Thrustmaster T300 RS Steering Wheel – Review

thrustmaster-inracing

How to play racing games – Step One: Get a wheel.

It may seem like a simple and obvious instruction and one that is only acceptable if you are a racing game nerd, but the truth is that certain video games come much more alive and enjoyable with a peripheral. Racing games are most definitely one of them.

When we knew we were going to review Project Cars, we knew that Thrustmaster had been working with Slightly Mad Studios in developing their new wheel and said “hey, want us to try it out?” And they did! So after some creative construction, a frame was created to test the Thrustmaster T300RS wheel and the T3PA 3 pedal add on. I’m by no stretch an expert in wheels so consider me a good novice who’s riding the next generation hardware introduction beside you.

T300RS

Why did I make a frame? Well firstly height is an issue. If you’ve got a regular office chair for gaming, you need an acceptable height for the wheel. But you don’t need spend hundreds of pounds on a steel frame, although you can, and I would recommend it if you want the comfiest experience possible.

If you’re worried about spending a lot of money on a wheel and having a ghetto frame for it, don’t worry. I have a piano stool that mostly I use for putting my feet on and, with some parental DIY help, reconstituted an old draw to sit on top of it. It’s completely fine and very stable given the force feedback.

t3pa_1

Force feedback is an amazing thing, which has only got better since the days of Microsoft’s SideWinder controller. It brings a realism that breathes new life into a game. But enough of me babbling about how easy the set up and placement of a wheel is, let’s get to it.

The T300 RS is the first official PS4 wheel and comes with a detachable wheel in case you want to ever want to swap it for other add-ons. The wheel is very solid with a rubber texture for easy non-sweaty gripping, solid paddle shifters made of metal and easy to reach buttons for boosts, adjustments and pausing.

The wheel unit itself has a big motor that is actually rather quiet given the input it can throw out on you. The technical is that it’s a brushless motor with a dual belt. There’s a mount on the bottom for you to screw it down securely and believe me you’ll need to. The buttons are all excellently placed and responsive with standard controller layout and more cockpit style placement of the trigger controls. It’s a sleek black and all in all is a good-looking thing, although the mount isn’t particularly friendly to desks with a beam or metal bar underneath.

The pedal set up we have is the T3PA, which is a three pedal unit available separately – clutch, brake and accelerator. There’s a mode button on the wheel to invert the clutch and accelerator, which I’m assuming is useful for some people. But they are robust metal pedals and the brake pedal actually has some good resistance like a real car and makes for some interesting late braking fear in the games. There is something called a conical rubber brake mod included (a big bolt-adjustable rubber stopper) which basically means you can adjust the pedal to have more resistance which is good if you’re heavy on the brakes. All of the pedals are adjustable too in both height and position so you can have wider pedal spacing.

driveclub_20150119142uzj2l

The games we tested the wheel on were Project Cars and DriveClub on PS4, Euro Truck Simluator 2 on Mac and finally GRID 2 and Gran Tourismo 6 on PS3. So don’t worry, there’s plenty of games it works on and with Assetto Corsa, F1 2015 and WRC 5 coming for the PS4, there’s plenty of next generation stuff coming for you. A note that we couldn’t get the pedals working with Euro Truck Simulator 2 on the Mac, but the wheel worked fine. On investigation on forums there isn’t a single issue on PC so it’s probably a Mac driver issue. PC users, you are good to go.

It is strange though that the most problem I had with the use of the wheel was mostly dictated by the games themselves. For example, whilst there’s several adjustments you can make on Project Cars for the wheel’s force feedback, steering resistance, etc, which you’d probably expect given the dual development. DriveClub by comparison has nothing and the old PC player in me would have loved some remapping options or clearer indications on what button does what (damn this no game manual age).

The thing is once you have a good wheel (which this is) it can highlight the fault in some games. You can’t get a feel for the car in some games like GRID 2 and DriveClub because the controls are so arcade like and slidey or there just simply isn’t enough to the car to warrant the precision the wheel brings, or the wrist ache from all the fighting you’re having to do with the car channelling the uneven ground and torque to the steering.

