Looking Back at the Original Project CARS

We’re mere days out from Project CARS 2’s release. Because of this, we’re taking a look back at the game that kicked off the franchise almost 30 months ago.

The original PCARS was nothing if not ambitious. Fuelled by the crowd-funded World of Mass Development process, Slightly Mad Studios set about crafting a game that took the world of motorsports seriously. After a few setbacks — including a jump to the current eighth-gen consoles — the game landed in early May of 2015.

In its original launch state, the game featured 74 cars and over 30 racing locations. For this retrospective, we’ve been playing the “Game of the Year” Edition, which packed in all the DLC a year after initial release.

What It Did Right

Atmosphere. If there’s one thing that Project CARS has in spades, it’s that. Sure, single-formula games like Codies’ F1 franchise or the WRC titles do great impressions of the real thing, but nothing had really tried to tackle multiple disciplines like PCARS.

The game put you in the driver’s seat. Here you had a pit chief helping you through the race on the radio. Flag rules (and penalties) were in effect. In between races in the career, you’d receive mail from the team about your results, and fan comments from a faux-Twitter. Were these a little repetitive? Sure, but it was miles away from the casual racing that made up the careers of GT or Forza.

A race calendar presented the world of motorsport to you in a natural way. Starting in the lowly karts, players slowly received invites from teams for smaller events throughout the year. After a successful season, teams in higher tiers would make offers. While you can start in whatever discipline you want, it felt particularly good to move up from grassroots stuff right into LMP1 after several seasons.

The on-track experience was a high point as well. Sure, Gran Turismo 6 (and its predecessor) featured dynamic time and weather, but PCARS applied it across the entire track list. That track list itself was second to none this generation when the game launched. Having over 30 tracks with weather and time change was (and still is) a huge achievement. Nonetheless, the sequel will double that count.

The weather transitions were impressive, especially the multitude of rain variations. Running an endurance around Bathurst felt intense, having to manage tires and fuel during unpredictable weather. Lightning would crack the sky in the distance, and the sound of rain pelting the windshield really put you in the action.

The BAC Mono, just one of the track-friendly cars in the first game. Image courtesy of jefafa.

What It Did Wrong

Well, there’s no beating around the bush here. Out of the box, the controller handling in PCARS was awful. I first played the game about a month after release, on the Xbox One. Managing to feel both darty and yet dim-witted at the same time, the pad made it nearly impossible to be consistent. It was, in a word, disappointing.

Fast forward to the Game of the Year Edition on PS4, and it wasn’t quite as bad as I had remembered. The DualShock experience got even better when I contacted forum user Wolfe about his personal settings. Wolfe is what you might call a controller connoisseur, and he put me on a good path.

From there, I was able to at least tackle my favorite track (Cadwell) in something with reasonable power. Top-shelf prototypes were still a hit-and-miss affair though, and best left to the wheel.

While the physics generally felt pretty great, cars tended to feel very strange once past the tires’ limits. Small skids were salvageable — again, with a wheel — but any significant amount of angle usually resulted in a full-on spin.

The other big blemish on PCAR’s report card were the bugs and glitches that plagued the game on release. Head to YouTube, search “Project CARS land mines”, and you’ll see what we mean. In addition, the frame rate fluctuated greatly depending on track conditions and field size.

To its credit, SMS worked hard to bring regular updates to the title — the GOTY edition is proof — but for some, the spectre of these issues will be the big hurdle the sequel must overcome.

Image courtesy of torque99.

What Project CARS 2 Will Do Better

The good news is that SMS has addressed much of what’s been mentioned above. We spent hours with the PC press preview build and came back impressed.

The biggest and most noticeable change was the pad implementation. No longer did playing with a controller feel like being in the penalty box. As the overwhelming majority of console players will be using this input method, it’s good to see SMS has improved it.

Wheel users looking to tailor their experience won’t be forced to read up on all the adjustment ranges any more. For PCARS2, SMS has simplified the FFB menu, and provided help messages within it. While you’ll probably want to fine-tune certain cars, it’ll take mere seconds this time. Plus — at least on the PC preview build — you can do it right on track from the pause menu. That’s a huge advantage.

We’re happy to report the sequel feels much more polished than the original did, too. Cars don’t suddenly jump around on track, and the menus look clean, with everything laid out logically. It’s inviting, and a big jump from the stark, workmanlike menus of the original.

One thing we overlooked above was Project CARS’s journey into the world of esports. The first game has held regular championships with ESL since it launched. For the sequel, SMS has doubled down, not only continuing the relationship with ESL, but introducing a suite of broadcast features for players to run their own championships. A racing license system, much like GT Sport and iRacing, should improve matchmaking as well.

Impressively, considering the number of cars on track and the dynamic time/weather (plus seasons), the graphics also look to be a step up. Obviously console comparisons will have to wait to be sure, but the PC build looked good. We thought the graphics were impressive back at E3, too. While not quite class-leading, they’re certainly more than competitive, and as mentioned, there’s a lot more happening on track. Plus, owners of the PS4 Pro and Xbox One X will see even further improvements.

Project CARS 2 launches this Friday. We’ve already predicted it will be the motorsports enthusiast’s choice out of the big three this season — stay tuned for plenty more this week!

Featured image courtesy of Gethema.

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