‘Til The Wheels Fall Off
This generation has been particularly kind to car lovers. So far we’ve seen three DiRTs, two Project Gothams, several Need for Speeds, two F1s, three Forzas, and Polyphony Digital’s automotive opus, Gran Turismo 5. We’re leaving out a lot here, as there were also quite a few racing games that had a decidedly different focus but were nonetheless substantial offerings. With that in mind, then, fans of racing games have not been left wanting.
However, Slightly Mad Studios, the developer behind Shift 2: Unleashed, has decided that the racing grid isn’t crowded enough, as they’re hard at work on a title called Project CARS. Their aim seems to be to create a better racing simulator in the vein of Forza or Gran Turismo, as opposed to Codemasters’ F1 series. From the way things are looking based on my hands-on time with the game, they’ll be able to reach their goal.
Even in its present pre-alpha state, the roster of cars set to appear is fairly impressive. Among the officially licensed vehicles stand the agile Ariel Atom and the ferocious Gumpert Apollo. As far as different racing disciplines are concerned, Slightly Mad Studios looks to be trying to tackle just about anything that can be done on tarmac. Everything from karts to touring cars and even Formula B are already in the game and running smoothly. There are even a few classic F1 cars.
I’m not the only one impressed by the present state of the game either. It seems everyone who’s had a chance to play it has walked away impressed, including Ben Collins, formerly “The Stig” of Top Gear fame. Commenting on the handling, he said that the “physics are very similar to the Le Mans/F1 simulator we’ve been using.” The reason that’s so astounding is that the type of simulator Collins is talking about usually costs millions of dollars. If what he says is true, Slightly Mad has accomplished something remarkable, especially considering the relatively short amount of time the game has been in development.
That’s probably due to Slightly Mad’s approach to the development of this title. Through their website, World of Mass Development, they’re inviting anyone who’s willing to join the development team. “The great thing about having the community involved is all the feedback,” Slightly Mad producer Suzy Wallace said in an interview with Eurogamer. “It’s like having a focus group all of the time.” So unlike other titles in the genre, community members can actually take part in molding the product prior to its release. This goes just a bit further than even the excellent community features in the Forza series, and gives the community the power to shape the game they’re playing.
As you’d expect, some serious attention has been paid to the tracks as well. For the sake of accuracy, all of the real-world tracks in the game have been laser-scanned. Collins, quoted earlier, said that the track realism is “extremely close” by his estimate. Fans of motorsport will be thrilled by this bit of information, as not only are both Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps and Bathurst included, but they’re also impeccably re-created.
The simulation aspect of the game looks to be a cut above everything else on the market in other ways as well. While hooning around on the Test Track—in a racing kart, no less—I blew my engine. Destroyed it, actually. It didn’t work anymore. I was thrilled. While mechanical damage has been implemented to a somewhat limited extent in Gran Turismo and more extensively in the Forza series, we have yet to see that level of damage in a console racing game, save for Slightly Mad’s previous title, Shift 2: Unleashed, which many fans didn’t accept as a simulator. The prospect of having more real-world consequences for, say, revving your engine at 9,000 rpm for twenty minutes is absolutely thrilling.
Of course, at this stage in development, Project CARS isn’t without its problems. Chief among my concerns so far are that playing the game with a controller is dodgy to say the least. Fiddling with the steering settings helps a bit, but there’s still a bit of work to do to get that part of the experience properly tuned. This is most likely due to the team’s focus on creating a proper racing simulator, one that might even catch the attention of PC gamers who are used to a slightly more hardcore experience than their console counterparts.
As such, much of the focus in the control department has gone toward making sure that those with a wheel and pedal setup will be able to get as much out of the game as possible. Hopefully, by the end of production they will have sorted out the kinks without sacrificing anything for those want to play with a wheel.
All things considered, though, Project CARS is shaping up to be a fairly good offering for fans of racing simulators, cars, motorsport, or just racing games in general. Save for a few audio glitches here and there and some control issues—things that will hopefully be ironed out—there’s not much wrong with it.