Project Cars is responsible for a first in my life, my first 4K gaming experience. In an era where open world driving games seem to be the more successful of the four wheeled genre, Project Cars has gone to a very traditional route. One that games like Gran Turismo has treaded and arguably worn out over many years.
Photo-realism in both environments and cars is not just possible but also essential. Manufactures get the final say on the cars they’ve licensed as well as track owners and sponsors having to clear their input as well. We’ve said before, in an interview with Project Cars Creative Director Andy Tudor, that photo realistic driving games should not only be the norm but are practically the only option. The technology is there, the capability is there and the requirement to produce games like this demands it.
However, pulling off the technical excellence is one thing. Giving a game a feel and a character on top of that is another thing entirely. It’s something we felt DriveClub was lacking. It’s something I find personally with the later Gran Turismo’s. Something about them feels a bit nebulous in the cars and the driving itself. You could argue that I’m being a tad pious but simulations and arcade games should be able to define the cars ability much clearer in these times. Especially when a game like Assetto Corsa is doing it independently of big publishers and money.
So where does Project Cars sit in this? I have to say, especially to a console audience, it sits at the top of the pile. There are many things that games like Forza Horizon 2 and DriveClub have done well independently like great lighting, dynamic weather, day/night cycles and car customization. Project Cars does it all, excellently, from the get go.
Firstly when tackling the selection of cars, this is very much a racing game, not a streetcar racing game. These are the kind of cars you’d see at a weekend at Brands Hatch, Silverstone or Nurburgring. Not just your big DTM, LMPG supercars, McLaren’s and Pagani’s but the other classes and manufactures closer to the street like Ford, Mercedes-Benz, and BMW. The interesting thing is that the vintage cars are well represented here too. From my guilty pleasure of a Ford Capri to my non-guilty pleasure of old Lotus F1 cars, everything is not only perfectly reproduced but the way the cars drive are all unique and challenging in themselves. This is a game for people who know names like Jason Plato, Alain Menu and Jim Clark as well as names like Andre Lotterer and Tom Kristensen.
The tracks range from actual circuits like the ones listed above and including many others across the globe like Australia’s Bathurst and California’s Laguna Seca with its infamous Corkscrew turn. But it also stretches to real albeit less licensed areas like the Cote d’Azur or Monaco, as we all know it. There are even some nice fictional road trip areas to the region, as well as the California area, to give you that off-the-track feel.
The real magic of this game is its dynamic environment system. The game has settings that can change the weather randomly or by design, everything from clear days to rain and thunderstorms. The date and time is also customizable with an option to speed up the progression of time so that you can literally experience four seasons in one day… One full day, that is, with night included. You can also historically set the date and time of a race so that it takes historic weather data to produce what was actually happening at the time. June 3rd 1984 at Cote d’Azur would certainly be one of my recommendations.
All of this works perfectly well straight from the off and whilst there are still a few bugs in the preview we played, these are mostly fine-tuning of cars handling and collision dynamics. Make no mistake about it, this is a game that will be enjoyed by the virtual petrol heads, as well as the more casual intrigued racer, but it will take some mastering, as it should do. If playing Gran Turismo has taught me one thing it’s that repetition is key to driving. Project Cars however makes that just a bit more fun than previous genre titles. This is definitely helped by the immersive graphics. These look great on the PS4 preview build we played and it has all the traditional views you’d expect, including the more immersive helmet cam.
This is where my first 4K gaming experience came in to play however. I was lucky enough to play the game on a PC at 4K, 30fps (the game can handle 60fps, but the TV we were using couldn’t) and with a wheel. At this point the game really blooms. Things that you might not notice so much on the console really shine. For example I went around Cote d’Azur circuit in a generic pre-hybrid Formula 1 car in the helmet cam view. Firstly the things you notice are the things that racing drivers actually do.
Your view naturally turns to look at the corner but your virtual head barely turns. What it does is focus on the corner, which completely alters the depth of field you have to your dashboard and the surrounding environment. It’s a subtle touch that naturally happens anyway if you drive and might even pass you by because it is that natural. Secondly, the lighting changes and the shadows move around the inside of your helmet as you go around a track. It’s when you notice that the game is doing this everywhere that it really begins to impress you. With the future of Oculous Rift support, this game’s immersive racing will be a massive cut above other PC options and definitely a rival to the independent games currently available.
Driving with the wheel certainly left my arm a little sore thanks to force feedback and occasional collisions. But what was certain was that it was far easier and much more fun than using the controller. That deftness of throttle control is hard to achieve any other way and the game certainly rewards you for using this method. Having used a wheel for other games, this game is definitely worth the sacrifice of savings to get a good wheel and seat combo.
The game has had a few delays, which is understandable once you play it and see the work that has gone in to it. Mid-March is the current estimate but I wouldn’t be surprised if it went a bit further back just to perfect it. Because that is something this game prides itself on, its perfection. With a 30fps cap*, the PS4 handles the game well and I would presume that the Xbox One does the same thanks to the newer SDK’s giving more memory usage. Although the release is planned to be 60fps. How the Wii U version will turn out is anyone’s guess. But if you are the kind of person who has the time and money to build a phenomenal PC and can support 4K gaming, then start saving now.
*This cap refers to the experience of the preview build on PS4 that we played. Not the final product.
This preview is based on a preview build, played on a PS4 and a PC.