|Developer: Slightly Mad Studios
Publisher: Bandai Namco Entertainment
Release Date: May 6, 2015
Platform: Xbox One
Also Available For: PlayStation 3, Windows PC
Written By: Phillip Nelson
May 29, 2015
PC racing sim enthusiasts have had realistic racing options available to them, but on game consoles options have been a bit slim. On the Xbox line there's been Forza Motorsport, which has established itself as the benchmark for other console racers, and on PlayStation consoles players are left to settle for Gran Turismo games that are few, far between, and largely outdated the instant they're finally released. Gran Turismo and, to a lesser extent, Forza Motorsport are established and beloved franchises while Project CARS was supposed to be the second coming of Christ that would wipe GT and FM off the face of the Earth..., although coming from Slightly Mad Studios, a developer that had Need for Speed Shift and its sequel under their belt and that's pretty much it. On the plus side, the developers took community feedback, as well as feedback from professional touring car driver Nicolas Hamilton, half-brother to world champion Formula One driver Lewis Hamilton, World Endurance Championship driver Oliver Webb, and Ben Collins, who once filled the roll of The Stig on Top Gear. With this kind of support, could SMS deliver a product that would render Forza and GT obsolete?
Well..., no. Far from it. Nobody anywhere will be turning their backs to Forza or even GT from here on out on account of Project CARS, especially not more casual racing fans.
Like Gran Turismo, Project CARS is a mixed bag, with some things that are really nice and some things that are really terrible. On the plus side, there are several things that I really like about it and things that I wish would be replicated or approximated in Forza Motorsport. For one thing, the physics and behavior of the cars feels like I'm driving an actual car more than what I get from driving in FM or GT, although I personally struggled with a controller and had to buy a racing wheel to effectively drive in CARS. There are a lot more tuning options than in FM or GT. Time of day and weather both change dynamically over time, which not only affects your car's performance and your experience but also serves to make it feel more like I'm driving around in a real car on a real track in the real world. CARS has tracks that I haven't encountered in my other racing game experiences, which is refreshing. The career mode features full race weekends layed out on a calendar of events, and along the way you can find yourself invited to participate in other events sprinkled along your way through the calendar, and these race weekends tend to include practice sessions, qualifying sessions, and races. How many practice, qualifying, or race sessions there are varies depending on the series. You can choose if you want longer or shorter races and sessions, for example being able to reduce the 24 Hours of Le Mans to just two hours, or doing the full twenty-four over the course of twenty-four actual real-world hours. There's also a flag and penalty system, so you can see blue flags if you're impeding traffic, you can be penalized for jumping the start, and can be disqualified if you cut too many corners.
All those things are wonderful and I'd love to see Forza do similar things. Unfortunately, these are offset by a grocery list of negatives. For starters, and pretty much immediately evident, is the stagnant presentation. It completely lacks the refinement of Gran Turismo or Forza and everything is just basically unenthusiastically dropped onto your lap. The labyrinth of menus are dull and lifeless like Gran Turismo and nowhere throughout the game is there anything for flash or to remotely liven things up in any way. That's not terribly important. Admittedly, that's largely a matter of taste, but regardless of personal preferences the developers didn't make any effort either way, but the little things add up and make the difference between a good game and a great game.
Also along the cosmetic lines, the car models work but they are of less detail than models in Forza Motorsport, with only 60,000 polygons in a car on the console versions. However, a benefit to that is the capacity for larger fields of cars than are found in either Gran Turismo or Forza Motorsport. More annoying, however, are horrible audio glitches that seem to be found under certain circumstances. I'd swear they seemed to depend on what vehicle I was in, and off the top of my head I believe the Caterham was one of my problem cars. This audio glitch plagued the entire session, whether practice, qualifying, or race, from start to finish, so if you were in a race that took you an hour then you had to endure raspy, grating, popping, crackling audio noise for the whole hour. I could find no way of remedying the audio noise issue. Even worse, the frame rate was dramatically inconsistent. Several players complained of dropping frame rates, and I personally had at least one occasion where they dropped so low that I could pretty much count aloud each individual frame as it rendered; "One frame, two frames, three frames..." It seemed to be a much more severe problem if I used the Xbox One's resume feature so I got into the habit of exiting out of the game completely when done with a session and booting it up from scratch on the next session, which seemed to help keep my frame rate out of the single digits.
Project CARS still has one major, catastrophic fault yet to be addressed. Other games might have minor bugs like textures failing to load, or more annoying bugs like the game occasionally freezing. CARS, on the other hand, has a bug that puts all other bugs to shame. If you play the game normally and do nothing wrong, and utilize options presented to you by the game and by its developers, normal play can completely corrupt your save file and force you to start from square one as if you never played before with a brand new save file. It happened to me, and some research turned up that it was a known bug that affected other players and the developers knew but did nothing to prevent others from encountering the same problem or even to warn players. Basically, if you save race replays, which the game lets you do, these saved replays take up a bunch of storage space and as you save more and more your save file gets bigger and bigger. If it exceeds a certain size, it won't save properly and becomes corrupt, and cannot be salvaged. Slightly Mad was aware of this and not only failed to patch the game to limit the number of replays saved or to limit the file size, but they couldn't even be bothered to give players as much as a warning message saying "Hey, make sure your save file doesn't get bigger than such-and-such size." It's pretty annoying losing dozens of hours of progress because a known issue wasn't addressed in any way and nobody bothered to warn you.
