Project CARS Review

Richard Walker

Racing sims are what I'll end up playing when I'm inevitably condemned to the fiery bowels of Hell. Little red imps will endlessly prod me with their pointy pitchforks, while I'm forced to do that helter skelter section of the Laguna Seca Raceway in a Renault Clio over and over, forever doomed to spin out into the gravel trap, with no rewind button to save me. Project CARS is one such manifestation of my Hell genre, but I can't deny that as a racing simulation, it certainly succeeds. And we'll be damned if it doesn't look achingly beautiful to boot.

The result of years of development and input from a fervent community of racing fans, Project CARS is billed as a racer for racers, and as far as the genre is concerned, it's about as close to climbing into an actual car as you can get. Insane, evangelical race sim purists will almost certainly disagree, but screw 'em. Project CARS feels realistic, and looks pretty realistic too. It's also very slickly presented, with a massive wealth of content to delve into, no doubt scratching the itch of all but the most demanding petrolhead.

"You can't park here, mate."

Project CARS' selection of automobiles pales in comparison next to Forza and Gran Turismo's garages bulging with hundreds, but there's a spread across almost every racing discipline you could care to think of. Open wheel, GT, touring cars, karts, Le Mans prototypes; they're all catered for, ensuring you'll seldom be facing a scenario where you can't find a car or race type that you like. And its list of race venues and circuits is gargantuan, putting most of its rivals to shame. The Nurburgring, Laguna Seca, Catalunya, Silverstone, Brand's Hatch, Monza, Spa, Le Mans... They're all here.

On these circuits and behind the steering wheels of these 80+ cars, Project CARS can be unforgiving. The first thing you're presented with upon firing up the game is the skill level, with Novice offering a less punishing experience with automatic transmission, racing lines turned on, damage switched off (you can change it to visual only, if you'd rather) and all manner of helpful assists active, but Project CARS still demands control, poise and precision when you're on the track, slapping you in the face with shameful, race-ending failure for even the slightest lapse in concentration or attempt to thrash your car around the track like an arcade racer. Pro difficulty is most definitely not to be taken lightly.

Wrestling your car around the track against the game's aggressive and uncompromising AI can feel like a real battle, so scraping out a win is a genuinely hard-fought achievement that you'll earn fighting tooth and nail. Sometimes, this can be enormously rewarding. Sometimes, this can be massively frustrating. Losing in Project CARS, especially after completing most of the race, feels like shit, potentially pushing your patience to the limit. There's no rewind or flashback button to fall back on.

But a loss can come down to any number of factors, whether it's being jostled into a wall, worn tyres, a lack of fuel, a lost wheel or even a mechanical failure. Either way, winning in Project CARS is truly something to be celebrated, especially if you're playing the game at its top end, as a pure sim, with none of the assists and all of the potential heartbreak and pain that comes with attempting to race for real. And don't forget the pit strategies. You'll need to change your tyres and top up your fuel in longer races.

Rubbin' is racin', right?

Of course, you don't have to play Project CARS this way. You can completely tailor your experience, right down to the visual minutiae, including the ability to turn off individual effects like lens flare, heat haze, bloom and rain drops on the camera. Slightly Mad Studios has left no stone unturned when it comes to modes and options to tinker with. Everything can be adjusted in some way, to fit your own bespoke play style to an absolute tee.

As a result, it actually seems rather churlish to criticise Project CARS for being too challenging. You can always turn the difficulty down and gradually turn things up as you start to improve, and the game doesn't judge or penalise you in any way when opting for the easiest settings. As a racing game that embraces players of all types, Project CARS deserves to be lauded. And when the core race mechanics and handling of the game eventually clicks, you'll discover that it just keeps on giving, pulling you into the career, race weekends, time trials and online races, as you push yourself to become a better digital driver.

There's no denying Project CARS' considerable racing chops then, which is why it's even more of a shame that there aren't more cars and modes on offer. Those spoilt by Forza Motorsport and Gran Turismo's wealth of vehicles from every conceivable category and manufacturer might baulk at the paucity of wheels available in CARS. There are no Lambos, no Ferraris, and not a Bugatti or Koenigsegg in sight. There are few vintage cars, and a surprising dearth of rides from Japanese marques like Honda, Toyota or Subaru, for instance. You can tune your car to death, but you can't create a custom penis livery to proudly slap on the hood.