This is why I’m looking forward to F1 2015 even more now, as this is a wheel that rewards racing. Precision, practice, lap times and feedback from the track, the dirt, and the edge of a kerb you can hang on to until the last millimetre. Project Cars is definitely best for this on console at the moment and the wheel. The different between these games (and they’re all enjoyable on a wheel for the realism) is that you are constantly fighting an unsettled car and wrestling compared to understanding the car and knowing how and why it becomes unsettled.

ets2_00438

For GRID 2, there were moments that the game was kicking the car out all over the place in a straight like which the feedback and precision of the wheel could only translate violently. Which shows the power of the wheel if nothing else. If you are getting rougher with the wheel, the pedals and steering feels like it can handle it. On my forum search I found a lot more serious gaming racers than I who were worried that there would be too much plastic on the pedals especially, but everyone seems to be rather happy. So don’t feel like you can’t give it some.

There are a list of supported games on the website with many more to come on PS4. The easy switch between the PS3 and PS4 is great for those gamers who still love a bit of the older games and PC enthusiasts can use it to for all the serious simulation games and the more mercurial Euro Truck series. In a way it’s quite a nice price point too at £299 to know that you’re getting quality but not paying ridiculous sums of money for a pro set-up you’ll only use for one game. If you’ve got the PS4 and a decent PC then this is pretty good multipurpose purchase. The things you need though is somewhere sensible to set it up, something to set it up on and a spare mains plug for it.

In summary, the wheel is a fantastic bit of kit. The T300 RS is a well built and enjoyable way to experience simulation racing, and if you get it set up right in the game, it can be good for the more arcade drifting based games as well. But this is best when you’ve got the time and inclination to spend a few hours tinkering your cars downforce and feeling why the car is wrong. It’s perfectly set up and designed for this and at times can be a bit too good for games that aren’t designed as simulations.

The build quality of the wheel is great and it isn’t going to kick you all over the place. The T3PA pedal add on is great although the clutch is pretty redundant unless you get the gear shift stick peripheral as well. If I had one bit of advice, it is to remember why in real life racing drivers take their hands off the wheel when in a spin or an accident… No sprains here please.

 

Advertisements

LEGO Jurassic World – Review

LJWFT

[divider]

If you had told the late Michael Crichton that his work would eventually become LEGO, he would have said “interesting, but please don’t let it be based on The Andromeda Strain because that movie has fucking bland colours”… Ok he probably wouldn’t have said that (it’s true though, watch the Robert Wise film it’s agonisingly bland in its visuals, even as a fan of the genre) but I’m sure he would have been surprised at the lengths his 1990 book would have been expanded to. Yes Jurassic Park was a book and the film rights were brought up before it even got published.

But now it is LEGO and because of that it is the new franchise for TT Games to give their trademark treatment to. On the face of it, a game that encapsulates 22 years of dinosaur action, terror, that rubbish third movie and the second one that is always on ITV2 but we never watch it, is a good idea. For years the Jurassic Park franchise has flirted with video gaming crapness, with the exceptions of the Jurassic Park: Rampage Edition and the arcade shooting cabinet of The Lost World.

ljwrev2

So here we are with a tricky franchise and a developer who has barely ever struck out.  Naturally, this works like an absolute charm and cleverly makes you spend money to see Jurassic World so that you can understand what’s about to happen in the game. It brilliantly mixes the fantastic visuals that the movies have created and the nostalgia that they invoke with the playful humour that has been tried and tested over many family focused games… More on that later.

As you would expect with any LEGO game, and even the ones we’ve recently reviewed, the gameplay is exactly the same as any other LEGO game – smash all the things, get all the studs and unlock all the people whilst enjoying creatively re-imagined parts of the titular franchise. It looks great on the version we played and isn’t an engine that stretches the older consoles either, so you’re all good on whatever platforms you’re using.

The two islands of Jurassic, Isla Nublar and Isla Sorna, are lovingly recreated with different areas for each movie, echoing the Visitors’ Centre of Jurassic Park, the terrible monsoon of The Lost World and the broadwalk of the new Isla Nublar complex from Jurassic World. There’s lots of interesting things for you to do and stuff to break and the levels have lots of fun things to juxtapose against the terror. Good points include the Jurassic Park theme music-box, an achievement for giving Timmy an electric shock and the continued presence of Jeff Goldblum, which is always a good thing.

