IN the crowded field of racing games, some try hard to be liked, others make it difficult to be loved. Project CARS doesn’t appear to care but lays down the welcome mat if you invest in the relationship.
The likes of Forza Horizon seduce with upbeat storylines and flash supercars whereas series such as Gran Turismo demand you kneel before the franchise and pay your dues by starting out in the equivalent of a shopping trolley.
Project CARS (the name comes from Community Assisted Racing Simulator, indicating its crowd-funded roots) does neither. It lacks the licences for many glamour marques and eschews the frivolity of anything such as a narrative. It asks just one thing: learn to compete in a wide range of motors (karts to F1-style open-wheelers) around an abundance of lesser-known tracks.
You get to travel a selection of familiar venues such as Monza, Silverstone and Bathurst but it’s the less-celebrated and a few fictional destinations that piqued my interest the most. Maybe you’ll find it annoying that the lack of financial clout forces awkward name swaps such as dubbing Formula 1 as “Formula A”. But only obsessives will care.
Generously, every vehicle and every circuit beckons from the off – there’s no requirement to unlock anything via a tortuous progression of repeats. Instead, several modes beckon from the get-go, including one-off races, online matches and career.
True to its origins in the PC world, CARS plays like a simulator, where clinging to the outside of the kerb by a filament of rubber is essential on every corner. But, forgivingly, a broad swathe of optional driver aids means you don’t have to be Sebastian Vettel to stand a chance.
Sudden (if always signposted) weather changes can demand new strategies mid-race, keeping you on your toes when the rain or fog comes in. AI drivers show just enough aggression and respect to make things interesting – but they’re no match for a packed grid of real players.
Dig deeper and you’ll find an unexplained wealth of tuning options (differentials, aerodynamics, etc) that both intimidate and intrigue. Perhaps betraying its lower budget, the game itself doesn’t enlighten but fan-made content online will.
At times visually stunning and yet occasionally buggy, Project CARS is an enticing drive. It offers up a petrolhead’s playground with a style all its own. Take me as I am, it says.