Project CARS: The Best Game I Didn’t Want to Hate

27
2011

 

Project CARS from Slightly Mad Studios and BANDAI NAMCO Entertainment Europe undoubtedly represents the most technically-advanced and customizable racer ever to hit multiple gaming platforms.  From the time of its inception and introduction as a crowdsourced game on World of Mass Development (wmdportal.com) all the way back in 2011, the developers had lofty goals for their vision of a complete course-racing simulator that included “deep tuning and pit stop functionality” and dynamic time and weather effects that actually changed the way each car individually handled.  Additionally, promotional material attracted prospective supporters by claiming that the game would feature “world-class graphics” – a seemingly impossible feat considering it was scheduled to release on machines with wide differences in CPU and GPU power.  Slightly Mad wasn’t an unproven studio, winning awards for their work on the Need for Speed Shift series, so certainly many had faith that, with multiple years of development scheduled (original release date: late 2014), they would be able to accomplish all of these promises.  They even proved their dedication to bringing an unmatched amount of detail to fans when they cancelled the PS3 and Xbox 360 versions, explaining that only the most powerful platforms allowed them to not compromise on their vision of becoming the new standard for simulation racing.  Even after multiple delays (actual release date: May 2015), fans felt confident that they would soon get their hands on a truly next-gen driving experience when the studio released multiple in-game images and videos from numerous development builds.  For doubters and hopefuls alike, it seemed like a game company was not misrepresenting its product – a rare treat for consumers these days.

The day finally came for us in the United States – May 7, 2015 – and I had my copy within minutes of Best Buy opening, eager to get home and see if years of anticipation were about to be rewarded.  Being a veteran of the Forza Motorsport and Gran Turismo series, I was ready and qualified to evaluate the next level of realism.  Immediately upon entering my first practice race, before even leaving the starting line, I sat in my chair absolutely blown away by the graphic fidelity of the tracks and cars and the cleanness of the audio.  Although I had debatably the worst version of the game (in terms of visuals and another category that I’ll get to later), it simply looked gorgeous, certainly better than the other simulation racer on Xbox One, Forza Motorsport 5.  I own a Playstation 4 as well, and played through the main career on DriveClub, which plays at 30 frames per second.  As such, one would justifiably expect it to outperform a 60fps game (like Project CARS) in visuals, but it doesn’t.  The lifelike appearance truly immerses you in the race, and I was hooked at first.  But then I got to the first turn, and wow did my impression take a turn for the worse.

“How could I skid off the track at such a slow speed?” I questioned.  I thought that perhaps I had not quite adjusted to the steering, and after turn two and a equally disastrous result, I quickly exited the race to adjust the multitude of control settings.  While enthusiasts likely appreciate such fine tuning, I felt overwhelmed but eager to learn.  Googling “Project CARS Xbox One controller setups” resulted in a surprising amount of “best” configurations, some with explanations but most without.  Handling certainly improved when I found my personal “sweet spot,” especially when attempting difficult passing maneuvers.  That said, it seemed that nothing could help me take corners other than slowing to a crawl.  I explored further, finding forum posts by official Slightly Mad employees noting general bugs with the Xbox One controller.  Out of curiosity, I rented the PS4 version of the game, and was impressed by the superior control provided by the Dualshock 4.  Therefore, I decided to wait anxiously for the announced Xbox-specific patch that, among a few odd audio bugs, was set to address community-discovered handling woes.

Patch 1.3 released, and I must admit, the steering improved significantly as a result.  Specifically, analog stick range and dead zones were reworked to produce more accurate responses from all stick movements.  So by now my turning issues should have been solved, right?  WRONG!  Unless I was racing in the go-kart circuits, I still flew off the track, especially at the end of long straightaways.  That’s the moment I finally realized the biggest problem with Project CARS: the in-game speed of the cars is way faster than it appears to the player, no matter what view you use.  That is to say, for example, when you feel like you are slowing down to an appropriate 30 miles per hour for a tough 45º turn, you are actually going closer to 50-60MPH.  As you’d imagine, this leads to cars exiting the course much too easily.  The only true fix I found for this was constantly checking the speedometer whenever I approached a turn – a practice that immediately felt like a chore.  Combine this with frequently eyeing the mini-map for upcoming shifts in the course and you begin to feel like you are spending more time checking gauges and readouts than actually enjoying this masterful simulator.  One could argue that professional racers rely on in-car dials for success, but certainly the sense of speed acquired through experience, especially during tight turns, trumps almost anything on the dashboard.  Of course, this isn’t true for longer races during which your car could run out of gas or overheat, but neither of these potential pitfalls pertain to track navigation, which is the root of this serious flaw.