It’s an incredibly evocative experience, especially if like me Jurassic Park was one of the first movies you saw in the cinema that wasn’t just a cartoon/kids film. That beautiful and dramatic score by John Williams is there in full effect, including some of the finer points of Michael Giacchino’s score for Jurassic World (the lovely horn motif that plays during the free roaming of the broadwalk is my stand out favourite). So you’ll get around twenty main missions, five from each movie, where you can revel in all of your nostalgic memories of the movies.

Like the most recent LEGO games, there are vocal clips from the movies in abundance, although a lot has also been re-recorded by the wealth of vocal talent in the industry (including Troy Baker and Nolan North). Sadly this includes Samuel L. Jackson from the first movie, but that’s presumably because his lines were delivered with a cigarette in his mouth and are quite hard to hear, and that he isn’t the most family friendly character… Again, more on that later.

ljwrev1

The key moments of all the movies are well represented although the first and last movies are the most creative and fun. The only problems with the others, which are problems with the movies in the first place, are that they become a little bit derivative. There are lots of leafy green areas, overrun jungles and hiding spots. The puzzles mostly involve opening things and avoiding dinosaurs, which, after a few hours, becomes very similar and familiar. Not that there isn’t new character or exactly the same puzzles but you do begin to get a sense of repetitiveness.

There are some nice chase missions that are included as a bonus, like being the dinosaurs rather than the humans. But if I were honest, I would have enjoyed them more in the actual game as a way to mix up the levels and make them more engaging. I only found a couple of bugs (a gyrosphere falling through the world and a few character changing issues, as well as a infinitely renewable coin source), which are frustrating but not game breaking. Then there’s your standard post-game free play and free roam search-and-destroy mechanics, which are the best way to explore, as always. You get that huge world sense like you did in Lord of The Rings and Harry Potter that makes you want to explore. Simple, engaging and intriguing – the perfect mix.

Yet there is one thing that hasn’t sat well with me, and it’s taken me a week to realise exactly what it was. I finally realised it is something that is completely missing from LEGO Jurassic World. Maybe I hadn’t noticed before consciously but it’s present in every other film based franchise LEGO game I’ve played. It’s possibly something to do with LEGO’s family friendly nature that they couldn’t show, despite having shown it before. So whilst I’m pointing it out and getting it off my chest, I’m not judging the game on it, and neither should you. Unfortunately, in my opinion, it’s one of the things that the Jurassic Park franchise not only excels at but also relies upon. I am talking about death.

One of the greatest things about the original Jurassic Park movie is how it doesn’t take itself too seriously. The falling banner about dinosaurs as the T-Rex roars is not only a great visual but also an amazingly ironic juxtaposition, purposefully created. It’s an easy joke but the death of the cowardly “blood-sucking lawyer” is black comedy at it’s action movie finest. Most of Ian Malcolm’s greatest quips are about avoiding death in an almost Woody Allen-esque overly talkative way (not surprising given that Goldblum’s debut was in Allen’s Annie Hall, and he siphons the actor/director tremendously in the films). But, and this isn’t a spoiler, nobody dies in LEGO Jurassic World.

ljwrev3

There are the all-important people eating scenes but all of them blissfully avoid actually committing to the death of a character, regurgitating them after, or just casually changing their death to a relevant whimsical scene. But, and maybe I’m being too adult about this, death is a central theme of the film series and is something that is expertly handled by them. Most of the deaths in the movies are comically based, rather than terror based (with the exception of Jurassic World), yet the complete avoidance of them in the game actually takes away something from the story and the fiction. I get why it’s happened because, a dinosaur eating someone is pretty terrifying. But it’s not as if the games haven’t done death before.

Another thing, and maybe I’m being picky, is a completely needless mini-game involving the Pachycephalosaurus. At first I thought it would serve a purpose to teach you a new mechanic but it just teaches things you already know from the earlier missions and is just there to divert the play from the story a little so you can explore the area. But you then have a part where you use the dinosaur as a battering ram before beating off your fellow Pachycephalosaurus’s in what is almost a dinosaur version of cock fighting. All this happening in a tourist arena with P.A. bellows of “oh don’t worry, he has the hardest head,” as if crying virtual LEGO children are in the stands pleading with mummy as to why the dinosaurs are trying to kill each other. There is a relevant symbolism in this with the movie of Jurassic World, which I won’t spoil, but it’s lost a bit in the game given that it doesn’t attempt to put the more moral dimensions of the plot in to any context.

