Fitting between an arcade racer and a sim, Project CARS 3 tries something new with the series, but doesn’t feel like a huge step forward.
As a big fan of racing games, I barely let the titles of this genre slip through my fingers. The first time I played the original Project CARS, I remember that I was struggling to finish my first race without being disqualified. It took me several hours to eventually reach the finish line at a position in the middle of the tournament’s table. Every time that I adjusted the car tuning settings, I learned something new about their impact on my car until I finally found what would better suit my driving style and the track’s condition. That was an incredibly rewarding experience for me, despite all its unbelievably tough challenges.
With Project CARS 2, Slightly Mad Studios not only saved the previous tone but also brought some brand new features to get you more involved in the world of legal racing tournaments. That said, the third mainline installment of the game has taken a left turn. Project CARS 3, as the developers already revealed, is supposed to be a spiritual successor to Need For Speed: Shift 2 Unleashed, meaning that it would be dropped somewhere between a total arcade and a total simulation experience.
I think they should’ve named this new entry something other than Project CARS 3. I mean, there should be a subtitle to warn you that this game is going to be a very different experience than the first two entries of the franchise. Project CARS 3 is obviously a spin-off for the series, and I think it should’ve been named like a spin-off. Of course, I’m here to talk about the game itself rather than its title, but this title might be a little bit misleading and sets players up for a different type of experience than what they are actually getting.
Simply put, Project CARS 3 doesn’t want to deliver a fully realistic experience of driving racing cars, but on the other hand, it doesn’t do enough to bring an exciting arcade experience either. It seems like the developer has decided to make it a semi-simulation game, to satisfy both newcomers and old fans. They might be successful in driving new players to the franchise with Project CARS 3, but they surely have frustrated many veteran fans of the franchise.
Project CARS 3 still has some of those basic legacy elements from its predecessors. The handling of the cars still feels realistic, as you can feel the weight of the car and its struggling when turning in the corners. The destructibility of the cars is much better than most other racing titles with licensed cars. You still need to put a lot of care into your driving to save your position and finish the game at the top rank.
Despite all the attributes above, Project CARS 3 still lacks many essential features of simulation racing. The tuning options have been reduced significantly and the available ones are not accessible easily. In order to gain control over each section of your car, first you need to buy a new part for that section from the upgrade menu. For example, you won’t be able to adjust the gearbox settings unless you upgrade the car’s gearbox with a new piece. It might seem not to be a big deal, but it is, especially if you want to really fine-tune your car and its parts.
All of the cars in the game have been divided into different segments based on their performance. So if you buy a car from Road D class, you can then upgrade it to a point that its performance reaches the standards of Road C. Then, you wouldn’t be able to use that car in its original class. Unfortunately, the gaps between different segments are too small, which means a few new parts would make your car move into the next segment. It’s almost impossible to unlock all the adjustments of a car while keeping it in its original class, which is really frustrating for me.
Project CARS 3 has a surprisingly big number of cars and tracks that make it the best entry of the series in this particular area. The game includes a wide range of cars from every well-known manufacturer and various eras. It’s going to be really tough to not to find some of your favorite cars in Project CARS 3, as it almost features a handful of cars from every flavor.
The worst part about Project CARS 3 is its completely unbalanced AI, both in the case of opponent drivers and its penalty system. I did say it’s still hard to keep everything under control during a race, but all those challenges are caused by the realistic behavior of your car, not opponents. There are two factors for adjusting the difficulty level of AI, with the first one setting their level of skills and the second determining how aggressively they react to you and other drivers in the track.
Their level of aggression doesn’t really have any impact on you. Setting it at a high level will even aid you to have a better chance for winning the race, as the AI drivers will knock each other out of the track at the corners while having no aggressive movement towards you.
The skill of the AI drivers, on the other hand, is very unbalanced. In some races they are so tough to beat, and in others, it feels like playing on the lowest difficulty. I couldn’t honestly figure out why this keeps happening, but at least I found out that it happens very rarely in the high-tier racing segments.
You can spot the same problem in the game’s penalty system as well. At some points, I made some very bad mistakes in the track, like driving in a way that is not even a part of the track’s determined road, but in the end, I didn’t get a brief penalty for that, while sometimes the game punishes you for cutting the corners, even if it’s so negligible.
Customizations are not as varied as the cars and tracks in the game. You can either choose a pre-made livery for your car or make your own with the limited number of available options, which could’ve been much more than the present ones. When it comes to the rims and tires, there are enough products to eventually find your favorite one.
There are only a total of four race types in the game, aside from their division by the car classes: two of them represent different versions of Time Trial tournaments, and the other two deliver simple and classic competition between drivers. I think when you decide to move towards a more arcade-style experience, you need to get more creative with the design of everything, including new ways of racing, and this is where it feels like the game often falls short.
Project CARS 3 shows its huge potential when you reach higher car classes and participate in supercar or GT tournaments. This is really where you can feel the game’s arcade structure and enjoy some of its brilliant achievements. The game has a very satisfying approach in driving high-speed cars, which pushes you forward to play more and more after winning every race.
From the graphics perspective, Project CARS 3 is a good-looking game, but it could’ve been much better with higher-quality textures. Even playing at 1080p reveals the sharp edges of its textures in every object, especially cars, which can be worse if you play at higher resolutions. That said, there aren’t any game-breaking bugs in Project CARS 3, which is a great progression for Slightly Mad Studios compared to the previous entry of the series.
The Photo Mode of Project CARS 3 is another positive feature that I found in my playtime. There are a bunch of different options and dozens of various lenses to capture multiple shots from your car in the way you desire. Most of the images you see on this page have been modified by the game’s Photo Mode.
All in all, Project CARS 3 is a new attempt from Slightly Mad Studios that doesn’t really fit into the rest of the franchise, but delivers a moderately enjoyable experience for racing fans. The game partially succeeds in being a spiritual successor to NFS: Shift, but in general, the new installment of the Project CARS series feels more like a regression than a true step forward.