That brings us to another issue, though one not directly related to the game itself. The developers are not only somewhat incompetent but utterly unprofessional. Bugs and glitches are a part of the industry and there's no avoiding that. Games have them just the same as any other software has bugs. Naturally, when people encounter these annoyances, they express their complaints to the developers. In the case of the Project CARS developers, their responses on their official message boards convey irritation with their paying customers bringing bugs to the attention of them and other players, and their responses have been in some cases downright rude and disrespectful. I appreciate that it gets old hearing the same complaint for the thousandth time, but they have to understand the frustration of players who paid for a product only to have it arrive heavily broken. The developers need those complaints so they know what needs fixing, and if players don't complain then the issues wouldn't be known. The complaints are necessary and the developers have an obligation to maintain some degree of professionalism and respect the people that paid for their product.
Project CARS has "cars" right in the name, although as an acronym for "Community Assisted Racing Simulator", but doesn't pack nearly as many cars as the console racers it's supposedly sweeping out of the way. With seventy-ish cars, it boasts a third of what Forza Motorsport 5 had in 2013, and Forza fans complained that FM5's 200 day-one cars (not counting subsequent DLC) wasn't nearly enough, so players disappointed with "just" 200 cars should scoff at a third of that in CARS. The reality, however, is that this is pretty standard for racing games, where forty to eighty seems to be the normal range. It's no less than most racers; in fact leans a bit to the heavy end, but just not nearly as many as Forza..., which fans said didn't have enough. More disappointing, however, is the lack of diversity of cars in CARS, and major manufacturers like Honda, Porsche, and Ferrari are completely absent. Unlike Forza or, to a much lesser extent, Gran Turismo, there is no upgrading or customization of cars in CARS at all. You can choose between some different liveries, but that's the extent of it. There are a lot of tuning options, however.
I like the flags and penalties, at least on paper. It feels like it tries to add legitimacy and authenticity to the races. If you blatantly cheat by starting before the official start of the race or cut a bunch of corners, you get penalized or even disqualified altogether. Unfortunately, this only seems to affect you and not a single AI driver. Honestly, I don't know if the AI could get disqualified for cutting too many corners, as that doesn't seem to happen too often for my opponents, but in this game you can swap drivers and let an AI driver take over for you and my AI co-driver has got me disqualified for running corners. I know for a fact that the AI doesn't care about blue flags, though. I get blue flags thrown at me when I exit from the pits during practice, but the AI doesn't seem to give two hoots about blue flags even during races. If I'm lapping a driver for the tenth time in a race, as I've done when I went for the 24 Hours of Le Mans in real time (twenty-four actual hours), that driver still won't get out of my way the tenth time by, just as he didn't the previous nine times that I passed him. I've never encountered the AI being penalized for anything ever, unless it's my AI co-driver cutting corners.
Speaking of the 24 Hours of Le Mans... As has been stated, you can choose longer or shorter races, and longer races can be dozens of laps. Obviously, 100% distance on the 24 Hours of Le Mans is twenty-four hours. I tried to run it, but I have a normal job and a life so I can't just sit there on my Xbox for a solid twenty-four hours. So, I tried to do it a couple or three hours at a time here and there and use the console's resume function to pick up where I left off on my next session. This worked out well enough for a handful of resumes, and then one evening after work I went to resume again and found it on the title screen. I had about nine hours into that race, maybe a couple hours at a time up to that point, and it was all gone. The developers made the same dimwitted decision that Polyphony Digital did with endurance races in Gran Turismo 5, whereby they made really long races available to players but didn't offer any sort of option to save and resume later. So, you pretty much had to either do the entire thing in a single sitting or pause it and leave the system running for many idle hours waiting for you to return to resume playing, both of which things are stupid. Yes, in the actual 24 Hours of Le Mans, drivers and teams can't pause and resume later, but that goes with being reality but also that's their friggin' job. The rest of us aren't professional drivers whose careers are driving race cars. We have actual regular jobs. I don't collect a paycheck for sitting at my Xbox for twenty-four straight hours. Give us the option to save and resume or don't give us really long races.
It's not all bad. There's actually a lot good here. However, it's not for everybody. Not only do you need to be a fan or racing games to remotely enjoy this, but further still you must be a hardcore sim fan to get anything out of this. If you're a more casual, more laid-back racer, this is absolutely not for you. You will find it dull and irritating. If you're serious about racing, however, this is worth picking up, but do so knowing that it has its faults.
|There's a lot of things that I like here and things that I wish other console racers like Forza and Gran Turismo would do, but there's also a gross lack of refinement and a lot wrong with it. It's worth a buy, but only for hardcore racing enthusiasts wanting a more realistic racing experience. More casual or fun-loving racing fans should avoid this like the plague because you will find no joy here.|
|Like||Feels more realistic than other console racers including Forza Motorsport and Gran Turismo, full race weekends with practice and qualifying sessions, penalties, dynamic day/night and weather, option for longer or shorter races, and tracks you don't see in other games.|
|Dislike||Stale presentation, sometimes grating and atrocious audio bugs, questionable AI, woefully inconsistent frame rates that can drop to a flip book under certain conditions, and complete corruption of the save file requiring completely restarting from scratch.|