Project-CARS-Graphics

A turn like this never turned out like these AI cars make it seem here.  I felt like I needed to slow to a crawl, or I’d find the dirt.

Through trial-and-error experimentation, I expanded my investigation into this speed inequality and found that at in-game speeds above ~100MPH the discrepancy was less noticeable.  The higher accuracy at these speeds makes long straights and roads with small bends and weaves more manageable.  It’s only in these instances that the driving experience is, in my opinion, unmatched and representative of the promised authenticity.  But, as I alluded to above, at some point you arrive at a corner or sharp turn that requires you to direct your attention to the speedometer and ignore your learned speed-sense.  If you keep your eyes on the road and trust your instinct, I assure you that the execution will suffer significantly, and the virtually perfect AI will leave you in the dust (even in rainy conditions – but I’ll save that for another article).  So, as a result of much frustration, I decided to part with the game about two weeks after release, and recovered about 75% of my money, which isn’t great for a two week rental.  Nevertheless, I’m glad I got to try out the latest entry into the simulation racing genre and see what all the hype was about.  I think many will agree with me that once they fix this critical issue, this could be the closest we’ve ever come to the real thing.

  • YOUDIEMOFO

    Now that does sound to bad for the game…… How does this stuff make it passed quality “control” …….?!HA!!!

    • I’m consistently shocked, especially during this generation of consoles, with the amount of stuff that makes it past quality control. I’m not sure how something like this was able to slip through the cracks. It feels so unnatural when cornering to slow down to such a slow speed, not to mention feeling like you need to look down at the speedometer because you can’t use your innate sense of speed. Players that are veterans of other racing simulators can’t take their speed-sense experience into this game, and that’s what alienates the Forza and Gran Turismo community.

  • James Clark

    Bought this game on launch day, the controls were ‘funky’ to say the least (coming from someone who grew up on Gran Turismo). I just couldn’t get on with the game and sold it 2 weeks later.
    On Race 1 of my career mode the game crashed after 20 minutes, then after restarting the game I got to the same race and rolling start sequence got glitched and jammed my kart into a wall whilst the other drivers strolled on to start the race. Oh and then there was frame tearing and frame rate issues galore.
    Such as a shame as I really wanted to like this game 🙁

    • I agree with you wholeheartedly…As you could tell from my article I really wanted to like this game. I experienced the screen tearing myself and forced myself to look past it. It got to the point where I could just ignore it, so I was able to give that a pass. I personally never experienced the glitching that you did. I don’t know if you agree, but at some point I feel I’ll probably pick this game back up when they fix all these issues – maybe if/when it comes down to $30 or less.

  • Guest

    Why would you buy this game for the X1 when you have a PS4 and should have already known that not only does the PS4 version have higher res but also a better framerate? Why do so many people make such a stupid mistake? if you have both systems, you should always get the superior ver. I guess fanboyism makes people do some seriously stupid sh’t. Or was it one of those,” I wanted/needed to get something for my X1 just to put it to use” situation? If that’s the case then why not wait til there’s a game you want that is equal on both then get it for the system that needs a little more attention. And this talk of playing where my friends play, how old are you people that you are so binded to your friends. Pathetic!

    • The versions, with exception of a slightly higher resolution, are nearly identical. I value playing with my friends in multiplayer more than a slightly higher resolution. I don’t find this pathetic – I find it social. Also, having both consoles proves that I am not a fanboy, so I don’t understand that point.

      Glad to see you enjoyed the article.

    • Gerald Nchabeleng

      Guest…,
      Judging by how rude and obnoxious you come out, I can see why playing with friends is trivial or pathetic to you! Or do you even have friends? Probably sex by yourself is better than with someone else yeah?
      Inferno… I respect your opinion but I think DC is graphically superior, esp in the rain with the thunder. Haven’t played it though since PC came to light.

  • happymealer

    I have mixed feelings about the game. Out of the gate, the PS4 controller settings are awful. You’re forced to drive high performance cars and the least amount of steering input you can provide to make the game react results in the car aggressively turning in one direction or the other. I couldn’t straighten out the car on the straightaway. I quickly adjusted the controls and it took time but the game is drivable now. Coming from Driveclub, I also suffered with the reduction in visual speed effects to help gauge my speed. There is a setting in the game that makes the camera act closer to the way it would for an arcade game – changing the depth of field with speed. This helps. I don’t think this game is all that different from Gran Turismo’s camera views and sense of speed from what I remember. It has just been so long since those games were commonly played on consoles (by me, at least) that I think it seems different. The game is buggy and unpolished. Also, I think there are ways in which the game looks more realistic than Driveclub, but I don’t think it looks flat out *better*. Nor do I think it’s better. It isn’t really even that much fun. People said DC wasn’t fun when it came out but this game is less fun than that.

