In 2015, Slightly Mad Studios burst on the scene with Project Cars, a realistic driving simulation looking to compete with Gran Turismo and Forza Motorsport. Simulation was even in the name, with CARS being an acronym for Community Assisted Racing Simulator. "The likes of Forza and Gran Turismo feel like racing games compared to Project CARS much more sim approach," said former USgamer editor-in-chief Jaz Rignal in his review. Funded partially by the community, the first Project Cars featured real cars, some real tracks, and an open approach that allowed players to race their favorite vehicles on any course, across various racing paths.
Now Slightly Mad Studios is delivering Project Cars 3, an attempt to hold onto that strong simulation experience, but also reach out to folks that might not otherwise play racing sims. That outreach is focused on an improved career progression mode, which allows players to gain experience from winning races across various career paths.
"We're introducing a compelling new Career Mode this year, with a brand-new metagame where you'll be gaining experience, leveling up, and using your hard-earned rewards to buy, upgrade, and customize your very own garage of cars. All of that without a microtransaction in sight, which is very important to us," Marketing and Esports Manager Joseph Barron said in a brief presentation. "We've also taken huge strides to make the game more accessible than ever before, without compromising the core racing and the driving experience that millions of gamer have come to expect from our franchise."
The team calls the updated Career Mode a "curated tour" of the best cars and tracks available in the game, with various categories including Road, Hyper Car, and GT. While the first Project Cars was an open sandbox, this mode is intended to give players something to work toward. Each event will have various objectives beyond just taking first place, and completing objectives will net players with XP and credits, which help you unlock and upgrade your cars.
Another change is that players earn more XP from events if they're using fewer driving assists. So hardcore racing sim players earn way more experience per event compared to neophyte racers or those coming for more arcade racing sims. "We want to give the player more encouragement to try increasing the difficulty and turning off the assists throughout their career, so that they can keep improving their skills" Barron said. If you don't like a specific event, you can just spend credits to skip right over it.
Upgrading your chosen cars improves their performance and handling, which is reflected for more casual players in the Performance Index Rating (PIR). Upgrades will allow players to take their favorite car all the way through an entire performance ladder, so if you want a Honda Civic Type-R that runs like a hyper car, you can get there.
Project Cars 2 Allows You to Customize Your Cars at Last.
In addition to performance, Project Cars 3 adds a brand-new option to the franchise: visual customization. Yes, this car simulation series didn't have full visual car customization until now. Every car has official manufacturer paint jobs and liveries, but you can also choose and make your own. Slightly Mad Studios has thrown in a wide range of colors, finishes, and officially licensed decals, with your customizations appearing in all game modes. It's something players of Gran Turismo and Forza Motorsport are used to, but it's great to see it coming to Project Cars finally.
Multiplayer is also seeing a shift in Project Cars 3. The game now has skill-based matchmaking, which should put you immediately into a race with players of a similar rating. There are also Scheduled Events, which are a series of races created by Slightly Mad Studios that take place at specific locations and specific times. You can register for these races and then come back to compete against other players, and if you don't have a car that allows you to participate, you can borrow a loan car for the event. And you can always spin up a Custom Lobby if you want, to pick out your own race combinations.
Finally, there's Rivals, an asynchronous multiplayer mode that replaces the old Community events from Project Cars 2. These are split between Daily, Weekly, and Monthly challenges; you jump in, do your best, and get a certain number of Rival Points for your performance. There are various leaderboards for each event, split into various Platinum, Gold, Silver, and Bronze categories. This means you can aim to be competitive in the Silver category, instead of being ranked against a player that's Platinum-level. Rival Points will determine your ranking in the overall leaderboard.
And worry not veteran Project Cars fans. If you jump over to Custom Event, you can race any car on any track in the game, even if you haven't unlocked them yet. You can change the race length, time of day, season, track weather, rules, and AI level.
Overall, I walked away from the presentation with the feeling that Slightly Mad Studios is trying to reach a new audience without leaving its hardcore fanbase behind. Project Cars will always be a racing simulation, but the question in front of the developer seems to be how to get more players into the simulation. More guide rails looks to have been the answer, with a heaping helping of visual customization.
As an arcade racing fan that mostly skipped over Project Cars and its first sequel, I'm looking forward to rolling around some tracks in a Nissan GT-R sporting a cool Kamen Rider design. Project Cars 3 is coming to PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One this Summer.