It’s difficult to call something a sell-out, but Project Cars 3 indeed seems like it has forgotten its values in search of the mass market. This is still a challenging racing game at its heart, where you have to brake correctly for corners, drive on the right racing line and avoid distressing the car by overzealous steering or dubious flapping of the gas pedal. But after the first Concept Cars came out in 2015, with so many more sim racers around, merely rehashing the typical in-depth motorsport career will not attract any new fans. And so we find Project Cars 2 dressed up in the clothes of Asphalt 9, acting like Forza Motorsport 7 and borrowing the online mode of GT Sport. It’s a reinvention of the proportions of Taylor Swift and so pronounced that even its fans may not recognize it. Project Cars 3 is not trying to be a single game of racing-it ‘s trying to be all of them.
Busy work and tinkering were taken away from the previous race day, replaced with the career mode of the Forza Motorsport school, where you take part in thematic events, all tiered from intermediate races to extreme supercar series, with the possibility of buying and enhancing eligible cars along the way. In order to progress, the usual long-haul, grassroots championships full of practice laps and qualification are gone, replaced with breathless, fast-fire races, each with three criteria for checking off. These standards are now far more diverse than the old ‘win the race’ ethos, such as challenging you to meet a top speed target or master 30 corners in one race. This adds a welcome gameplay variety for professional drivers while also offering a way to continue without having to win all the time for those who are not so great at racing games.
Surprisingly, in Project Cars 3, a lot of DNA from Need For Speed Shift seems to have reemerged (leaving out the most exciting bits, unfortunately), reviving the corner mastery system where each corner is its own mini-game, needing you to brake in the right place, hit the peak and power at the exit of each turn to the outside. Here, these corner areas are visually marked with floating icons over the track-gamifying the serious simulation again. It means that without making a messy, obtrusive Dynamic Racing Line all over the screen, you can enjoy pleasant instructions, and the icons are both useful and discrete. The only problem is that the actual method of ‘mastery’ is much too lenient, allowing you to pile up the checkmarks, even though you realize you had to correct your line or even oversteer messily across the inner curb, negating the point of doing it.
Playability is the most improved area of Project Cars 3, with, thanks to its superbly overhauled pad power, the most accessible controlling in any of the serious modern sims. A canny driver would be able to catch a monster of a slide even with the assists turned off, wasting time, of course, but ultimately not delving into the agricultural sectors on the side of the track. It’s executed wonderfully and looks like console racers used to feel before … well, before the age of Project Cars. Played with a force feedback wheel, it can still be as intense and unforgiving as before, which is vital for devoted sim racing fans. Yet, for everyone else, the now-seamless pad control incorporation is a big step forward.
However, while the driving is perfectly balanced, the racing is not. In-game cash is not exactly abundant, so you’re going to spend a great deal of your time upgrading and downgrading the innards of your current car to make it eligible for some race series. But while these improvements impact a Forza-style numerical rating for your car’s performance, the E class, A-class, and so on categories are vast, so upgrading the faulty component will eventually make your technically qualified car uncompetitive. Focus on the chassis and tires too much and you will be mugged on the straights or unable to hot lap a three-star time. Combine this with the short races and there’s almost no chance that you will have a good race with a single car. Instead, when you dive down the inside, it’s ‘elbows out,’ going from 7th to 2nd in one leap, then up again on the square beyond.
As a result, in the first 10 hours of career mode, there is very little closely matched racing to be played, which is a significant blow for any ‘racing’ game. However, things change as you hit higher levels and performance gaps become less discernible, but difficulties vary wildly from event to event even then. Damn, when you’re alone on the track, Project Cars 3 is obviously at its finest. And with an incredible 130 track variants from some 50 unique locations to ride around (some actual, some historical and some fictional), it’s the dream of a time trial fan. But fans of solo racing should probably look elsewhere or altogether bypass AI racing and head online.
Take on the world
With the halfway house ‘Rivals’ mode providing hourly, regular and monthly tasks to complete, online integration is kept separate from career. This is the paradise of ‘just one more go’ … That’s before you reach the cap of 30 tries. Then, of course, there’s the online multiplayer, which was a ghost town at the review stage but should, at last, give sim fans some close racing. Interestingly, there is also a third, a reasonably straight facsimile of the online setup of Gran Turismo Sport, besides the lobby-hopping Quick Race and the ability to create your own game. You must register for an event that takes place at a fixed time, then qualify for it to decide your starting position.
However, there is an exact feeling that the game is just not entirely up to the mark of the best in the sport. The once-revolutionary weather system doesn’t sound as compelling or look as good as other new dynamic weather systems like that of F1 2020, and the original game’s alarmingly violent accidents and car-to-car collisions have been smoothed off to make it feel neutered, which is admittedly par for the course these days.
If you purposefully drive into a wall, you can still dent your ride pretty solidly. Still, with the enhanced controllability and much less risky wheel-to-wheel racing, it is very unlikely to have a significant accident. And visually, with strangely colored foliage and poorly convincing lighting, it just doesn’t seem like a racing game should be in 2020. The game also doesn’t look outstanding, even on ultra PC settings.
Therefore, it isn’t easy to find any other reason to propose this over the competitors, or even its predecessor, arguably. They’re still the most significant Project Cars, but they feel like the smallest.