I was going to review Project CARS. Ten minutes into staring at the car setup screen, googling terms that I -- even as a guy with a casual interest in cars -- had never heard of, I thought maybe that wasn't the best idea.
Instead, then, here are some thoughts on Project CARS.
It's a pretty video game. You knew that from all those early screenshots and video, because those were taken by backers and testers rather than marketing teams, but still. Even when you're prepared for it, you're not ready for how gorgeous project CARS is. The thing is, it's not the cars themselves that do it. They're nice, and clean, and full of detail, but it's the lighting that pushes this game over the edge. As you'll see in the gameplay video I put together (above), it's when the sun is setting, or lights shine in the night sky, or you're driving through the middle of a thunderstorm, that sometimes you just want to pull over for a second and think "wow".
Can you remember the last major, serious driving game that wasn't a console exclusive? I can't. I think that's both absurd and welcome, because hopefully loads more people will be playing and talking about this game in the long-run than any Forza or GT game could hope to, especially since it's also on PC.
I'm downright intimidated by the hardcore end of this game. I mean, look at this. Or this.
I'm sure someone out there, somewhere understands what all this means, but as a guy who just likes to drive pretty cars around a track quite quickly, I was like "um haha nope, default settings are fine, thanks". If that someone out there is you, though, this looks awesome!
The car roster is somehow both liberating and disappointing at the same time. Liberating in that everything's unlocked from the minute you start the game, so you can jump behind the wheel of everything from a Mitsubishi Lancer to an F1 car. But disappointing in that it's a pretty small roster (around 70-80 cars, depending on which version of the game you bought), at least compared to competitors like GT who have hundreds of cars.
The "feel" of the game strikes a really good balance. It's tough, and definitely feels like an accurate representation of driving a car really really fast, but through sound and visual effects (especially with certain in-car perspectives) it still manages to maintain a sense of rush. The accuracy of Gran Turismo meets the fun of Project Gotham, if you will.
The AI is unpredictable, which means the AI is great. Some competitors will just float around a track oblivious to you even being there, while others will violently cut across the track to block a pass attempt. I also saw a few times where the AI got bunched up, a few crashes occurred, and the rest of the pack slowed down and avoided it all, which was pretty impressive.
It's a lot of fun to just boot it up and start driving. Where other games have centrepiece modes, campaigns or events the entire game is clearly built around, Project CARS doesn't really give a shit what you drive, so long as you drive. I've played some of the career mode, which is a pretty standard career mode, but I've found that it's easier and more fun in Project CARS to just jump into a race, or even create an event, messing with the time and weather, picking the cars and just going at it. It's just so quick and easy to craft all that stuff on the fly.
Project CARS is a very serious driving sim, with brutal handling (especially in the wet), but don't let that put you off. The game defaults to a pretty generous suite of settings, from brake assist to a racing line guide, and these can be progressively turned on or off as you get more experienced. God help you in the rain, though.
The karts in this game are awesome. You can just wrench them around the track, slamming on the brakes, smashing the accelerator, and they will do whatever you want. Drop a whole bunch of them on a more serious track and you've got a very good time.
Serious drivers, if you don't already have a wheel, you might want to look into it. I got through most races and cars just fine with a controller, but trying to control a really high-end car in anything other than perfect weather conditions was a nightmare. A thumbstick was just too twitchy.
I haven't seen much mention of this in reviews, but the sound -- at least on the PC version I played -- was incredible. Go into a tunnel and the reverb is perfect, as is the whooshing sound of driving an F1 car in the rain. Play with good headphones if you've got them.
So, yeah! I played Project CARS for around a week on PC, and had a blast.