‘Project CARS’ Preview – A New Challenger Approaches

When I first used the Oculus Rift I came away impressed, but feeling the idea of virtual reality to be a bit of a gimmick. Sure, it was cool to be able to look around 360 degress, but the resolution was horrible and I had a headache after a few minutes. That was in late 2013. Some 18 months later, I got to try out the Oculus again. This time, it was with Project CARS (Community Assisted Racing Simulator), not just a tech demo. Playing while wearing the Oculus Rift might just be the best way to experience Project CARS. The racing simulator is shaping up to rival the likes of Forza Motorsport and Gran Turismo, with assists allowing both experienced racing fans and novices like myself to enjoy the thrill of racing at blistering speeds.

Project CARS got its name from the fact that its development was funded by the community and the developers (Slightly Mad Studios), without the financial aid of a publisher. Although Bandai Namco will be helping to distribute the finished product. It is a real testament to the racing game community and the dedication of a development team known for Need for Speed: Shift and its sequel, Shift 2: Unleashed.

Don’t get me wrong, I am no racing game fanatic. Yet, I loved my time with a preview build of Project CARS. The cars handle as you would expect, with faster cars finding it more difficult to turn corners and keep on the track compared to slower cars. With the Oculus Rift on, the experience is even more immersive – a Bandai Namco representative also tells me the game will support the Project Morpheus virtual reality headset when it releases for PlayStation.

I was racing in an open-wheel car on Australia’s most famous racing circuit, Mount Panorama, Bathurst. Since last I used the Oculus Rift, the resulotion has been improved, although the device I used was not in HD yet. Playing a racing game with 360 degree viewing is amazing. To see behind me, I actually had to turn my head, or use the tiny mirrors on the car. Side note, my mirrors got knocked off when I traded paint with another car, meaning I had to keep looking  to my sides to tell if there were any cars coming.

Project CARS has a camera view that puts you inside the helmet of the driver, perfect for virtual reality. Somehow, I felt it was easier playing Project CARS with the Oculus. It gives you a greater sense of speed so I felt I knew how fast I could take corners without hitting a wall or spinning out into the sand. There are actually a lot of camera angles in the game so you can find the one you like most. From your traditional behind the car and in the cockpit views, to one that puts the camera in the middle of the cockpit (rather than behind the wheel), there are plenty of choices.

Inside the cockpit… while in torrential rain

There is a lot to like about Project Cars that has nothing to do with the racing itself. The game does a lot to differentiate itself from the likes of the highly popular racing simulator series of Forza Motorsport and Gran Turismo.

Firstly, the game will allow you to race against 35 other computer controlled drivers (I have been told the number on PC may be slightly higher than that, too). That’s 36 cars on the track at once! This is a massive step up from the cars limits of other games which hover between the 10 and 20 mark. It can get chaotic, but it is heaps of fun. You can also choose whether you want the other cars to be in the same class as your car, the exact same car as yours, or random classes. There are plenty of options to race how you want.

Moreover, Project CARS has many options to customise the difficulty of races, making the game accessible to novice racing fans and hardcore fans alike. Rather than having easy, medium, hard difficulties, there is a 0 to 100 slider so you can get it just right. To further customise the difficulty, there are plenty of assists to alter, such as whether there are ABS brakes, to change how much control you want over the car. I tried races with all assists on and all of them off, and you can definitely see the difference it makes. With assists on, I was managing to keep the car mostly on the road with my basic knowledge of racing. However, when I took control of a car with no assists, I was in the sand almost all of the time, taking corners with too much speed.

Laguna Seca with no assists equals a fun day at the beach for me

But wait, there is more. You can customise the weather conditions during each race. In one race the weather can go from sunny to overcast, to raining, and then a severe storm. You can set how fast you want the weather to transition, and whether it should change at all. It is really cool watching the weather change during a race, especially racing in the severe storm where visibility is very low. This truly is a next-gen racing game.

I also like the fact that the career mode in Project CARS will not follow the traditional racing formula of starting off from lower tier cars and working your way up. In an interview with Digital Spy in August last year, creative director Andy Tudor explained that the system is similar to that of other sports games like FIFA, wherein everything is unlocked from the start and the player chooses a championship and a team to join. Whether you choose to start from a lower series and eventually gain enough popularity and skill to get offers from other teams in other championships, or just start from the top and try to win it all is up to you.

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I played the game on both PC and PlayStation 4 and the versions looked pretty much identical from the hour or so I played.

Project CARS is a racing game I, as a racing simulator scrub, am looking forward too. It’s not because of the solid racing mechanics, but for the depth surrounding the racing. From the wide array of customisation options to the little things like sponsorship signs in the right places around tracks, this racing sim is pulling all of the punches. It is, of course, a racing game for racers, by racers.

Project CARS will be available on April 2 in North America and Europe for Xbox One, PlayStation 4 and PC. A Wii U version is planned, but all that is known is that it will be out sometime in 2015.