After a few hours back on the islands, I must conclude that LEGO Jurassic World is an excellent nostalgic love letter to a series we all hoped would have a good game waiting to evolve from it. Although the movies are PG, I feel that the humour and the game itself has been aimed at too younger a player and could have had a bit more freedom in using the source material (Jurassic World is 12A). All of the excellent LEGO staples are there, including character and dinosaur creations, and it all works brilliantly. It is most definitely the best Jurassic Park/World game made and a good LEGO game, but could have done with a little more appreciation of what the audience can handle.

[tabs]

[tab title=”Summary”]

This is probably the best LEGO game in a while, at least since Lord of the Rings for me personally. The Jurassic Park franchise fits it very well and TT Games has yet again, excellently put their trademark humour and enjoyable gameplay into practice. There are a few unpolished bits and the games suffer mostly from the same reasons that the movies did. Fun to play, good nostalgia and dinosaurs.

[/tab]

[tab title=”Good Points”]

– Dinosaurs, nostalgia and no expense spared.

– Great open world map.

– Another franchise that fits great with the bricks.

[/tab]

[tab title=”Bad Points”]

– A bit unpolished in places.

– The story suffers after a while, much like the movies.

– Tiny bit repetitive in the puzzles.

[/tab]

[tab title=”Why an 8?”]

Whilst I have some criticisms, I’m not judging a score based on them. But there some unpolished parts that more testing could have helped. The game though is a lot of fun and enjoyable for a while, and whilst the pace suffers during the third movie, the only problems mostly stem from the source material. Could have been a little bit tighter in places and the bonus levels would have been great

[/tab]

[/tabs]

This review is based on the PS4 version of the game.

[divider]

[author]

E3 2015: Bethesda Recap

e3bft

[divider]

As far as debut’s go, this is probably one that will live long in the memory for all of the right reasons. Bethesda took a giant leap to the stage at E3 (at the Dolby Theatre which hosts the Oscars, no less) with an already impressive level of hype.

Doom, whilst teased last year to select convention attendees and an extra three second clip last month, was very obviously going to be on the agenda. Fallout 4 was also going to be hotly anticipated and late on Saturday some leaks began to appear for Dishonoured 2 thanks to some tech-testing fluffs. But we had no idea (which is actually quite a thing in this day and age) of what was going to happen.

Doom was first out of the blocks and it did not disappoint at all. iD Software have been incredibly quiet since RAGE and lost their lead guru John Cormack to another reality. But that doesn’t seem to have dampened the original core concept of Doom or its successors – over the top, gory violence. It’s a simple concept really, to just kill all the things in a outlandish manner with big guns, but it’s very rarely executed well (pun intended).

e3b1

We saw some excellent melee attacks including a guy having his face smashed in by his own, still attached, broken leg. We saw some fantastically smooth gunplay and weapon selection and some fast and fluid movement. The things that made games like this and Quake excellent is the fast frenetic pace of the games that heighten the excitement, the fear and the adrenalin of the game, and Doom looks to have it in abundance. We were treated to a very well lit and molten factory level set on Mars which seems to have channeled all the tropes of horror science fiction with the cinematographic flair of more recent times, including a good Red Dwarf-esque mobile hand passkey that got a good laugh. We were then treated to Hell with demons coming at us from all sides and the final shot of a BFG volley cutting to black.

The most interesting thing in this is what looks like the first Next Generation console level editor. A simple tool to snap rooms and place objects to create your own levels and game types for multiplayer. Think of Halo’s Forge but with much easier room placement. This is Doom Snapmap and it looks excellent for the creative people and modders that have always been key to the franchise’s extended success. It’s something that will certainly breathe a lot of life in to multiplayer and is a great way to get people to stay involved. Especially on the console market as the game will be coming on PC, Xbox One and PS4 in Spring 2016.

Keeping with the online focus, Battlecry announced an upcoming beta. The online team based combat strategy game looks like a crazy cross between Team Fortress and a non-fantasy MOBA. It’ll be interesting to see but we’ll have to wait until the beta’s have come before we get more of an idea on the game.

e3b4

Next up was the team from Arkane Studios, who’s Dishonored completely took the critics and gamers by surprise a few years ago. Now it’s most definitely back with you being put in to the position of Corvo once again… Or you can play as the daughter of the Empress, Emily Kaldwin. This is what we were shown and it’s great to have a new female protagonist to play with. The steam punk setting is well and truly alive with some focus on the high flying speed running and magical abilities, in a totalitarian world of death and decay.

