Project CARS 3, what's the verdict?
A game that seems to be undergoing a bit of an identity crisis, but is it any good?
Let's take it back to 2015, the year where sim racers all over the world, whether they be on console or PC, were given a fresh and promising look at a new genre of racing games, this was the year that gamers were introduced to Project CARS. Although not perfect, it almostly instantly become a beloved game by the sim racing community, particularly the console gamers due to a lack of seriously hardcore sim racing games offered on the PS4 and Xbox One. The title was definitely not perfect at release, but it gave the sim gamers hope for a brand new and in depth sim racer to enjoy. Then came 2017, the year of Project CARS 2. The game not only boasted all the simulation aspects found in Project CARS 1 but added an extra level of detail in terms of dynamic weather, day and night circles on the circuits and even the option to choose what season is portrayed when racing. Sim gamers now had a near perfect game; it was realistic, fun, allowed for advanced tuning on the cars, pit stops, tire wear and heating, qualifying laps, realistic damge and the list goes on. The franchise became a truely immersive simulation racing experience, and to further emphasise the game's focus on realism, the "CARS" in "Project CARS" actually stands for "Community Assisted Racing Simulator", due to the fact that Slightly Mad Stuios (the developers behind the game) listened to their community of sim gamers and worked together with them to create the beloved sim racing game.
Project CARS 2 (Captured on Xbox One S)
Fast forward to the wonderful year that is 2020. Slightly Mad Studios is back with an announcement of the third instalment of the now beloved sim racing title, Project CARS 3. Project CARS fans all over the world swelled with excitement knowing they will be getting yet another full on realistic racing simulation, until the trailer for Project CARS 3 was further analysed by the fans in detail leaving the fans quite worried. The trailer was portrayed to be a more light hearted and less realistic take on Project CARS, baring a few similarities with the popular arcade racer "GRID".
Although skeptical, fans didn't lose all hope just yet, I mean, it was just a trailer right? Fans carried on watching out for more information to see what the game was all about. Now, things started to really get bad, it was announced that this title will be fully accessible to all types of racers and will work well with a gamepad, and fans knew the previous games were near unplayable on a controller but were rather built for a wheel. Did this mean that the game is no longer a full on sim game? Then came the final bombshell, the announcement of the removal of tire wear, pit stops and fuel usage to create a game with a focus more towards driving than the nitty gritties that come with it, oh dear...
Naturally, the dedicated and hardcore fanbase that got the title to where it is today were, and are in fact, extremely mad about the situation and felt utterly disregarded with fans all over saying they refuse to purchase the title and many trying for refunds on the game. Well, now that you know the story behind Project CARS 3, let's get into what the game is actually like.
Project CARS 3 (Captured on Xbox One X)
Being a hardcore sim racer, a more relaxed sim racer (with games like Forza Motorsport) as well as an arcade racer, all these controversial topics surrounding Project CARS 3 made me want to pick it up even more. After about a week of gameplay, this is what I've deduced:
1. The Graphics
I always found Project CARS to be a pretty decent looking game on Xbox (my primary platform), especially Project CARS 2 one the One X, not to say it looked bad on the S but there was quite a significant difference. Upon purchasing Project CARS 3, I knew what I was getting into due to days of research before making the purchase, but was at least expecting graphics to be on par with that of Project CARS 2 on my One X. The graphics, although not bad on the X, were definitely significantly lower than that of Project CARS 2 on the same console, which is quite a shame considering the amount taken out of the game could've left space for higher graphical fidelity, right? The car models still look great and the environment looks quite good as well, but the main negative stand out is the quality, as well as frame rate, of the reflections on the cars even on the high-end consoles which is quite unfortunate. On my One S I noticed a downgrade in lighting through a loss of shadow casting at night which was in fact found in Project CARS 2 even on the lower consoles, as well as quite high pixelation even on full HD, especially in car interiors at night. The reflections issue becomes even more prominant on the S with even more stutter. However, besides the reflections and pixelation (the latter not being a problem on the One X), I don't have much to comaplain about. The game still looks very visually appealing both on track and regarding the car itself. I definitely saw an improvement in water splashes in rain as well as tire smoke and dust effects which really look great in Project CARS 3. So graphically, it isn't too bad!
Is that a Supra!?