    • I tried changing those depth of field settings, and I still had a similar problem, but it was improved slightly. That is definitely a solid recommendation. As for the controls, I do find them twitchy for sure, but I don’t think they are the main problem with the game. As I mentioned in the article, the PS4 controls were actually a little better for me, causing less twitching of the vehicles and better turn radii. As for your comment on Gran Turismo’s camera views and sense of speed – watch some videos on YouTube since it has been a while as you said. The sense of speed is definitely different, at least for me it is. I think the graphics are better than DriveClub, but not by as much as people say – so for that point I pretty much agree with you. DriveClub had its place in the market, but the negative press associated with delays of the PS+ version really hurt the game right out of the gate. The point about the graphics that I really do agree with naysayers about is the increased frame rate compared to DriveClub – it really does make a difference. I would be curious to see if the shadowing in DriveClub could be achieved at 60fps, and if it could then the games would be much closer and receive less criticism for graphics in my opinion.

      Glad to see you checked out the article.

      • happymealer

        I think the 30fps serves Driveclub well. It adds the ‘cinematic effect’ to the game. It’s the difference between your perception of the action watching it in a theater versus being there in real life. Real life has its place, but some things look better with the cinematic effect in the loop. The best thing I can liken it to is videotaping something yourself at 60fps and watching it versus watching a movie. The movie has a different feel to it.

        The rain drops in DC are better but PC has some solid misting effects from cars driving along wet asphalt that seem lacking in DC. There are ups and downs but I think DC went for the best “feel” of everything that it could achieve for the type of game that it is and I think it worked well. PC seems to try hard in areas and not in others. The end product seems a bit pieced together. At least Gran Turismo explains what setting changes do.

        Anyway, physics in PC seem fresh if nothing else. The game has a feel not yet seen in console racing games. The cars are very sensitive to accel/decel for balance. It’s a hard game to play, but I think it captures what it’s like to race better than other console games. The game’s problem is not remembering that the people playing this game ARE using a console and they can’t feel forces or the road. They’re using a controller. Just set up the game with controller settings that make sense PC. Thanks.

        • The last paragraph of this post is very well put, and very honest.

          It essentially captures the point of the article, and I agree 100% with what you have said.

          • happymealer

            Thanks 🙂

    • Bma Fez

      The settings I have is old school, I use the d pad for steering, and x for acceleration, and square for brakes and the other buttons which ever suits your configuration, I hope that helps

  • Paul Danger Edmundson

    It took a couple of races to get used to it and I’ll admit the I still haven’t committed to taking traction control off yet, but I got used to the speed and turning the same as going from any driving game to another. I never have to look at my speedometer and I find it bizarre that you’re having this issue. Surely you just get a feel for it? Don’t be put off, people. it’s a great game!

    • I participated in many career races and honestly I couldn’t get used to it. Like I mentioned in the article, I am a veteran of the Forza series, and admittedly have put WAY more time into those games. As such, I may have become too accustomed to the sense of speed in those. However, I think that in order to capture that audience and steal market share Slight Mad Studios should have tried to emulate a similar sense of speed so the learning curve could be lower out of the gate for newcomers. I wish I were exaggerating about the speedometer thing, but I honestly find my eyes wondering in order to make sure I’m not taking the corners too fast.

      Don’t get me wrong – I WANT to like this game. I really like everything about the game, except for these issues mentioned in the article. If you have a racing wheel I HIGHLY recommend the game. I traded it in more out of frustration with the fact that I KNOW that this should be a great game and I believe that it is being held back by this flaw. I will definitely pick this up in the future if they fix this issue – I just don’t know when that’ll be and I wanted to use the money for other games.

  • Paul Danger Edmundson

    I don’t think I looks that great, but that might be because I’m forced to play on large telly from quite close so I’ll reserve final judgement until I’ve played from a sensible distance…

  • Bma Fez

    The game is abit laggy, and you do get a lot of idiots ramming you of the track, but it’s a brilliant game I only need a steering wheel which are all sold out, I’m addicted to this game and i will be starting a gentleman club so I don’t have to race against idiots.

    • I only played online a couple of times, but the ramming unfortunately comes with the territory of online racing. I have found this in almost all racing simulators I’ve played, which sucks to be honest. The gentlemen’s club idea sounds awesome though! Let us know how that goes!

  • It just sounds like your not that good at it. I don’t understand how you be having that much of a tough time since you been play Forza and Gran Turismo. Its not a easy game but neither is controlling a real professional race car. It takes patience and practice. Also, I try to avoid AWD at all cost. I hate the under steer they cause. Not really sure what you would expect at this game but clearly above what you needed.