If you’re worried about playing Dishonored 2 because you missed the boat, never fear. Arkane are releasing a collected edition of Dishonored this winter with some new textures and all the DLC. This Definitive Edition is coming for PC, Xbox One and PS4… I’ll be honest, I’m very excited for it and of all the ideas I had for a remaster (if you can call it that) Dishonored was not the one I was expecting to hear from at this conference.

Another game I wasn’t expecting to hear anything about was the recently released Elder Scrolls Online, but we got a nice little video of some new areas coming to Tamriel Unlimited on both PC and Console and we’ve also been treated to a new card game call Elder Scrolls Legends (Presumably “Scrolls” was taken by someone else?), although we’ve seen nothing of it. I was also hoping to see or at least hear some news of the other Bethesda franchises like Quake and The Evil Within, but we just got their logos at the end. At least they’re still there and more may come in future.

e3b5

Speaking of the future, ready your Pip Boys. I could talk to you a lot about Fallout 4 but you should just watch the conference from 1 hour and 5 minutes in. Returning to the Wasteland, you will walk the area of Boston with your companion Dog and do as you’ve always done – explore, fight and customise. You’ll start your story pre-bombs which give a little tongue in cheek look at the psuedo-1950s lifestyle and create your character. This looks incredibly as the old style of sliders and templates have disappeared. Instead you just select the part of the face you want and just play away, regardless of gender (hurray!). You’ll wake up 200 years later as the sole survivor and are set free to explore. No spoilers.

e3b2

The customisation is incredible though, from very specific parts of guns to your heavy armour set, clothing and even building your own settlement, Fallout 4 looks to be far and away the best open world role-playing game in terms of player individuality. Creating a world to you, the player that you have affected seems to be one of the things that Fallout 4 is bringing out, which is something the other hinted to. But the technology is now here to make it happen.

Speaking of technology, the Pip Boy is updated to be more than just a static menu (as the developers know you’ll spend a lot of time there) and has become a lot more dynamic. You’ll also be able to interchange memory tapes for audio and even games. We’ve seen a good version of both Donkey Kong and Missile Command in the demo (the latter is increidbly appropriate) and there’s a lot more to come. Especially if you’ve got your eyes on the collectors edition that includes a working Pip Boy… Well sort of. This soon to be gold dust peripheral is a wearable phone dock that allows you (with a free app) to use the whole thing as a second screen and be your Pip Boy access. The app is coming anyway so anyone can do it, but having your own Pip Boy as you play? Well that’s just swell. We also have the Sims/XCom/Tiny Tower-esque Fallout Shelter. A fun little distracting building game where you become the overseer of your own vault, released for free last night on iOS.

Bethesda didn’t show a lot but truthfully they didn’t need to. It was a lesson in how a company can show a minimal amount of products but with a huge amount of quality. All of it coming for next generation consoles and PC. All of it absolutely captivating. Sometimes you just need to do a good job and in their debut to E3’s conference schedule, Bethesda certainly nailed it.

[divider]

[author]

Rock Band 4 – Preview

rb4ft

[divider]

It wasn’t actually that long ago that I put down Rock Band 3. It was probably about six months ago after I had an aching need to complete The Beatles Rock Band (something I’d forgotten I’d already done). I then went in to the old habit of looking through songs and making a playlist of mostly Pearl Jam songs and rocking out a bit, whilst getting frustrated that my well worn guitar was betraying me.

Where as many games press have stories of Rock Band and the preview party we’ve all attended over the past week, mine is slightly different. I was a musician for many years. Now I’m a non-practicing musician, but at the time I was (trying to remain as humble as possible) a damn good bassist who’d gone from fronting a cover band to being a bassist in a rather fast and riff frenetic punk-grunge band.

pgallery5_15_03

This movement to our awesome power trio removed a lot of the covers we had previously played. This led to Rock Band, and others, being my escape to just having a bit of fun with songs I loved. Thankfully, I was joined in this by my drummer and some other friends that has led to many drunk nights, parties and a mysteriously broken drum kit foot pedal (we all know who broke it really).