2. The Gameplay
How great a game is always boils down to one question; how fun is the gameplay? Yes they removed the core aspects of what makes the game a hardcore sim, but as a lover of all racing genres in gaming I must say wow, they nailed the gameplay! The game is extremely enjoyable on a controller and just feels great! Really top class in terms of physics, even being less hardcore in terms of sim racing. On a wheel, particularly the Logitech G920, the game too feels incredible! Again, not as intense as you'd expect from Project CARS 2, but still feels relatively realistic and adds a sense of enjoyment to the handling. However, if you're stuck on the way Project CARS 2 feels, this may not be entirely to your liking, however it doesn't feel childish or unrealistic at all on the wheel but rather is just a bit less intense, if you can get your head around that I'd definitely give it a go in terms of game feel, or if you're an arcade gamer looking for something new then this will work for you too! It genuinely can work for any kind of racing gamer. On top of that, there is good progression, fun races, grinding for money, amazing tracks and routes and customisation of scenarios all around. My only real complaint being the AI at certain times, which in one race will be near unbeatable and the next fall 15 seconds behind even on the same difficulty level, that's a bit odd. So, the game is in fact extremely fun! And it feels NOTHING like GRID, they are two completely different games! Oh, I almost forgot to mention, online racing is a hoot as well!
Just a good old fashioned race.
3. The Content
Project CARS 3 may not be on the level of Forza Motorsport 7 in terms of car list, but the track list is beyond incredible! With over 120 different routes from a wide variety of both real as well as fictional racing circuits and routes to choose from as well as the ability of dynamic weather, time of day and choice of seasons for each event definitely makes this game stand out from the competition, however the loss of Rally Cross or off-road events as a whole is significantly disappointing. Although the game may not boast just as many cars as Forza Motorsport, the variety and choices of cars in the game is great! Especially when it comes to racing cars (which I believe Forza Motorsport lacks in lately). It also includes fan favourites generally not found in other games such as the Chevrolet C8 Corvette, the Toyota GR Supra and even the Koenigsegg Jesko! In terms of car upgrades, the system is quite decent, however is certainly not on the level of Forza Motorsport. In terms of visual upgrades, you get a choice of wheels, tire designs (which I feel every racing game needs) as well as a very basic livery editor which is all a step in the righ direction. The game certainly has enough to keep you entertained, that's for sure!
I do miss my Rally Cross (Captured in Project CARS 2)
The Final Verdict
The team at Slightly Mad Studios definitely had the right idea of being more inclusive, however implemented it completely wrong, thus leaving their core fanbase behind. There's nothing wrong with the idea of being more accessible to all, but there's ways to do it. Take a look at the Forza franchise for example, taking a predominantly realistic closed world ciruit game and branching into a seperate series for different gamers to enjoy, this being the Horizon series. Same goes for DiRT, which gave the hardcore sim racers the DiRT Rally series but also branched off into a more arcadey and light hearted franchise being DIRT 5. Both companies became more accessible for different racing gamers and continue to make the normal sim racers or more hardcore driving games, therefore catering for both markets and not disregarding any old fans, or new fans for that matter. Project CARS 3 should not have been called Project CARS 3 but rather should've been a seperate game under a similar name like Forza Horizon and DIRT 5. The real Project CARS 3 should've been saved for another year and should've kept focus on the hardcore sim racing therefore having two seperate games under the same name and satisfying different fan bases.
However, as you can probably see in my further above points, Project CARS 3 is by no means a bad game. Yes it definitely needs some work and further optimisation but honestly it is a super refreshing and exciting experience and I cannot get enough of it! It's extremely fun, challenging, exciting and just overall well made, it is by no means a money grab and Slightly Mad Stuidos have put huge effort into making the game useable on different input devices, and for that, good job team! I definitely recommend picking it up if you're in it for the fun factor and for a refreshing racing experience whether you use a wheel or controller. But, due to the fact that Project CARS 3 lost what made a Project CARS game a Project CARS game, I would definitely not recommend it to those wanting a Project CARS 2 experience or even a near experience, it's significantly different and the sim racer in me finds that quite disheartening regardless of how much I actually love Project CARS 3.
I've said it once and I'll say it again and again, the largest problem is not the game itself at all as the game is genuienly incredible, but rather what the game is called. A slightly different name, even calling it Project CARS *insert title here* over Project CARS 3 would've been a win all around and the core fans would not have felt neglected and left behind but rather would've been happy to wait for another fully fledged sim racer from Slightly Mad Stuidos.