I don’t know about you, but on a hazy spring morning, I like to roll my classic 1959 Caterham Seven touring coupe out of the garage and race a half-dozen other billionaire playboys down the Pacific Coast Highway.
Because I don’t live in California, and because I am not a billionaire playboy, I turn to gaming technology for this hobby. It’s not quite the real thing, but it’s getting amazingly close.
“Project CARS ($59.99, rated E)” is the much-anticipated motorsport racing simulator from British developer Slightly Mad Studios. Designed from the racetrack up to be a state-of-the-art driving simulator, CARS is something of a labor of love. Development was partially crowdfunded by racing game fanatics who will receive a share of the game’s profits.
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Similar to competing titles like “Gran Turismo” and “Forza,” “Project CARS” is a game for serious racing sim wonks who like to spend hours shaving a few seconds off their lap time on elite racetracks in Dubai or Monaco. Fans of grittier street racing action will want to look elsewhere. The recent open-world racing game “The Crew,” for instance, plays like a multiplayer version of “Fast & Furious.”
“CARS” makes one significant departure from the high-end racing sim competition, however, and it’s a terrific one. Rather than requiring the player to spend hours unlocking new vehicles and tracks, “CARS” puts all its wares on the table from the get-go. You don’t have to work your way up through the ranks – you can get into any car, on any track, at any time. Hence my millionaire playboy road race habit.
If you want a traditional racing sim experience, however, “CARS” provides that as well. In the Career mode, you start out in low-tier kart racing events and move your way up the industry ladder through road races, track races and eventually circuit races with cutting-edge prototype vehicles.
Individual races are designed and sequenced to showcase the game’s wide range of customization options. It’s the grand tour, essentially, though you can choose to meander on your own via the Solo Race or Online modes. AI racers are provided for solo players, or the various multiplayer lobbies let you speed off with friends and strangers. Online lobbies of up to 16 players are supported on Xbox One and PlayStation 4.
Of course, with a sim game like this, what you’re ultimately paying for is the simulation itself. As you might expect, the graphics here are top-notch, with impressive detailing on both the vehicles and the environments. You can switch between different view modes on the fly, so that the camera is positioned just behind the car, just behind the wheel, or actually in the helmet. Tweaking the weather conditions is especially fun – try running the cliffs of the Pacific Coast Highway in a thunderstorm at 90 mph. It gets the blood going.
When you’re ready to get really serious, head over to the My Garage mode, which allows for endless tweaking to each car’s tires, brakes and handling mechanisms. This kind of car tuning is reserved for hardcore players who have the time and inclination to test things like traction control and rear left tire pressure on dozens of different tracks and vehicles. I goofed around in the garage for about an hour before I conceded that I’d need to clone myself to make time for all this.
Project CARS is now available on Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. Wii U and Linux versions are expected later in 2015.