    • Like I alluded to in the article, playing this game is much different than playing Forza or Gran Turismo, which is both good and bad. I think it is clear in the article that I am not good at the game – I’m not at all claiming that I am – so you are right about that for sure. I feel I would be much better however – closer to how good I am in Forza 5, for instance – if the sense of speed were on the same level. I understand that this game strives for the utmost realism, and because racing cars in real life isn’t easy that racing these cars aren’t either, but in my opinion that is not a good approach for taking market share away from the already-successful simulators. Like in other sims, adjusting the settings and tuning the cars will lead to better results, and Project CARS does an awesome job of allowing the player to adjust settings depending on the track or the conditions. However, I don’t think that a game in this genre that REQUIRES such input from the player in order to simply complete races will be successful in the end, because you are alienating a group of casual racing sim fans. Now before the flame comes, I understand this game isn’t necessarily for the casual fan, and I’m not suggesting that I am in this group. However, I am of the opinion that Slightly Mad in 2011 set out to make a racer to beat all others, and did not want to market only to the die-hard racing aficionados.

      Your point about the game clearly above what I needed is a good one – I was seeking the next level of realism (in career progression, next-gen graphics, and accurate handling), and this game exceeded my expectations. The complete array of customization found in this racing sim blew my mind, and I wish that I could experiment with them more than I did. However, even though I have been successful with other games in this genre, I could not execute turns for the reason stated in the article, and I was forced to trade in the best game I didn’t want to hate. I wholeheartedly hope to come back to this one in the future, and maybe I’ll post another opinion piece with a “then and now” style.

      • I appreciate your reply. And in fact when I said your not that good at it I didn’t mean that as a burn or you suck. I compare this game to bloodborne, I know… let me explain. I have never played anything like bloodborne, no souls games. I felt I couldn’t pass it up and in playing the first few hours I was extremely frustrated and I thought I made a mistake. Keep in mind I bought this digitally. I only had one choice which was to keep at it. I did and now I consider it one of my favorite games ever. My point is Project CARS is not a game in the traditional sense but it is a game that is more demanding then any racer I have ever played (like bloodborne) and it is a game that doesn’t really give you rewards for doing what your supposed to do (like bloodborne aside from leveling your character) PC is a something you turn on and just drive. I agree that while being used to some sort of reward system, playing a game without one feels empty but in games like Forza and GT it really becomes rinse wash and repeat after a while. Maybe if you had no choice but to keep at the game like I did with bloodborne that you would have eventually liked it more by getting better. I feel like PC is a game that Forza and GT has been training us to play so that why I was so surprised when you couldn’t make your first turn.
        Anyway, you tried it and I applaud you for not just being like this game sucks. You understand what it is and what it isn’t.

        • A weird metaphor, yes, but I understand what you are saying here. This is definitely a good point about Project CARS demanding more than any prior racing franchise, and that was something I actually really loved about the game. Let me clarify – I didn’t give up after the first turn. I actually got through a few seasons of the career, most of them in karts and super karts (125cc and 250cc). As such, I learned how to handle the karts through much trial and error, so when I got to the races with the Ford Focus RS, I got the feeling that I had to start all over, which in a weird way was awesomely realistic. I enjoyed that challenge, because obviously these vastly different vehicles shouldn’t handle in a similar way. So these huge handling differences were not the reason I abandoned the game – I could just never get over the speed-sense issue. It affected the way I played racing simulation games so much, as I was constantly concerned about the “in-game speed” versus my “speed-sense” during each lap. I just hated being cognizant of this difference.

  • Stephen Riss

    Just going to leave this here. https://youtu.be/hH0XveGj-40

  • Nate Lessard

    Racing games (esp sims, even tho this is barely a sim)need to be played with a wheel. I have a wheel and I don’t have any of the issues you talk about. If your truly into racing a wheel is a must. I have 2 wheels a Logitech g27 and a Fanatec gt2(with fanatec clubsport pedals) and I love playing all my sims. I play mainly on pc but when I fire up gt6 on my ps3 can tell it’s not true sim. I can’t believe you have a ps4 and xbone but not a gaming pc. Wtf you Doing? My gtx 670 which is a couple gens old smokes the ps4 and xbone.

    PC master race!

    • Derek

      Youre a goof kid.

  • Ronaldo Corrêa

    This game sucks. I did not find better graphics than Forza Forza 5. 5 remains the best simulator ever, in the case of consoles

  • Michael Priddy

    Came back to the game, it still sucks with a control and FM6 now blows this trash out of the water. Should have known these clowns would scree it up, shift 2 was garbage with a control.