The release of Project CARS 3 caught me slightly off guard, and that shouldn’t be of much surprise as recent racing game focus at The Reticule has been on art of rally, F1 2020 and Dirt 5. Development has again been handled by Slightly Mad Studios with Namco Bandai handling publishing duties, even though Slightly Mad are now part of the Codemasters empire. Having sunk a few hours into the game, I wonder whether the change of ownership of Slightly Mad has had an impact on the game itself with a few elements not quite hooking up as they could have done.
Unlike the previous titles which were hardcore sims, reminiscent of Bloodborne on wheels, CARS 3 takes a substantially different approach to racing. This isn’t a slightly rough around the edge’s sim anymore, but neither is it a full arcade blast. It sits in the mid-ground which will be a shock to the system of the hardcore CARS fans, and it immediately makes me wonder whether the branding should have been tweaked slightly to allow for a continued sim route for the CARS series, and this as a less intense part of the series. Think of what Codemasters have done with the mainline Dirt series and the hardcore Dirt Rally offshoots.
I knew CARS 3 was going to be different from the opening race. I kept all four wheels on the track and didn’t touch the barriers once, something which would have been a miracle for me playing on pad in either of the first two games. I was also being bombarded by elements in the UI popping up to reward me with XP for overtakes, drafting and high speeds. It all reminded me of Shift 2: Unleashed, a 2011 racer from Slightly Mad which I had mixed feelings about.
With CARS 3, the racing itself is fine, especially when you turn the assists and UI elements off, albeit the AI seemed to having a habit of switching between Very Easy and Medium difficulties without warning between races, and you can certainly have a very fun time in custom races. It’s a shame that the career mode doesn’t click. Following the footsteps of a Gran Turismo or Forza you start off in a family hatchback and by meeting goals in each race, you unlock the next block of races in the tier and ultimately, the next tier as well.
The trouble is that the rewards in each event or block of events aren’t enough to keep you gripped. The third block of the first tier of events requires combinations of 4WD and Ford vehicles which likely means you need to splash the cash to acquire one or two a suitable vehicles for a block of four events. It would be fine if you weren’t then running short on funds to buy cars that are suitable for the next tier of racing. You can shortcut the need for achieving goals to unlock events and tiers by spending money, which can help you unlock the new range of events. But with the limited financial rewards for each race you complete, and no mystery prize cars on offer, the career quickly blogs down into an unwelcome grind. Taking some lessons from last year’s relaunch of GRID might have been wise.
Away from the career mode, the custom races are probably your best bet to have some fun. Shorn of the restrictions set in career, here you have access to a mighty roster of cars. Muscle cars and hatchbacks populate the lower end. A range of hypercars and GT racers flesh things out, while a trio of Audi, Porsche, and Toyota LMP1 machines stand proud. IndyCar and Formula E make an appearance, but the true joy lies with the real classics. A host of legendary Lotus F1 machines are on hand, along with gorgeous 1950s greats like the Aston Martin DBR1/300 and the Ferrari 250 Testa Rossa also appear.
The choice of cars and tracks is stunning, although there are some glaring omissions, I truly missed the opportunity to take some of the machines around places like Le Mans and Spa. Those tracks appear in other racing games, and while it would have been nice to have them here, licensing restrictions rule the roost. I imagine it is licensing which has led to damage being all but non-existent (beyond some cracks in a windscreen), and allowed the introduction of a range of tyre manufacturers in a world where tyre wear has been consigned to the bin. There is something to be said for taking the Aston DBR1 around Rouen-Les-Essarts, starting in glorious sunshine and ending in snowfall. A trip with the Lotus Type 25 around Imola was an experience to behold. I was left disappointed that I couldn’t create a race with a mix of GT and LMP1 machines, but you can have grids mixed with other cars in the class or power category. Some fine tuning of opposition (and maybe even qualifying) would have been nice.
There’s something to be said for the move towards a handling model which does allow you to take the historic cars around some of the world’s classic track in all of their various layouts. It does make me wonder whether it’s going to entertain the multiplayer crowd enough. I only took part in a couple of races, but there is a safety/licence rating system as is becoming de rigueur.
I wish the career mode had been tweaked slightly, more rewards at the right moments would have made a world of difference. The handling model keeps me involved enough when the assists are turned off, and the breadth of choice in custom races is something to behold. A few nip and tucks could have given us something magical, as it is, CARS 3 just reaches the finishing line ahead of an On Target.
The Verdict – Headshot
Platforms Available – PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Platform Reviewed – PC
Please see this post for more on our scoring policy. Review based on Steam media account copy.