Project Cars 3 Review: Suffering An Identity Crisis
Console and PC gamers have no shortage of racing titles at their fingertips. From games dedicated to specific motorsport like NASCAR Heat 5 or Dirt Rally 2.0, to the open world experiences of Forza Horizon 4 and epic arcade games like Wreckfest, there is something for everyone. It also means that the competition between the developers is fierce and that the Project Cars franchise itself had a very promising niche in the gaming world. Yes, we mean had.
Project Cars 3 launched at the end of August, and while its predecessor was awarded for its realistic career-mode racing environment, you won’t find it here. We entered Project Cars 3 seeing it as a sequel to Project Cars 2, identifying shortcomings in the game for a better experience. However, we quickly discovered PC3 is not a suite. Rather, it’s a restart that takes away a lot of the realism like pre-race practice and qualifying sessions, fuel consumption, tire wear, vehicle damage and pit stops. Instead, PC3 offers fast-firing racing events with forgiving physics, wrapped in an arcade experience.
Does this mean PC3 is failing? Motor1.com Writers Christopher Smith and Matthew Crisara have delved into all aspects of the game to try and answer this question. Smith sampled PC3 on an Xbox One X with a Logitech G920 wheel combo, while Crisara took a PC test drive with Thrustmaster TS-PC gear.
Matthew Crisara, contributing author
After having had great experiences with the two previous Project Cars titles, I entered the third installment with a lot of confidence. Of course, its predecessors weren’t perfect, but they offered a wealth of content with limited barriers to entry into the racing simulation world. Therefore, I expected the PC version of PC3 to pick up where the previous titles left off.
Many may not know it, but the word Cars in the title of the game actually has a double meaning. Aside from the obvious, it’s also an acronym for Community assisted racing simulator but it turns out that this game is anything but a racing simulation. With high hopes, I jumped with my Thrustmaster TS-PC Racer wheel hoping for the best.
However, from the start the force feedback felt mute and disconnected, leaving me guessing at what was going on on the front axle. If you think I’m a little pompous, I had high expectations after Slightly Mad Studios CEO Ian Bell described the force comeback as unbelievable.
Clearly this game was meant to be played on a gamepad.
It’s at least lively enough to rock around corners and not end up in the wall, thanks to built-in steering assistance seen by developers. While this gives everyone the opportunity to feel like a superhero behind the wheel, it’s not very rewarding when you’re doing it right.
Things are basically the same in the vehicle dynamics department. Tires feel like sticky chewing gum instead of rubber; this is very noticeable in the wet where even with all the passes the car is savable in just about any situation with enough opposing lockout. It’s a similar feeling when it comes to contact with other vehicles, as opponents seem glued to the road even after heavy impact. Ultimately, PC3 feels like it was designed for casual gamers.
In the graphics department, things are average at best – ultra settings can be run effortlessly on an NVIDIA RTX 2070 Super graphics card at 1440p resolution. Performance aside, the series’ transition to mobile platforms is more noticeable than Slightly Mad Studios probably would like. Whether it’s the objective downshifting of the PC2’s visual fidelity, omitting tire wear and fuel consumption, omitting pit stops or even adding the scalability of the vehicle, it really shows. It didn’t take me by surprise when Slightly Mad Studios released the beta of Project Cars Go earlier in September on mobile.
All things considered, once you get past the initial hurdle of disappointment and accept this game’s place in the simulation market, things aren’t that bad. The casual gamer can step in and be quick right out of the box, while the seasoned simulator can work to get everything out of the car by ten tenths.
Christopher Smith, contributing author
Let me clarify this. If you liked Project Cars 2, you’ll be disappointed with Project Cars 3. In the console world, PC2 was (and still is) my go-to game if I want a little more realism in my tarmac racing experience. It has surpassed Forza with its myriad of adjustable settings and expansive, realistic career mode. The tires needed legitimate time to warm up, and they would wear out quickly if you drove like a ninny. And God help you if you put a wheel in the grass in a corner. Shooting a crisp lap of less than seven minutes on the Nordschleife was inspiring.
Sadly, all of that stuff is gone now and I’m left with a Forza 7 facsimile that’s worse in every way.
It’s not terrible – PC3 looks good on Xbox, maybe even great. There’s a nifty customization feature that allows for a bit of customization that can be fun, and there’s a nice selection of cars available right out of the box. The physics and wheel feedback are good enough to get by, although the feedback is far too tame and the physics far too forgivable to be lumped into the racing sim genre.
There’s also nothing sim-racer about PC3’s new career mode. It takes the same ultra-short, bash-your-way-to-the-front approach you get in Forza 7’s career mode, but with less customization, less realism, and less variety. In PC3, you will probably start with a Mitsubishi Evo VI, Nissan Skyline GT-R, Honda Civic Type R, or Toyota 86. There might have been other options, but honestly I was too sorry to say ‘worry about it. I bought the Evo, painted it white, added some silly stripes, and went for two-lap-per-race action to make some money.
And if you want to progress in the career mode of PC3 you will need to earn a lot silver. There are no award-winning cars and the only way to participate in higher level events is to buy a car that matches the series. Of course, if you want to make it more competitive, you will have to buy upgraded parts. If you’re tired of going through the hundreds of monotonous races needed to open the big leagues, you can spend more money to open them instantly. And if you want to change the parameters of the upgraded parts you just purchased, you must also purchase an upgrade slot. Seriously, Just tuning your car will cost you $ 100 in-game.
Crisara hit the nail squarely on the head. PC3 feels like it’s set up for microtransactions in a mobile world, and a mobile version of Project Cars is in the works. I wouldn’t be at all surprised to find $ 50,000 in-game credit buying options in the Microsoft Store for one-fifth of the real world, and I don’t mind sharing my extreme dissatisfaction with this approach.
PC2 was in its own world, delivering a cool basic simulation experience that honored the glory of racing like nothing else on consoles. PC3 is scrapping this in favor of the money, and frankly, if you’re wondering why anyone would choose this game over Forza or Gran Turismo Sport, you’re not alone.
Succeed or Fail? Depends on context
If you think of PC3 as a standalone racing game, it looks pretty good, plays pretty well, and should be an enjoyable experience for casual gamers using a wheel or joystick. Put it in context with Project Cars 2 is a different story because it feels like a huge step backwards in every way. Perhaps worse, it no longer differentiates itself from monster franchises like Forza or GT, leaving us with a very difficult task of finding even one reason to choose it over the others.
There’s always the possibility of updates to bring back some of the simulation magic, but in the meantime we still have Project Cars 2 loaded and ready.