Some people will hate Project CARS 3, and I don’t blame them. But many others will absolutely adore it.
The latest in Slightly Mad Studios’ racing series is a serious departure from what has come before. It’s no longer an ultra serious sim with a sandbox structure. Things like full race weekends, pit stops and tyre wear are out. Instead, it feels more like a spiritual sequel to the developer’s debut title Need for Speed: Shift. And that should tell you all you need to know. If you’re after a hardcore sim racer like Project CARS 2 and aren’t willing to compromise, then Project CARS 3 isn’t for you. But if you’ve been wistfully wondering what happened to the Shift series, you’ll be very happy indeed.
The revamped career mode of Project CARS 3 is likely to be its biggest draw. It takes you through ten unique race series, each with four tours to complete, consisting of three events and a championship. So, a quick bit of maths will tell you that there are 120 events overall, along with 40 championships. There’s actually more, though, thanks to further unlockable invitational events and challenges. Needless to say, Project CARS 3 isn’t going to be a game you complete in a weekend.
“If you’ve been wistfully wondering what happened to the Shift series, you’ll be very happy indeed”
Starting out in a bog-standard road car, you’ll begin to jump into events to try and make a name for yourself. There are three objectives in each event, and you’ll be surprised to hear that simply winning isn’t always one of them. You might be tasked with cleanly overtaking a set number of opponents within a specific time frame, for example, or master a set number of corners. Either way, if you want to progress up the ranks and ultimately race in hyper cars or take part in GT events, you’ll want to complete as many objectives as you can.
Though you don’t need to. You can buy into any event that you haven’t unlocked by completing objectives if you wish. Though it isn’t always a good idea. If you pay to unlock a GT racing series early, for example, you won’t be able to take part in any of the events unless you have an appropriate car, and you might not be able to afford one of those. In fact, you might not be able to even buy one yet. You see, many of Project CARS 3‘s vehicles are locked behind your driver level, so you’ll need to complete many races and raise that before you can get behind the wheels of its most desirable vehicles. In career mode at least, anyway.
“The tracks you’ve come to know and love are interspersed with lively street circuits and scenic point-to-point drives”
As you’d expect, you earn experience in a myriad of ways such as completing objectives, performing actions, and meeting milestones. As you make your way to the next driver level, you fill up pips of an experience bar, and with each pip you fill you earn a lump sum of cash. Fill ten pips and your driver level is increased, raising the amount of money you earn for each pip, and unlocking some new vehicles. The experience you earn in any specific vehicle also culminates in a car familiarity level, reducing the cost of any upgrades for it. And you’ll want to upgrade your vehicles if you wish to remain competitive or use them in more advanced series.
Making your way through the career, you’ll discover a nice mix of real-world and fictional tracks, as well as a decent range of event types. The tracks you’ve come to know and love are interspersed with lively street circuits and scenic point-to-point drives. The latter of which provide genuinely unique experiences due to their uneven road surfaces and changes in elevation. And you’ll not just find yourself trudging through one race after another; hot lap, pacesetter, and breakout events mix the action up and keep you interested. Combined with the variable objectives in each event, Project CARS 3 does a good job of keeping you on your toes.
“There’s a really nice sense of progression as you go from zero to hero”
Surprisingly, I’ve found Project CARS 3 filling the void left by the absence of a true Gran Turismo game this gen. Its handling is sim-like, and you’re penalised for cutting corners or hitting barriers; generally just being too aggressive is a no-no. It may no longer be a fully-fledged sim, but it forces you to drive like an actual race driver and develop your skills over time. It doesn’t throw cars at you like the Forza Motorsport series does now, either. And it leaves it up to you to manage your upgrades. There’s a really nice sense of progression as you go from zero to hero. It’s just a shame you don’t earn money directly by completing events.
Outside of career mode there’s custom event, where you can set up a race to your liking using any of the game’s 200-plus cars – even those you haven’t bought. All of the game’s tracks are available from the outset in this mode, too. Needless to say, old Project CARS fans should love it, and it also serves as a good place to test drive cars before you buy them in career. There’s also a new rivals mode, allowing players to compete against each other in daily, weekly and monthly challenges. You earn points depending on how you perform, and are consequently given a rivals rank. The higher your rank at the end of the month, the greater your reward.
There’s online multiplayer too, of course. Quick race lets you jump into some online racing action, with a safety rating system in place to hopefully match those who drive respectfully with others of a similar nature. Then there’s scheduled events: races that take place at set points during the day that you need to register and qualify for, before turning up at the right time to take part in the main event. And finally there are custom lobbies, where you can browse what’s available or create your own. Basically there’s something for everyone, and you’re not stuck with using just the cars you’ve purchased in career mode; everything is available.
Playing on Xbox One X for review, I’ve generally found Project CARS 3 to be quite a nice looking game considering its 60fps target, though there is the odd graphical inconsistency. When racing in Havana, for example, the lighting as you transition in and out of tunnels is a bit off. Hopefully such issues will be fixed before or shortly after the game’s launch. When there are 26 cars on the track, you can spot the drop in car complexity as well, and the framerate occasionally struggles in resolution mode. My advice is to play in framerate mode, as graphically there isn’t a great difference, yet it performs pretty much flawlessly.
“It’s Slightly Mad Studios’ best and most accessible game yet”
So, is Project CARS 3 the best-looking racing game? No. Does it have the biggest car list? No. Will it satisfy hardcore sim fans? No. Those who enjoy a career in which they work their up from the bottom, however, are likely to love Project CARS 3. It’s got authentic physics and handling, it plays well with a controller, and it’s wonderfully rewarding. Winning races is just one aspect of it. You’ll frequently find yourself going back to events to try and master corners and complete other objectives, even though you could simply push on and complete easier objectives to progress instead.
Ultimately, I feel the greatest mistake that Project CARS 3 makes is being called what it is. Fans of the previous two games probably won’t find what they expect here, while those who disliked them could possibly be put off by the name. This is essentially a paradigm shift for the series, taking it into new territory with mass-market appeal. And for racers like me, who like a game that controls well, has rewarding progression, and who aren’t particularly bothered by the absence of serious sim elements, it’s Slightly Mad Studios’ best and most accessible game yet.