Slightly Mad Studios has given us two Project CARS games so far, and in late August the studio should be ready to deliver the third entry in the series. With the game's release date edging ever closer, Bandai Namco was kind enough to send over a preview version of the game to try it out, and after my first test drive, here's what I think.
There are a few new things to be excited about in Project CARS 3. First off there's the brand new "FTUE - First-time user experience" tool, which is a welcome edition for newcomers. If you've never touched a racing-sim before, or if you're just not sure what settings to use, this is a great tool to determine which driving assists you should enable or AI difficulty to choose. I've played more than my fair share of racing games over the years, so this wasn't really applicable
for me, but it is definitely something that will be a welcome addition for new or casual race fans.
Another thing never seen in previous Project CARS games is the ownership and customisation of cars. Finally, you can buy the car you want, make it look how you want it to look, and then upgrade it until it's an absolute beast. This basically means you can use the Mitsubishi Lancer you unlocked early in the game throughout races in several classes, upgrading it as you progress through the career. The career system works similarly to those you might know from other racing games; you race across different categories with lower-tier cars and work your way up until you're racing around in monstrously powerful racecars.
A new addition to offline play is Rivals. This is a leaderboard-based competition that includes daily, weekly and monthly challenges for the whole community to try. It has three different game modes consisting of Hot Lap, Pacesetter and Breakout. In Hot Lap you get one shot to set the best time possible. Depending on the setup for the active event, you can restart it as many times as you want, but you only do one lap at the time. In Pacesetter you have to complete three consecutive clean laps to set an average time. Breakout makes us break blocks and earn points accordingly depending on speed and combos. Some of the blocks might be located outside of the original track limits, so the normal racing rules do not apply in this one. All these Rivals leaderboard are split into divisions, and the higher the division, the better the rewards you can earn.
Finally, what really matters most for every sim racer is the gameplay, and this seems well balanced by the Slightly Mad team. The feeling of taking a corner while having too much speed or racing on a wet surface has never felt more real to us, both with a racing wheel and a controller. The controller handling has been completely revamped for this third iteration, and the game plays better with a controller than ever before. On my Logitech G29 wheel or even with the Astro C40 controller in hand, I really felt the twists and turns, the braking and acceleration. Project CARS 3 delivers a great feeling of racing at speed.
But what is it missing? Well, first of all, there is no more rallycross. Some of us enjoyed this a lot in PC2, but with the Dirt Rally series having the official licenses to the tracks and cars, it seems like Slightly Mad Studios has put their focus on what they know the best, and they do a great job when it comes to handling. The racing itself does feel a lot like a combination of a true sim- racer on asphalt, and something you might experience in the likes of Wreckfest; you get positive points for "dirty overtakes" and there are no penalties at all for crashing into your opponents. If this is going to be different in the final version, it's hard to say, but the preview notes that were sent over with this early build said nothing on the matter, so I would expect it to be the same in the full release too.
Overall Project CARS 3 showed a lot of promise, but there is still work to be done before release. We still look forward to its arrival on PC, PS4, and Xbox One on August 28, and even with the issues I faced during this test, I look forward to taking this one out for another spin.