Project CARS PS4 hands-on impressions: the most realistic driving sim on the grid

Our time at Bandai Namco’s Dublin press event last Monday wasn’t just reserved for a celebratory cheer to Pac-Man’s seemingly endless array of video game releases, nor was it simply an exposé on why The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt’s shaping up to be an astonishingly impressive role-playing adventure. Instead, special time – and indeed a designated area – was delegated to ‘Project CARS,’ Slightly Mad Studios’ fastidious new racing simulator which has been setting gaming pulses racing for the best part of three years.

Strapping into the driving seat of a souped-up Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG GT3 is certainly a daunting prospect initially, especially with murmurs of the game’s laboriously realistic and unforgiving gameplay ringing loudly as the engine purrs in anticipation of the green light. It’s a singular three-lap track – Brands Hatch Circuit to be exact – with enough twists and turns to prove troublesome for even the most ardent of racing fans. Truth be told, exercising a little caution goes a long way in Project CARS; putting the pedal to the metal and pulling handbrake turns at every interval is tandem to giving up before the race even begins. Instead, the gameplay rewards a player that is more thoughtful in their approach, one who won’t balk at the trial-and-error nature of proceedings.

Practice begets success and it’s never been a truer statement than with Slightly Mad Studios’ racing simulator as you slow down and shimmy through a hinged corner, accelerating at the exact moment necessary to overtake that one reckless rival. It takes a lot of repetition, mind, with more than a fair share of restarts needed before the game’s delicate intricacies reveal themselves, but once they do there’s little doubt that Project CARS ascends to another level entirely. Underneath the game’s intimidating metallic hood lies some of the most accomplished driving mechanics we’ve ever had the pleasure of handling. It manages to firmly nestle itself a step above the likes of Gran Turismo, acting as a sort of spiritual successor to the likes of GTR – FIA GT Racing Game. It’s bloody hard, too, with a half-decent lap still leaving you at the tail end of the rankings.

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Slipping into the dirt or sand that envelops the sides of each corner is a nightmare scenario as well and something that’s immensely hard to come back from successfully. Once your race-worn tires leave the sanctuary of the tarmac it’s then no-man’s land, with 360 spins and steering troubles commonplace. It was the root cause of most restarts if we’re honest but it only serves to make you that little more determined next time around. It also makes you far more conscious of just how delicate a job it is to manoeuvre a tonne of iron & steel between bending roads, circumventing aggressive AI and deepening straights.

Worries about the game’s performance on next-generation consoles can be wholly allayed, too. The two-month-old build we got our greasy mitts on was incredibly accomplished with the game running at a seamless 1080p, complete with a rambunctious array of car sounds and DualShock 4 speaker mumblings. And while Project Morpheus integration is still in its infancy we were assured by Bandai Namco’s PR Director, Lee Kirton, that once it’s up-and-running it’ll be an absolute revelation. He also went on to stress the inclusion of windscreen wipers in all cars was a result of fan pressure; and as the bearers of good news, we can unequivocally confirm that the wipers are out in full force. It’s something that will no doubt come in handy when dynamic weather effects come into play.

With Gran Turismo creators Polyphony Digital eerily quiet thus far regarding the possibility of its flagship series joining PS4’s starting grid, the stage is set for a two-pronged battle this holiday season between that of Evolution Studios’ DriveClub and Project CARS. And with the former sprouting some frankly stunning weather effects just this week, the jury’s still out as to whether or not Project CARS can match it in the dynamic weather stakes. For gameplay, however, the Slightly Mad Studios-developed racer is certain to fair much better, with its concise combination of real-world handling and unparalleled tuning functionality allowing gamers to tailor the experience in whatever way they see fit, creating their own optimum racing simulator. 

While our time with Project CARS was brief – a singular track of a game that boasts over fifty circuits – it was more than enough to get a feel for just how accomplished a racing simulator it’s turning out to be. One thing’s for absolute certain: the gauntlet’s been thrown down and it looks like a head-to-head on the final stretch between that of DriveClub and Project CARS. It’ll undoubtedly to be a photo finish.

Slightly Mad Studios’ Project CARS is due for release later this year on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC. Don’t forget to head down to the comments section below and give your thoughts on the upcoming racing simulator.