Last year, I wrote an article for TechDissected, which I’ve updated here, on Assetto Corsa. It is still one of my favorite games on my Steam playlist to this date. But recently, Slightly Mad Studios has released a competitor to it, and the likes of Gran Turismo and Forza called Project Cars. It’s been a long time coming, and I wanted to get a feel for the difference between the two PC titles. Let’s explore how SMS takes on a racing simulator.
Right off the bat, the menu screen is a little busy for me. A lot of graphics and selections to make. Selections like Career Mode, Time Trials, and Practice mode all live here. If you need to do some more under the hood, you visit the tab on the top right for “Home” where you can edit settings on your cars before the race. There are also a myriad of audio, video, and gameplay settings. One thing I did notice when you fire this game up for the first time, is it asks you what type of driver you are. From here you can adjust your settings, but you can change them as time progresses as you see fit.
There are many sub-menus and settings to be changed in this game. If you have a controller or a wheel, you can edit these settings in their settings menu, to the nth degree. It allows you to fully set up your wheel or controller and individually assign buttons to functions. However, remembering what they do afterwards is always an issue for me.
Of course, what would a racing game be without game modes? There’s solo, online, driver network, career and time trials to name a few. Of course some will suit people more than others, but I’ll give you an overview of what the different modes are and do.
This mode allows you to set up a race, pit against Project Cars AI. I’ve seen races with as many as 30 cars, so it can get pretty intense. This is a great mode for practicing for career mode, where you deal with the AI on a high level. You can investigate how they take corners and react to your presence. You can also learn the track this way, by falling into line and following the AI and making better use of their racing line. I don’t find it to be helpful for learning the track, as I like time trial for that.
This is my favorite mode personally. It pits you on a track against the clock. This is where I learn how to go faster on a track I know, and learn a track I don’t know. You can change the setup in the pits, and you get sector times to track your progress on decreasing your lap times. Here you can adjust your racing line, your braking zones and your corner entry/exit without compromising other cars.
This is the mode that most folks from Forza and Gran Turismo will want to jump into. Slightly Mad Studios have even broken it down further for you and given you 3 modes within Career to whet your racing style. You can choose to win the Formula A championship within 7 seasons, win three different titles in three seasons or defend your championship win by winning three seasons in a row, within the same title. While I chose the first option to start out, the other two are quite desirable to have available, as you gain skill with the game, it would be quite fun to enjoy further annihilating your opponents.
This says exactly what it means. You pick a game to enter, and race against anyone that enters. These are self hosted (not my favorite type by a long shot), and usually contain a practice session, a qualifying session and a race. Some allow you to enter after the race starts, and some do not. Most are a range of cars within a class, and some are multi-class races , which I find quite fun. This is the mode where you find out where you stack up against good drivers and bad.
This mode tests my patience every time I enter a lobby. You either have a group of drivers who are wholly better than you with a few stragglers, or a room full of “noobs” who love racing games, but don’t understand the concept of the word “backmarker.” More on this later.
This is another great mode. Similar to Gran Turismo’s weekly challenges, this offers a way for you to test yourself against other drivers around the world on the same track with the same car. You are racing against time, and can find yourself on the leaderboard in the end. They also offer prizes for some of them, where you can win peripherals by being top of the board!
But It Looks So Good
There is no doubt that Project Cars looks good. Since I saw a demo of it at CES 2014, I was impressed. Lens flare, reflections of the landscape in the windows, or even that annoying flash of the high noon sun off the rear window of the car ahead is all included and in glorious fashion. With the 60x time advance, you can get a full day of racing in, in just a few laps. The rain falling, splashes on the windscreen and your helmet, will smudge all of the important things you want to see. Sunsets and sunrises are extraordinarily realistic as your monitor turns into a ball of fire as you drive into them.
My Radeon R9 290 has no trouble running it in Ultra settings, and I’m thankful for that, as I’d never know what I was missing without it. Toss in some fantastic headphones like the HyperX Cloud II, and you have the perfect recipe for a great experience.
This is where the trouble begins for me. I can compare this to many racing games, but I will only compare it to two recent titles, as I have vast experience with them.
I’m not going to lie, once you figure where to go in the menu the jump in and race feature is very good. I can’t discount this game for that. It has a Gran Turismo feel to it, which means it is easy to jump in and get started. That means more fun quicker right? Maybe.
The menu is way too busy for me compared to Assetto Corsa. Simplicity is key for me here. I need to know what car I’m driving on what track and what the weather is. I find there is too much happening in Project Cars for me to get that information quickly.
The gameplay is good. The feeling of the cars are much better than Gran Turismo, but lacks a certain “urgency” that Assetto Corsa provides. When you are driving a car on the limit, there should be some racing heart beat and sweat. Project Cars feels like an Arcade video game in this aspect. The cars feel a little too “easy” to correct, and a sloppy line through a corner isn’t penalized as harshly as in AC.
In addition, the online gameplay is OK, but the added profile rankings make for difficult gameplay. The rankings were made so SMS can find out what type of driver you are when there is a complaint about you, I’d imagine. It retains information about how many yellow flags you’ve caused, how many races you start and how many you finish.
This type of thing is the direct result of being a popular game. As you garner more people, you increase the amount of poor drivers. The reason I say poor drivers is because most of the good simulation drivers already know about games like Project Cars. When you add poor drivers, you add stress to the average drivers, which in turn causes stress to the good drivers.
When you play games like Assetto Corsa, you have an expectation about the clientele that will be using the game. Since it is based on a true simulation with laser scanned tracks, you expect people to be as serious as the creators. I feel like Project Cars has made rather large compromises to appeal to a larger demographic. This will either make or break this title.
The second day of release, I played this game online for about three hours. In those three hours, I experienced four game crashes, two online games where my car started in the sky above the track and multiple people using my car as their brake pedal. I’m hoping it will get better.
While I paid $50 for this game, I’m not sure its even worth the $30 I spent on Assetto Corsa. While the amount of players is much higher in the online mode, the quality is not. The compromises Slightly Mad Studios weaseled into the game, changed how I felt, especially compared to seeing it at CES2014. Instead of being a racing simulator, its more like an arcade racer with support for simracing gear (wheels, pedals, TrackIR).
I feel that with the support of the two consoles and PC, Project Cars has the upper hand over Forza and Gran Turismo, but they have a lot of work to do on the quality of the game, and the driving skill required to play it. It has been in development for quite a number of years, yet the aggregate score on the XBox One version is a mere 59%; mainly because you lose controller support during the game. It is this type of massive oversight that can wreak havoc on a title and really needs to be brought under control.
I can get by with the noob racers, and the sometimes idiotic AI (not one racing game really has it right yet), but the fact that one of the versions on release loses connectivity with the controller? This seems like something QA should have caught months ago. It makes me wonder what pushed the release back in the first place, if this still happened.
If you are excited like I was, certainly pick up this game. But rest assured, when you get hit from behind in an online game, it will be anyone but me.