graphics, something they had rarely experienced (due to the complicated mechanics of how most cross-platform games are released and how Project Cars differed from this).

All this meant huge hype for Project Cars. The delays in the release didn’t help at all, as the excuses given just made it seem like the dev team simply wanted to make the game as awesome as they possibly could for the release date.

Now, after giving a huge explanation for why this game was such a big deal, let’s get onto the game itself. I’ve talked much about the hype surrounding Project Cars and the reasons for this, all setting up for a huge rant on why this game is horrendously bad. But no, it isn’t. I wouldn’t keep playing it if it was.

 

Graphics

 

The graphics are truly stunning, especially on ultra settings. Definitely the most life like graphics a racing game has ever contained, and you can find many instances on YouTube where it looks better than real life, simply because of the detail that the game can render that the camera can’t pick up. Occasionally it lags behind on the rendering for a split second, which means it freezes and then the game plays back the rendered frames very quickly in order to catch up to the current position. This almost always catches me off guard, as the game freezes, then suddenly you’re moving at insane speeds, when just as suddenly it’s over and you’re back to how you were driving before.

This does happen very rarely, maybe once or twice a race (including qualifying and practice) although every time it does happen, it happens extremely quickly so I’ve never had it actually have a negative effect on my racing.

Even the low settings of the graphics looks playable (unlike some games), however this does mean that the minimum system requirements required to run the game will be higher than most other games (think GTA V level as opposed to CS:GO level).

 

Physics

This is probably the most important aspect of this review. You’ll be thankful to know that the handling and crash physics themselves are decently realistic. It’s not Rigs of Rods, but it is a far cry away from NFS, and you can choose whether you want no damage, only visual damage or full damage in the settings menu. The handling doesn’t feel boat like or wishy washy, the game does what the wheel tells it to do. You point the wheel in a direction and it will go there (allowing for understeer and oversteer where necessary). The car and engine physics work very well. Without any assists, the amount of throttle you give and the amount of power you put down, as well as the torque of the engine and how grippy the car is all make sense. It is all controllable as it should be which allows for some epic stunts with the more experienced players (I personally love to drift, completely destroys the tyres and the enginge, but as long as the server/your singleplayer session has tyre wear turned off and damage turned off you can perform very crazy and Ken Block-like drifts around corners. Otherwise you would simply have to pit every lap for some new tyres, and your engine would blow after only two laps…)

For example, let’s take the McLaren P1, my personal favourite car.  I won’t go into exact details of how the physics are accurate and why they act like they do (talking about tyre temperatures and engine placement and torque will get a bit boring), but it’s pretty simple. Big power. Rear wheel drive. Relatively light. Hard to control. Let’s take another car, the Audi R8. Not as much power. All wheel drive. Not as light. A lot easier to control. Of course, there are loads of other factors which determine how easy a car is to control, but like mentioned it’s pointless to go into all of these factors as most people will simply abandon the article and die due to sheer boredom.

However, there are quite a lot of bugs. If you crash into a wall, you seem to stick slightly to it, as it takes a lot more effort to get away from the wall than it should. Some of the cars appear to have completely broken physics, for example the Formula Gulf cars. Naail noticed this at first, and after trying the cars out, I was forced to agree with him. The cars are definitely too easy to drive, they seem to have an infinite amount of grip. It’s pretty much impossible to spin out in them, as you can put your foot flat to the floor during corners and you will simply not spin out. You still get understeer, and it is still theoretically possible to spin out, put you have to either jerk the wheel from side to side extremely violently, or stop, redline the engine and then dump the clutch while the wheel is locked in one direction, otherwise it simply will not spin out. It doesn’t matter if it’s pouring with rain and the tyres are freezing cold, you will not lose traction.

Sometimes the track itself will utterly screw you over. You’re racing down, clipping the apex of a corner and then BAM! It seems like you’ve crashed into an invisible wall, the front of your car is totally wrecked and your engine is destroyed, but there’s nothing there. It seems the game will randomly spawn various small objects on random bits of the track, and annoyingly they seem to disappear as soon as you hit them, which will completely screw your race over. There are various instances of this happening on YouTube and Reddit. For me it happens a few times a day, and is totally unpredictable. I have no idea what causes this, and it’s extremely frustrating every time it happens.

 

Gameplay

Project Cars has a simple career mode, you can choose a class to start off in (so you can potentially choose to start at the very top in the LMP1 cars, or start all the way at the bottom in the go-karting section. This means if you think you’ll find it boring at the bottom leagues with the very mediocre karts and cars you can just choose to be put in a higher league straight off the bat. In addition to being able to choose any career league to be put in, all cars are available right from the very start for the quick race, practice and online modes, so there’s no need to worry about not being able to drive certain cars (apart from the DLC’s, obviously). There is a qualifying and race, so there isn’t any of the stupid random placement at the back or the middle as with most other racing games, which can be annoying.

