It took a few years, but as of today (on Steam) Project CARS has been released to the public.
There are dozens upon dozens of gameplay videos, early "reviews" of it, critical analysis of its selection of cars and track, physics and gameplay. Project CARS was officially released today on Steam for download worldwide, with the console version of the game slated for release next week.
This particular racing sim has been in development for some time, and has not been backed by a traditional big money studio which would provide plenty of funds to get things moving quick.
Instead, Project CARS (which actually stands for Community Assisted Racing Simulator) has been backed by individuals and self published by Slightly Mad Studios. Backing the project gave individuals the chance to be a part of the marketing of the game by allowing them to beta test and build gameplay footage reels and reviews long before the game was released. The backers chronicled the development of this special title.
Today, I picked up the sim and awaited my download from Steam.
Upon first look
Despite every single bit of press leading up to the release of this game showing and talking about the stunning visual, I was still blown away.
Be it the rain detail, the sun rising and setting at Le Mans, or simply the incredible reflections and smooth as ice textures, this game knocks visuals out of the park.
Visuals are great, but at the end of the day I want an entertaining challenge. Gran Turismo and Forza Motorsports were big on visuals as well, but fell short on AI and gameplay. So my focus is the influence from the real racing world and gameplay.
Arcade handling versus sim racing handling
Gameplay, upon first try (which I decided to be Karts at some unnamed version of UK track) is very console-esque. I chose the pro handling option and I think it was the reason I didn't like the handling right off the bat. After a few laps, spins and flying over my competitors looking for braking markers I started to get it. My console-esque comment certainly falls short of the mark. The handling starts to feel really...challenging, but fun all at the same time. Time to graduate, right?
Le Mans. Circuit de la Sarthe. Audi LMP1 TDI. I think so!
I set up just a couple lap (offline) race of the big historic track driving a pretty historic car. This is where I fell in love with the game.
Available tracks versus available cars
Not every game has all the big endurance tracks on it. But this one does. Heading down the Mulsanne straight at break-neck speeds and finding a braking point into the first chicane, only to have one of the computer controlled opponents try to out brake me. That was a first.
Normally, AI is driving all over the place, holding one of two pre-programmed lines and slamming into opponents left, right and centre. This was a shock. I almost pulled over in complete shock. But then that task of beating the other cars around took hold again.
The music is the other aspect of this sim that makes me smile. The hard rock, coupled with the garage sounds and announcer voice-oves are superb. Most times, the music in racing games makes me think they forgot that they needed to include some, and chose the first thing on the royalty free list. Not this one.
Personal computer versus console
My only major issue with this, and any other PC based game, is the performance required to run the product. My computer is just good enough to run iRacing effectively with lowered graphics, so I wasn't sure what to expect from my $60 purchase.
I let the installing software work its calibration magic and choose all the settings that would fit my system. And, to my surprise, everything rendered very nicely for my first few races. I hadn't lowered a single setting and I was ripping down the Mulsanne straight with all the sun flare and refection glory.
But. And I mean but. It didn't last long. My graphics card eventually said "Dude, quit it. This is too tough for me to run."
I have forever been about two generations behind with computers. For so long, computers to me have been about image processing, word and web work. Not until only a couple years ago did I acquire a computer intended for iRacing...
This isn't that much of a disappointment for me at all. Being a little behind the times technically, just being able to crank out an hour before my clunky old laptop gives up is honourable for that machine.
A fantastic release
To wrap things up, I think Project CARS hits the mark right on the head. It has a little of all worlds, from a little understeer that you can feel, diagnose and correct, to the silly idea of a whole bunch of street legal McLaren's taking to Monza. I hope the casual racing fan picks this up and let it pique their interest in the real racing world.
For me, I am going to wait until next week when the console version comes out to really judge the game. I am not a big fan of requiring super powered hardware to run a game, and am hoping the physics and racing action I enjoy on the PC end transfer over. Maybe in another year or two I will have a computer more suited to the PC version of the game.