With visual fidelity becoming more and more true to life, some racing fans have come to expect their racing games to be as close to the real thing as possible too. Franchises like Assetto Corsa and DIRT have flourished while appealing to the hardcore, but there’s also people who just want to jump into a race in Forza or Burnout for some arcade-y action where every little thing doesn’t need to be taken care of.
Project Cars 3 aims to bridge the gap between both of those, offering a dangerously in-depth simulator for those who sleep with their racing wheels while offering more than a suite of options for anyone who’s after an arcade-y experience instead.
I’m not ashamed to admit that the deep simulation of Assetto is beyond me and my brain to comprehend — I have always been more attracted to the loud nonsense of Burnout, though I did have an unhealthy obsession with Driveclub for a while there. But, judging from what I’ve played of Project Cars 3 so far, it could be my next go-to racing game, even if it isn’t exactly a revelation in racing.
The most immediately obvious thing about Project Cars 3 when you start playing is that it wants to find an experience, a sense of racing immersion that is suited to you. The range of assists it has on offer are quite staggering, so much so that someone who’s only ever played Mario Kart could probably find themselves catered to and then progressively taught the ways of the “proper” road.
I played on Experienced, which meant that I had some assistance with traction and visual indicators around the track to suggest where I should slow down. This was probably the sweet spot for me personally with no need to handle gear changes and every pixel of every corner, but I feel like I could probably up the ante eventually, such is the scalability of Project Cars 3. I played on absolute beginner as well to test it out, and while it didn’t exactly drive the car for me, it took out much of the need for a racing brain. You can scale things up depending on how comfortable you are with the game and its mechanics, which are equally impressive and in-depth, particularly when it comes to the updated Career Mode.
Career Mode is much more fleshed out than its predecessor and even more so than most racing games out there. There are multiple classes to work through with many different types of races to dust off, too. Races are standard, but things like Hot Lap, in which you have to post the quickest lap possible, also change things up. The ultimate goal is to collect enough points to unlock the next class by completing certain challenges within a race, but sometimes you don’t even need to win a race to proceed.
These challenges include things like drafting behind your opponents for a set amount of time, nailing every corner, racing a perfect lap, and much more. This varies up the grind a welcome amount, so rather than progression just being race after race after race, you have to change up your racing style and complete different objectives instead. It does a great job of teaching you how the game’s mechanics work without ever beating you over the head with it — skill progression feels very organic.
Speaking of progression, you can now upgrade and customise your cars, even up into different classes. I didn’t play right the way through all the classes available in the demo build, but I managed to take my Need For Speed Underground-looking car from E to C, just by gradually upgrading it over time. Those changes are noticeable, too: I was really struggling with one race, swapped some parts around to improve acceleration and then I was just flying around the track. It’s weirdly fun to see how much you can swap stuff around to maximise your class without then moving up into the next class.
All the camshafts and fuel injections are worthless if you don’t have the racing to match and Project Cars 3 certainly isn’t a slouch in that regard. There’s a great sense of speed once you hit 100 miles per hour and above, and an even bigger sense of you being an idiot when you end up hurtling off the track because you underestimated a corner. Project Cars 3’s tracks offer great variety with there being lots of tricky turns to master, and it’s a great feeling to eventually get each difficult bend down after constant failure. That’s the sign of superb racing, that you want to keep persevering after being upended for the umpteenth time.
The AI racers have absolutely no bones about nudging you off the track, even when playing on medium difficulty. They are very aggressive and just keep coming, but even this can be scaled depending on the racing experience you want — you could probably have them be full truck driver in Spielberg’s Duel if you want to. I enjoyed the back and forth with the AI, though I feel others may want to fiddle with the settings for a bit more chill and less Destruction Derby.
One of the most common complaints about Project Cars 2 was that using a gamepad felt so unsatisfying that a racing wheel almost felt mandatory. I had no problems with my DualShock 4 while playing 3, it all felt very smooth and responsive. There’s great feedback whenever you drive off-road, and there’s a real sense of weight to trying to corner with a bigger, faster car. Weather also switches things up dramatically, downpour even making the AI more cautious with each rev needing to be carefully planned out unless you want to go spinning out.
While Project Cars 3 is definitely enjoyable, is it going to blow your mind if you’re a long-time racing fan? I don’t think so. It feels like a refinement of the franchise’s more hardcore edges that wants to reach a wider audience, but it’s certainly not some grand reinvention of the racing genre. Those who loved the more outright sim nature of 2 will probably be dismayed by the removal of tyre wear and pit stops, but more arcade-y fans, like myself, will appreciate the wider range of options for customised racing.
We’ll have to wait and see if Project Cars 3 truly is the perfect middle ground for both when it launches August 28th for PC, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One.
Preview code supplied by Bandai Namco.
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