However, being a racing game, the gameplay is pretty much what you would expect. Travelling round and round in circles on various tracks in various cars with the objection of finishing first in front of everyone else thats going round and round in circles as well. There are a number of driver assists in case you don’t want to pure experience, for example ABS to help with braking, traction control which limits how much the engine is allowed to rev so that the tyres don’t lose traction and stability control, which adjusts the suspension and various other settings to  try and keep you on the line at all times and eliminate over/understeer. You can also enable/disable a “best line”, which shows an animated line of arrows in the ground which show you were you should point your car to achieve the ideal lap times. The line turns green/orange/red to indicate whether you’re going to fast for that section of track, as if you are you’ll probably understeer into the wall, so if you do enable it please be vary to actually pay attention to what it’s saying.In addition to all of the driver aids there is a flags and penalties system in the game, which is turned on for all the career races. It sets flags (yellow if there’s a crash/stopped car/obstruction on track, blue if a fast car is approaching you (i.e. about to lap you) and white flag if you are the fast car). There is also a penalties system for various offences on the track. If you jump the start, you’ll need to do a drive through penalty. If you go off the track once your lap time is invalidated, another couple of times and your current and next lap times will be invalidated, and if you pretty significantly cut the track a speed limit will be imposed on your car (at first for 5 seconds, and then the time will be increased as you continue offending). There are however no penalties for dirty driving, something which makes the online mode pretty unbearable. This is through no fault of the game itself, it is almost impossible to avoid contact with other cars in an extremely close race. It takes a lot of experience to be able to avoid cars and predict what other cars around you would be doing so that you won’t crash into them, but at the same time won’t lose them and keep your position and aggressive driving style.

The penalties are way too sensitive and extreme however. Simply running wide on a corner, which often have gravel and slow you down will invalidate your lap time. Occasionally even cutting a tiny section of a small corner will invalidate times, and tight and twisty circuits such as Nordeshliefe (The most well known and dangerous track layout on the Nurburgring) very tough to drive cleanly as it is almost impossible to very slightly cut corners, which the game penalises extremely harshly.

Project Cars has 3 main gamemodes, grip (the standard track racing with AI/other people), time trial and endurance. I count endurance as a whole other game mode due to the completely different skill set that is required for endurance racing and the completely different frame of mind that one has to be in to to a successful endurance race. I would have liked to see a drift mode, at the very least being able to distinguish lap times by drift times and grip times. It’s very easy to setup a car for drifting but there’s no infrastructure within the game that understands you’re doing a drift session and not a grip one. However this is a minor gripe, as this is game is a track-racing focused game, and adding a drift mode might make it more confusing.

In any racing game an AI is extremely important, especially in a game with such a prevalent career mode such as Project Cars. Although some people (like me) choose to stick with the online mode, most will be doing the career, and having a sensible, reasonable and fair AI is one of the more important aspects of the singleplayer mode. Which is exactly why the AI is so infuriating in this game!

It doesn’t seem to be penalised for cutting corners, it’s extremely aggressive towards the “best line”, and it will ram you off the track if you fail to get out of it’s way in cases. On smaller tighter circuits, where there’s only room for one car through a corner, and you are side by side with an AI the best course of action is to let it take the spot and attempt to take it before the next corner, as it will ram you off the track and the vicious penalty system will find a way to penalise you for that. The AI is also completely broken in the rain, it doesn’t lose grip the same way the player does when it’s wet so they have an immense grip advantage, making it impossible to be first at any difficulty setting, as they won’t be spinning out in any of the corners like you will be if you try to put the same amount of power down as the AI is trying to.

The online mode is a mess too. The netcode is horrific, meaning there’s lag and stuttering everywhere for all the cars, as well as the health of all of the connections being low most of the time. Half the time the server and client are thinking completely different things, which means what you see on your screen can’t even be trusted.

This is an example of what some of the online race starts in Project Cars are like. You can see the server and the client are doing different things, everyone is lagging around the place, and even with my best efforts to avoid people I still ended up crashing into a couple of cars.

Apart from the absolutely horrific netcode (worthy of /r/softwaregore) there is one extremely annoying bug. When you connect to a lobby and join the race, you have to manually click drive to exit from the pits and drive around. Unless I click “Join Race” from within the lobby within the first second or two, this Drive option will remain grayed out. It’s almost impossible to select a car other than the one which is automatically given to you as it takes longer than a second to select your car from the list, which means unless you’re willing to go along with the default option you won’t be able to actually exit the pits.#

My final point to make is on the track and car selection. The track selection is excellent, there’s a wide range of tracks with all of their associated layouts. Probably one of the largest track collections in a racing game, definitely the largest in terms of what I’ve seen. However the car selection is very disappointing. Although there’s a wide range of classes, there are very cars in those classes themselves, and definitely missing some cars I were expecting to appear. The most disappointing of which is the lack of any Porsche cars. Come on Slightly Mad, you had a ton of Porsche’s in the spiritual predecessor to this, what happened?

 

Overall 

A game which was hyped beyond belief , delayed for months and hyped even more, and when finally released a game which still has game breaking bugs, fails to deliver on promises past and present and is beaten by 5 year old games. Seriously, don’t waste £40 on this game, of which they already have announced a sequel, instead spend your money on any of the multitude of constantly updated racing sims. The online mode is frustrating at best, the AI behaves worse than some Russians and the car selection is shockingly bad. If I had to give it a rating out of 10? Shift 2 was made by Slightly Mad Studios as well, and was better than Project Cars in almost every way, without the vast majority of the problems that exist within Project Cars, even if the physics are slightly different.

4/10

It’s pretty and occasionally the cars work like they would in real life. That’s about all it’s got going for it.

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