If you're shrugging your shoulders and muttering “who cares?”, then good. Because you shouldn't really. The cars that are in the game are rendered in such staggering detail that it's easy to forgive that there's comparatively few. And every imaginable camera viewpoint is present and correct too, from the awesome helmet cam (with a sweet depth-of-field effect) to the ever-reliable outside view, cockpit cam, and that one where you feel like you're flying an inch from the track surface. The only view missing is a top-down GTA cam, but then that would be rubbish.

Career mode is, like most racing games the crux of Project CARS, hurling you through a calendar of racing events from season to season. You can engage in pre-race practice runs and qualifying if you like, or simulate them if you'd prefer to just get straight into the race. Invariably, the simulated option will see you starting right at the back of the pack, so it's worth going through the qualifying rigamarole just to make your grid placement better and life easier.

During the course of your season, you'll be bombarded with social media posts surrounding your performance, and if you're good enough, you'll also find invitations to special races, as well as new contracts and offers from other racing teams looking to snatch you away. You're free to jump from team to team, sampling different race disciplines, in turn lending a nice bit of variety to proceedings. That said, the Career mode is still a largely no-frills affair, with no XP or currency to muddy things, and nothing to unlock other than big gold trophies and accolades. We'll let you decide whether that's a good or a bad thing.

Outside of Project CARS' career, you'll find a myriad of options for setting up a solo Quick Race Weekend, or ghosts to pit yourself against in Time Trial leaderboards, or the accessible and straightforward online mode. Jump online and you'll find a plethora of options for racing, with up to 16 players competing on the grid. It's as competitive and frenzied as you'd expect, with minimal lag or waiting in lobbies. Launching right into an online race works most of the time, but could be a little smoother on Xbox One.

Despite encouragement for clean, sportsmanlike racing in the game's achievements and reputation system, Project CARS' online mode is still rife with aggressive racers who'd sooner ram you into a barrier than have a clean race. Almost every racing game I've played online has this problem, and Project CARS is no different. Winning three races in a row without a major collision? You'll get an achievement for that, but it's not something you can easily orchestrate yourself.

Behind the wheel of a Renault. An all-too familiar sight for me.

Project CARS' online achievements might be tough, but there's mercifully only a handful of them. Most are devoted to putting time in with the Career mode and earning milestones, while others are devoted to achieving certain objectives on the track. They're all helpfully colour-coded too, so you know exactly what's what.

Overall, it's a strong achievement list that encourages you to mess around in Project CARS, which is exactly what achievements should be for. Does the idea of winning a race using the cockpit cam with full damage, tyre wear and mechanical failures switched on sound like a nightmare? There's an achievement in it for you if you manage it in a Quick Race. It's inventive goals like this and a nice bit of humour that inject variety into what is by and large a fun list to tackle.

In striving to be all things to all die-hard race fans, Project CARS succeeds in being a racing title that initially seems inaccessible, until you start poking around under the hood and fiddling with the slew of options and sliders on offer. It's exactly the kind of racing game you want it to be, to a point. Burnout fans might not be won over, and it's still a demanding experience, but Project CARS is nonetheless a rewarding racing game that gets better the more you play it. An eternity in Hell might not be so bad after all.

Project CARS

A must for casual and hardcore racing fans alike, Project CARS does practically everything right, providing plenty of options for players of all skill levels and persuasions. I'm not much of a racing sim fan, but I found myself completely immersed in Project CARS. This is a good thing. Project CARS is a good thing. The end.

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If you like the incessant blaring whine of an engine, then you'll be loving this. There's no music while racing, only overwrought choral nonsense in the menus, and the occasional, infrequent audio bug here and there.


Genuinely lovely, with superbly detailed cars, lovingly rendered circuits and some truly beautiful visual effects. Only the odd bit of pop-up scenery and hastily drawn-in texture on the periphery conspire to ruin the party. It's smooth too, though on Xbox One, the anti-aliasing ain't all that great and shadows popping in on the track surface can prove distracting.


What initially seems like an impenetrable racing sim, turns out to be an involving game that's packed to the gills with options you can tweak to tailor your very own racing experience. Some cars are nippy, agile and fun, others are weighty and tough to handle. They're all fun in their own unique way, and so is Project CARS (most of the time). Any handling issues encountered at launch seem to have since been ironed out.


No shortage of tracks, but a relative dearth of cars in the base game make Project CARS seem lacking. However, given the spread across different racing disciplines, you'll be hard-pushed to feel truly short-changed. Presentation too is remarkably slick. Joing an online game however, can often be a bit of a headache.


Humorously named and well-spread across almost every facet of Project CARS, this is a fine achievement list for a racing game that's mercifully light on grinding. Good stuff.

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