So why did we fall out of love with the game? Well, we didn’t really fall out of it, did we? We just moved on. The market got so saturated with spin offs to other music types that it became a bit of a joke. When everyone started doing the karaoke games we kind of moved away because it was no longer just “our” thing.

Our guitars and controllers through years of aggressive use were beginning to fail and we just didn’t want to spend a load of money to upgrade them. The DLC flooded our Xbox Live and PSN screens making it frustrating to find anything else released on the same day. We all moved to smaller places… Put simply, life happened and we had said goodbye to the rhythm game genre without even an epitaph.

Which is quite convenient as both Activision and Harmonix are sure that it isn’t dead. So sure in fact that both companies are releasing new games: Guitar Hero Live and Rock Band 4. The former has taken quite a dramatic turn from its previous incarnations but Rock Band is sticking with exactly what it knows. So on Monday, me and our friends from Xtreme Gaming and Xtreme Academy took to the stage and rocked out… Here I am, right there, strumming and drumming.

IMG_5096

[divider]IMG_5098

Like an old friend we had met in the pub for a nostalgic beverage, we instantly found where we were and got right back to embarrassing Dad-level party rocking in front of our peers. That is because Rock Band 4 is sticking very rigidly with what it knows, almost to a point where it looks that very little has changed whatsoever. The next generation graphics help to better animate the backgrounds going on, but the basic design is the same – square notes to hit, overdrive accumulation and deployment, vocals on top with guitar, drums and bass on the screen on scrolling towards you.

The obvious thing to say is “why change anything if it works,” which it does. The team behind Rock Band 4 are the same team that it’s always been with years of experience from Guitar Hero to the many Rock Band releases and making little tinkering adjustments each time to perfect the formula. The main thing for Harmonix’s perspective is to make sure that the gaming experience is as fun as it’s always been.

pgallery5_15_02

So we have a new next generation engine, which is in alpha build, a load of new and more refined peripherals coming along with support for all of the previous ones released on the last generation with some, and I quote, “gnarly engineering” to make the Xbox 360 stuff work with the Xbox One.

The game will have a voting system so that playlists can be dynamic and you aren’t just lumped with someone like me putting on every Pearl Jam song. The dynamic system for drum fills and the like is more refined and the vocals now become freestyle, so that even if it isn’t your strong point you won’t be punished like you would have before.

There is a lot of focus on backward compatibility with the song library from Rock Band 1, 2, 3, etc, and DLC being mostly available (thanks to a few licensing issues, it isn’t everything). If you had them all on the previous console then you can get them again for free. Xbox 360 to Xbox One and PS3 to PS4, but not across the platforms it seems. That’s 2000 odd songs, TWO THOUSAND… Better make some hard drive space available for that one.

Rock Band and Harmonix are looking to make the transition to next generation as painless as possible and because of this, Rock Band 4 we’ve been told will be the only release for this generation. The improvements and digital ability to patch the games whenever the team want means that they will be adding new content and constantly evolving the game via this method. It’ll be interesting to see if that’s stuck to, given the theories on the projected lifespan of this generation of consoles.

rb41

This is all happening thanks to the further development between Harmonix and Mad Catz. For Rock Band 3, Mad Catz actually made the official controllers and this time they’re also acting as publisher for the game, making a long partnership a lot more solid. We need to see more, as the game is scheduled for a 2015 release, from the engine, the new controllers and the soundtrack. We would like to see the new consoles actually hitting a higher frame rate and really tackle any latency.

What we want to see and what we have seen is fun. The same fun as we had before, the same well-tried and enjoyable formula that kept us all occupied with our impressive fourth button skills in the late 00s until YouTube showed us how much we truly sucked at the game. Music has changed though and the younger people (which normally translates to the best sales) of today probably won’t feel like the frustrated musicians we all did at the time.

Our decision on if we buy this game will be a mixture of the desire to experience nostalgia and if we can justify buying the equipment again if we sold it. It’s probably not a great time to release a game that can require spending £120 on equipment alone (although eBay, Amazon’s marketplace and Gumtree/Craigslist will become hunting grounds for good deals on old controllers).

Right now, the frustrated musician in me is going to put on Green Grass and High Tides and see if I can fix my broken bass-drum pedal. Then we can talk business on Xbox One and PS4 later this year.

[divider]

[author]

Project Cars – Review

pcpft

[divider]

We’ve been lucky enough to have checked out Project Cars a few times over the course of the past year. This review is going to confirm some things we’ve already said and probably you already know, which is that Project Cars is awesome.

Of course I have to talk to you about this from the console perspective, but I’m no slouch. I’m well aware of the PC offerings like Asseto Corsa and I’ve been playing racing games on this new generation of consoles very rigidly. However, this is nothing like DriveClub, this is nothing like Forza Horizon 2 and to compare them would be an error. The closest thing you could possibly compare this to is Forza Motorsport 5, but again, that would belittle the attempts of Slightly Mad Studios.

pcp1

The game has seen its bumps along the way. Funded by the community and the developers themselves, tight budget constrictions and no publisher to fund them (although Bandai Namco now have distributed the game) has seen some big ideas and some big sacrifices. The planned Xbox 360 and PS3 versions were dropped due to the consoles being unable to run them, and the WiiU version was recently put under fresh doubt for the same reason. The investment in this is now reliant on just three platforms: PC, Xbox One and PS4.

Graphically, you can easily (and I mean easily) see why other consoles would have struggled with this game. It is quite simply sublime. From the detailing in the inside of every car, to the shape and look of every car (we’ve talked to Project Cars’s Andy Tudor before about photo realism), to the look and feel of every track – Project Cars is the almost the most graphically complete racing game on the next generation consoles… Almost, with the exception maybe of DriveClub’s beautiful settings and weather dynamics, but it will take some beating. My favourite touches always involve the depth perception of the player, something exclusive to the helmet camera. You can see how your view shifts to where it needs to be as you come to a corner. You lock your attention on the apex of the corner as your dashboard becomes blurred, losing focus in favour of the next place you need to be but relying on your track knowledge as a driver to be already slowing, braking and controlling the car, especially if surrounded by other cars.

What the graphical touches do is highlight how important the thought process is of a racing driver, which given the major involvement of racing drivers in the production of the game is no surprise. The way your head turns and the focus shifts is encouraging you as the driver to always be a few steps ahead, at the minimum. As you focus on the corner, you aren’t actually looking to turn in to the corner. That thought process has already happened. What you’re thinking and looking for is the point where you can get your foot back on the accelerator and power out of that corner as quickly and as smoothly as possible. In fact the helmet cam actually be a little cheat for people who turn off the suggested driving line as it helps to to dictate your braking points.

maxresdefault

There are issues. Occasional glitches, some skipped frames, the gear changing animation frustratingly (and probably unavoidably) happens after your gear change, especially noticeable if you use manual gears, and the game’s replays also suffer from car placement glitches. There are patches due to help cure some of these issues but for the most part, the game does exactly what it needs to do on the screen. This includes some excellent customisable HUD options and data which, if you know even a minuscule amount about racing, are incredibly helpful for reasons I will embellish on later.

Behind the virtual wheel the game plays like a more hyperactive Gran Tourismo than the earlier mentioned comparisons. As far as PlayStation goes (which is the version I tested) Gran Tourismo 6 is probably the closest most recent PlayStation game to it and in the earlier parts of the game Project Cars excels it. The career mode sees you starting in karting and very quickly puts you in to souped up road cars around the more national level racing circuits. You end up signing short contracts for a season in a formula with a team with many invitational races and tournaments along the way. To be honest, this is quite nice as a career mode. Compared to DiRT and GRID’s various attempts at “fan” accumulation, and Gran Tourismo 6’s utterly asinine and soulless progression, it’s one of the best modes that isn’t narratively based (I’m counting most open-world racers as narratively based).

The only issue that I have with it is that it feels a tiny bit forced because the game doesn’t strictly need it. There’s some nice, slightly unfulfilled, career choices like making a fake twitter name and having some fans comment after every race, and some very tiny email addresses where your team give you plaudits and others invite you to races. But it’s just there to read, there’s no real interaction, there’s no way to customise your driver in helmet or design and it’s all there just to push you to the next event. But with the game having everything unlocked straight away with cars and tracks, the career mode really is there to allow us to experience every kind of car. For that reason though, it might not keep the attention of the more casual player as there isn’t really anything to achieve in a gamification sense.

pcp1

The experience is very good of course, you can tell that the karts are zippy and responsive compared to the Renault that I went in to next. You can notice how slippery your car is when the tyres aren’t up to temperature and how your car struggles with cold and unbalanced braking.  All of this is brilliantly translated by the on screen data in the HUD and there are several third party apps that can record this information for your analytical desire. After a while though, it all gets a bit too similar especially with so many similar spec cars. Whilst you do get the feeling of every car it doesn’t translate in a way on the controller that you’d have hoped for given the onus on simulation. Add in to that the rather aggressive and poor AI which you’ve undoubtedly heard about then you do get rather frustrated.

This isn’t an AI that will get out of the way for you to get an easy win. But it doesn’t get out of the way at all or give any quarter when beaten, anywhere or anytime. This leads to frustrating collisions and several occasions of being run off the road. At times in practice and qualifying when you’re the faster car and overtake someone, you’ll immediately get a blue flag telling you to let the guy back through. The AI themselves struggle with the cars level of simulation detail with occasional sliding and tricky braking. All things real drivers deal with of course but when you have to cut a corner to get out of the way, or run slightly off to get around a car pushing you off the track, and you get penalised for it with lap penalties, it feels very harsh. If it happens more than once in a short qualifying session then you’ve got no hope of setting a time. So eventually, you will get frustrated.

pcp2

However, when you use a steering wheel (we used the Thrustmaster T300 RS which will be reviewed shortly), Project Cars becomes something utterly spectacular. The video below is actually me using the wheel, racing around a shortened Monza circuit in the Formula C (Formula 3) car. What the game’s realism does is make the steering wheel a much more enjoyable, reactive and interesting experience. You feel why the cold tyres make the all the difference and how the data shows you why you are overshooting corners with cold brakes. When you change to something else, even a McLaren, you can tell that the single seater cars are light and flighty compared to the dead weight of a normal car chassis.

 

You can understand when you go around Laguna Seca’s famous corkscrew and come to the next left hander, why you stay up on a high line thanks to a horrific dip in the track that completely unbalances the car. Practice sessions not only become essential but also a fascinating journey of discovery for the tracks and the cars. It breathes new life in to the game that you probably wouldn’t expect on console. Project Cars is a responsive and intuitive game with a control method normally championed by serious PC simulators and it works brilliantly with it.

The thing is though, this game is obviously for racers and it’s not that the game isn’t interesting or intriguing to people who aren’t huge sim racing fans, but the lack of a more narrative-based career progression and things to unlock does alienate the more arcade style of players. It’s not to say that this isn’t for them at all and that everyone can’t get some enjoyment at any level because you can. But this is a simulation racing game. This is perfected for the people with the kit who take as much pleasure on a track on their own perfecting a lap and a time as they do racing others and pulling off a tricky outside overtake at high speed with dodgem car wielding AI. And on that count, Project Cars is a spectacular game and a triumph for Slightly Mad Studios and the development model they used.

[tabs]

[tab title=”Summary”]

Project Cars is the game that real console racers have probably been waiting for since Gran Tourismo 4. It’s responsive, interestingm in depth and rewards the expense of a wheel and a proper set up, whilst still being perfectly enjoyable without it. Arcade racers might get annoyed with the lack of career achievements, accolades and frustrating AI but can surely warm to that perfect lap which Project Cars captures perfectly.

[/tab]

[tab title=”Good Points”]

– Excellent graphical detail for cameras, cars and tracks

– Amazing depth of detail to suit all levels of racer

– Great support of steering wheels

[/tab]

[tab title=”Bad Points”]

– AI is very aggressive and causes many issues

– Career mode doesn’t grab the more casual racer

– Some occasional glitches that we hope will be patched

[/tab]

[tab title=”Why an 8?”]

Whilst this game is absolutely amazing and a brilliant achievement for the production costs and the development model, I can’t look past a few issues, like the AI and a more narrative career mode might have increased the scope of the game a little further to encapsulate the casual player a bit more. I wouldn’t say the game is reliant on a steering wheel but the type of game that is make it clearly biased towards one which of course could limit gameplay for people who don’t own or don’t want to buy one. Still, this is the torch bearer for the coming years of simulation racers and I’m sure will be tough to beat.

[/tab]

[/tabs]

This review is based on the PS4 version of the game and also used a Thrustmaster T300 RS steering wheel and the T3PA pedal add on.

[divider]

[author]