Hands-On Preview: Project CARS - Race to the Finish

Out of all the genres, games, and series coming up this holiday season, racing fans seemed to have the cream of the crop in terms of options with titles like Forza Horizon 2 and DriveClub racing onto consoles this fall.

While Project CARS may not be hitting the streets until early next year following its recently announced delay to March 2015, gamers feeling the racing rush from the onslaught of racing games still seem to have much to look forward to going into the beginning of next year.

But of course the question is: what can Project CARS offer racing fans that its competition can’t? It may seem like a right race at first going in, but already it seems the title will at least stay near the lead heading into the finish line toward release.

During this year’s New York Comic Con, we had the chance to check out a hands-on demo of Project CARS out on the show floor at Bandai Namco’s booth by taking the company’s new racing-sim out for a spin. Demoed on the PS4, Project CARS easily had one of the longer lines at the booth, and after a test run with one of the game’s tracks it’s easy to see why.

Definitely taking shape as a racing simulator in league with others like Gran Turismo or Forza Motorsport, the demo took us through one standard three-lap race where — even in about 15-20 minutes total of time with the game — there was a lot to take in between the gameplay mechanics, graphics, and fine-turned turns. While it may not be for the more casual racing fans, with its realistic physics and driving mechanics, for the hardcore racing-sim fans it (so far) seems like another car that can match lap-for-lap with other similar titles out there.

The demo handily showed off a number of the elements at play graphically, most notably being the game’s dynamic weather system. Although it may not have made for much visual splendor, during my race I had to encounter dark clouds and heavy rain — visually it wasn’t as pleasing as some of the sunny skies and beautiful sunsets I saw others playing, but showed some of the game’s graphical fidelity in other ways.

During the rain storms I encountered, the dark clouds loomed overhead with crackles of thunder I could hear in the distance, while rain whipped onto my dashboard and slid off the glass in beautiful and stunning detail as my car continued down the racetrack.

Many of the effects, from the rain to the detail in the clouds, are details that could go completely unnoticed, but when looking at the small details of the rain smearing off the glass in cockpit mode, it goes to show the great attention to detail and dynamic effects that went in to creating realistic-looking and unique weather patterns. Seeing the well-rendered details and effects made me want to jump back into Project CARS for the next race, whether it was in flashing rain or a stunning sunset.

Even after only a quick spin, it’s easy to see that the game definitely leans more on the side of realistic racing simulation with its emphasis on speed and tight handling — a bit of an adjustment for those relatively new or inexperienced coming into the genre (like myself). Though I don’t consider myself a racing expert, Project CARS still gave a satisfying adrenaline rush, even if the turning and handling of the cars brought a bit of a learning curve to adjust to accordingly.

Making hairpin turns can be a challenge, but with the right momentum and anticipation of when to slow down and turn, the vehicle handled smoothly, and the thrill of shifting gears and reaching upwards of 200-300 mph on a long stretch of road brought only some truly exciting thrills.

Aside from adjusting to the somewhat more demanding handling requirements in line with a realistic racing simulator, the game still adjusts nicely to ease in players with its gameplay, even in the middle of an intense race with little time to spare. Though the demo course was a simple loop with limited turns or more complex structures, the game still kept me clearly focused on the road with arrows to guide toward the finish line or (in the event of a devastating peel or spin), pointed in the direction to continue down the track if necessary.

Likewise, controls for the game felt relatively smooth with the DualShock 4 handling nicely — though, for the racing purists out there, those longing for the feel of a racing wheel should hopefully feel right at home as well.

That aside, the sense of speed combined with the game’s excellent visuals and dynamic weather made Project CARS a thrilling experience, even for one relatively inexperienced in the racing genre. The rush and thrill of racing out on the track is preserved well, providing an experience that’s relatively simple to ease in to while still providing a depth and features that will keep racing fans around the track for days and weeks. Even though Project CARS will no longer be racing alongside fierce competition, it’s clear that it won’t be caught on the sidelines refueling and is more than capable of keeping up.

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Ryan Meitzler

Ryan is the Editor-in-Chief at DualShockers and has been a lover of games as long as he can remember. He holds a BA in English and Cinema and lives in New York City.

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