Project CARS

May 10, 2015

Since it usurped the Gran Turismo series as the best console racing game, there’s been little to challenge Forza Motorsport at the top of the pile. Sure, there’s the more hardcore sims like Asetto Corsa and Simbin/Sector 3’s long line of realistic games, but none of these have managed to combine their realism with mainstream appeal. You’re not going to be seeing iRacing signs at Bathurst anytime soon.

Enter Slightly Mad Studios. Best known as the team behind the Need For Speed: Shift series, they’ve spent the past four years developing Project CARS as an independent, crowdfunded project with a focus on community development and feedback. Perhaps their biggest advantage over the Forza games is that Project CARS is available across the three major platforms.

The good news is that Project CARS is a vast improvement over the NFS: Shift series. The physics are vastly more robust, and the detail in the simulation is dramatically improved. Of course, comparisons to long-abandoned entries in the Need For Speed aren’t what Slightly Mad are after here. No, they’re very much gunning for the throne upon which Forza currently sits.

Project CARS does bring its own original ideas to the table. This is most evident in its comprehensive career mode, which puts you in the role of a driver working your way up through the various tiers of the real motorsports world, from kart racing all the way through to Le Mans Prototype cars that are the pinnacle of motorsport development (Formula 1 notwithstanding).


This is in stark contrast to the “garage racer” style of Forza and Gran Turismo, where earning money to buy your own selection of cars is the focus. Here, you don’t get to choose your cars for the most part at all, instead driving what you’re given by the team you join in each category. This helps to hide the more limited selection of cars here, as you’ll only notice just how few there are (and how conspicuously absent some car manufacturers are) if you browse the car list in the free play mode.

It also has the benefit of connecting you to the racing much more. As fun as it is, Forza can feel sterile and lonely, you’re just some guy taking his track toys out for a spin every so often. Here, you’re working your way through a coherent career, and the addition of an engineer communicating to you through the race really changes the feel. You feel very much like you’re part of something bigger.

Racing itself is solid and fun. The AI is a step back from the ‘drivatar’ system of Forza 5, but not out of step with most other racing games that don’t have the benefit of a huge rack of cloud servers doing all the gruntwork for them. Project CARS is notable for having huge fields of drivers, with up to 44 drivers in a single race.

Each race is much more of an event, too. It’s not just a case of getting out and doing a few laps and winning. There’s practice sessions, qualifying sessions and most events have two races as well. Having a qualifying session is great because it offers better control over your starting grid position, though the game will randomise this if you don’t use qualifying. There’s even mandatory pit stops in many races, requiring you to set your pre-race pit strategy and then stick to it in the race.


Speaking of settings, Project CARS is full of them. Almost every aspect of the game can be adjusted in some way, and the result is that the game can be as much of a simulation as you want it to be. Aside from the regular options like racing assists and penalties, there’s also deeper settings for force feedback (wheel and controller), graphics settings (PC users will be used to these, but they’re a rarity on consoles), and much more. The per-race settings let you choose length, time of day, time progression, weather, AI difficulty and much more.

There are, however, some notable absences from these configuration options. Tuning options are limited to tyres, brake bias and aero, although it’s also possible to tune the force feedback and controller sensitivity options on a per-car basis. The big feature missing is the ability to tune the gearing, meaning you’re stuck with whatever gear arrangement the car you drive has. Fortunately this is generally not too bad, and I’ve yet to encounter a car that was geared too tall or too short for a particular track.

Visually, Project CARS is a marvel. The graphical detail on display is far better than either Forza 5 or Forza Horizon 2, and the game runs at a full 1080p60 (900p60 upscaled on Xbox One). The time of day and weather effects are fantastic, and you can, thankfully, turn off lens flare on the setting sun. It does have a habit of dropping frames, which leads to some nasty screen tearing, and laggy input. This is a touch disappointing, but it’s yet to cost me a race.

There’s also great little touches like the live timing information, fuel and tyre indicators and the myriad camera settings (including a proper drivers-eye view setting that shifts with the movement of the car and will look into corners). Cars are detailed and look fantastic, and the damage modelling is pretty solid as well. Engines are suitably noisy and sound as they should. There’s even some pretty nice bespoke music in the menus.


At the time of writing this review, Project CARS does have one unfortunate drawback. The game is quite buggy right now. The biggest problem I’ve encountered is with the game not picking up the throttle pedal on my Thrustmaster TX wheel at the start of a race. Resolving this generally requires restarting the race and hoping the pedal gets picked up. It also sometimes forgets what gear its in on the TH8A shifter. All of these can be patched (and will be, if the game’s official forums are to be believed), but they make for a frustrating initial experience. If you have a wheel, or want the Xbox One version (which seems to be the most bug-ridden version), maybe wait a week or two for that patch.

Aside from bugs, Project CARS does have a few significant issues. The first is that, while the game promises to appeal to racing fans of all stripes, it tends towards being more sim-focused, and players will likely have to make changes to settings that, initially, they will barely understand just to get somewhere early on. I’m also disappointed to note that there’s no rewind feature, which is something I find incredibly useful in Forza, and consider a basic feature for any new racing game. Its absence here is frustrating, especially given that the game allows for quite long races, and messing up on lap 29 of a 30 lap race, while certainly realistic, is likely to result in a rapidly accelerating controller across the room.

Project CARS, then, is a solid first attempt. Slightly Mad have hit all the right notes and made it clear they know what they’re doing. Forza developers Turn 10 should definitely sit up and take notice, because this game, while not quite up to their lofty standards, shows that they’re not going to be able to rest on their laurels, either. Slightly Mad aren’t about to go away, and are already talking up the possibility of a crowdfunded sequel. If you’re bored with Forza 5’s lacklustre car selection, and you’ve driven every road in Forza Horizon 2 twice, or you’re a PS4 owner looking for something to tide you over until the next Gran Turismo game, then you should definitely take a good look at Project CARS.


Solid racing with a focus on driver development
Beautiful visuals
Plenty of options to cater for everyone


Buggy initial release, will need patching
Defaults for controller and wheel are suboptimal
No female driver option again :(

Overall Score: