First announced in October 2011, and originally scheduled for release on PS3 and XBox 360 before being moved to the newer generation, this has been a lengthy development process and even after NamcoBandai came on board to distribute the game there were a couple of last minute delays, but the racer is finally here, and it's an impressive release on so many levels.
After the gorgeous intro video you will be presented with a main menu that gives you plenty of options. These include Career, Solo for a Quick Race Weekend, Online, Free Practice, Quick Random, Time Trial, or Create. Most of these are pretty self-explanatory so we won't go into a lot of detail.
When it comes to actual gameplay Project CARS is very much on the simulation side of the racing ledger with cars needing a deft touch to handle, especially for the high powered cars. That was a bit of an issue when I stated playing this game - with everything unlocked from the start (there is no silly need to unlock cars), I jumped straight into a high-powered vehicle only to really struggle keeping it in a straight line and on the track. Without a doubt the Dual Shock 4 sensitivity was a little off, but, as with so much in this game, it's possible to tweak the game to your hearts content.
Of course any good racing game is also about the tracks and vehicles on offer. In total there are 33 tracks on offer in this game (at the moment - we're sure there will be more via DLC) which includes well know tracks and locations such as Brands Hatch, Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps, HockenheimRing, Imola, Bathurst, Silverstone, Summerton, Willow Springs and many more. The game includes dozens of vehicles from Go Karts, to cars from manufacturers such as Aston Martin, BMW, Audi, Ford, Lotus, McLaren, Mercedes-Benz, Renault and Pagani to name a few.
Online racing is also a blast with support for up to 16 human controlled racers battling it out and while we struggled to get a lot of big races without a few people throwing some lag into the mix, when we got a great lobby the online racing was a slick experience, and without the predictability of AI racers, often a much more exciting prospect. Community events are also setup and run online which are a series of challenges to enter and try and win prizes for use in the game.
Speaking of tweaking, this game has more options then you could ever poke a stick at besides setting up the online events. It's phenomenal. Just looking at customising the cars the game allows you to setup Tires and Brakes, Aerodynamics and Chassis, Alignment, Suspension, Dampers, Differential, Gearing, and Engine. But it's not just basic setup in each. For instance, in Tires and brakes you can set the Tire Pressure for each wheel, the brake Pressure, Break Balance, Break Duct and Traction Control Slip. This game contains crazy levels of detail.
Using Slightly Mad Studios own in-house Madness Engine it's fair to say this is a phenomenal looking title that starts with a very slick intro video, and keeps up that quality into the game itself. Indeed, with the PC version scaling up to support 12k resolution, even on the PS4 at a much lower 1920 x 1080p this is a great looking title with stunningly detailed cars, probably the best road texturing we've ever seen in a racing game and authentically replicated racetracks. For Australians, racing around the legendary Bathurst circuit really is an exhilarating experience with the tight, undulating racetrack recreated to the smallest of details. We have no doubt that racing fans around the globe will be amazed at their local racetracks too.
If we are to pick a couple of issues its that the developers haven't hit a rock solid 60fps frame rate with occasional drops in particular when there are numerous cars on track or the weather effects are enabled in the game. While it never kills the performance to the level of being annoying, or even gameplay damaging it is apparent. We also felt too that some of the menus and text were a little too small, or were given background colours that made it very hard to see.
Another interesting aspect to this game - and one which we can't comment on as yet - is that the game is built to support VR headsets. On the PC this means the Occulus Rift, but more importantly for PlayStation 4 owners the game is one of the first announced to support the Project Morpheus headset. Of course we don't expect Sony's VR solution to be released until early 2016, but it's nice to know that this racer - one of the genres where we see Virtual Reality being most useful - will support the product.
One very cool feature of the PS4 game is that the Pit Engineer talks to you and the audio comes out from the Dual Shock 4 controller. It adds a different audio experience and we actually really enjoyed this experience as it adds a little more "immersion".
We have to say that Project CARS really sets a high mark for racing games on the PS4. Slick audio visual presentation, fun gameplay and a range of game modes makes this a great experiences. Where this game really excels is the massive number of settings, tweaks, and changes that can be made to the game, the cars and the races to suit your ever desire. Racing simulation fans should certainly check this game out, especially with a certain Polyphony Digital title still a very long way off. Well done Slightly Mad Studios.
Review By: Dave Warner