Slightly Mad Studios' latest effort is exactly the kind of game you've been waiting if you're a race fan and an owner of a PS4.
To reduce Project CARS by only judging it on its visuals would be unfair. But we can't help ourselves as the game looks so incredibly rich, even on console. We got our preview version from Bandai Namco and it appears to be a near finished version - and we find ourselves booting it up simply to take in its beauty.
Soaked in rain and racing through a storm is incredible. The weather effects are really leading the way, especially playing from one of the three cockpit perspectives. If water fills the windshield with fine spray, you're completely blind. If you're not in first place you'll be happy to see the brake lights of the cars in front of you. If you lead, you have fewer problems with water spray, but you must still deal with aquaplaning and with pursuers chasing your tail. This makes for a great experience and really feels brand new for console racing games. Of course they have built in a full day-night cycle, and the pace at which time flies can be adjusted. Two weather characteristics can be chosen per race, so that the race starts in the harshest of storms to later develop into a great golden sunrise.
But that's just the looks. It naturally comes second to the driving experience - and Slightly Mad have really nailed that. The Mercedes-Benz 300 SEL 6.8 AMG, for example, is exactly the beast that it is in real life. Difficult to control, powerful, an unruly force. A 800-hp prototype and with enough downforce to rival a black hole if its tires are warm enough. Just right that is, not too hot or worn out.
Before we start, the game asks us what kind of driver we consider ourselves. There are three basic choices that adjust the many settings, beginner, amateur, and professional. The goal is to make the experience for every type of player as entertaining as possible - and the game manages to achieve just that. Of course you can make adjustments to these presets, fine-tuning to an absurd level if you wish to do so. This includes the ability to equip the configurable HUD manually and to be able to move elements, such as telemetry, lap counter or minimap to fixed points in the visual field. Visual effects such as lens flare or filters can be switched on and off. You can also customise setups for tire pressure and brake settings and modify the force feedback for the steering wheel or controller.
If you set the gaming experience to simulation, you quickly realise how difficult it is to drive a Porsche (uh, sorry a Ruf GTR) in the pouring rain on a narrow track. If you start in the pack you will repeatedly experience violent pile-ups in harsh weather conditions, where cars crash into each other wildly and roll over.
We're not yet allowed to write about most of the tracks in Project CARS, but the selection is huge and includes many classics from all over the world. In this version 70 cars are included, with focus on the European manufacturers. There are sports cars from McLaren and Mercedes-Benz, but also open wheel formula cars and vinyl covered touring options. The selection speaks to some great taste and deep knowledge of motorsports, and is designed purely with racing in mind. None of that pesky marketing of new models from all kinds manufacturers (as far as we can tell). It doesn't claim to be as complete as Gran Turismo or Forza Motorsport. Everything included here has a role to fill and has been well-implemented.
In this build we were able to play race weekend and training modes, although there is of course a full career mode and Time Trials with online leaderboards, and there's an online mode. The career you can start in different classes and there are some really nice touches, but we'll leave that for a later time... No matter what, the session settings for the quick race weekend are as expected. That said, you can race against up to 35 opponents, which is a nice surprise. You can set the number of laps or set a rolling start, test laps, a qualifier or a warm-up lap for the tires.
As we play the DualShock 4 speaks to us. Literally. All commands from the pit team and explanations of the game are delivered with a snarling sound from the controller's speaker; a fun feature. The nine camera views Slightly Mad offers up are convincing, with the best being the three different perspectives from inside the cockpit, and each is useful in its own right. In addition to the previously mentioned rain effects, heat effects makes this a racing game that demands your attention. We only wished we had a decent steering wheel for the PS4, but even with the controller the experience is often breathtaking.
Project CARS is a belated Christmas gift for racing fans, especially for those playing on Xbox One and PS4 who are looking for a great racing simulation. While Forza Motorsport 5 is a very good representative of the genre, on PS4 there is currently no competition, something Slightly Mad Studios is likely very happy about. The PC version is as lovely as expected, but there is much harder competition there. On PS4, however, Project CARS will provide the benchmark at least until Gran Turismo 7 dares to sneak out from pit lane.