Published on September 14th, 2020 | by Daniel Coomans
Project Cars 3 Xbox One Review
Summary: Project Cars 3 ditches its former charm in favour of pick up and play. As a result, the game struggles to find its own identity amongst a sea of better contenders.
Project Cars 3, made a surprising decision to drop its favoured simulation style of racing. Instead choosing to go for a more arcade style of racing. Admittedly this is my first Project Cars title, so I had no idea what to expect. It’s choice to go arcade, may very well be lost on me. Although as a racing enthusiast, my tastes in racing varies profusely. There’s just something about the feeling of driving cars I could only ever dream about affording, driving them at pace on long coastal roads, through windy mountain passes, through packed city streets and closed professional circuits.
In all my years of experience playing the various genres of racing games that I have. Gran Turismo, whilst I was young. The emergence of street racing with NFS: Underground and Midnight Club. The refined Forza, with it’s immense level of customisation for its time, a staple in many of today’s racers. I’ve never quite seen a racing game try to be everything at once, or as close to as possible. Project Cars 3 attempts this. Well, everything except actual street racing. Does it pull it off? I’m not really sure. There’s very much a double edged sword feel to the game, with plenty of good and bad points to the mismatched hodgepodge of content.
The game starts with a quick tutorial race in a beefed up GT3 class Camero GT race car. You’re taught the Project Cars version of racing line. There’s an invisible racing line, that as you follow and line up perfectly grants you extra experience. But the main focus is on three points, braking, apex and exit markers. These show a theoretical perfect racing line for cornering. Where and how far away to brake, the apex, center point of the corner and the best exit from the corner to maximise exit speed. This is not necessarily new, but it is a unique, and probably more user friendly method of explaining corners.
From there, it’s time to buy your first car, then the game explains some of it’s game modes. It’s not unlike the Gran Turismo of old, the very same great grandfather of most modern racers today. Buy a starter car, upgrade it as you progress, race in low risk low reward races, earn some cash and unlock higher tier cars, competitions and upgrades. A style I very much liked at the time, that now doesn’t necessarily fit, it’s not bad enough to fail miserably, but not good enough to smash the box office.
Its arcade style career mode events feature three challenges. Earn enough completions to unlock the culmination tournament for that bracket.The more you complete the further you progress. Most of the challenges are straight forward; master X number of corners, pass X number of drivers within X time, win race and so on. There were a few that I found particularly hard and not in a good way. An example would be “Draft behind for 5 seconds and then overtake”. Seems easy enough right? Wrong, I tried drafting for what felt like longer than five seconds before overtake, nothing. I tried, literally ramming and staying glued to them for longer than five seconds, nothing. I tried making sure I made a clean over take, nothing.
Thankfully, experiences like this are very rare. Overall, the career mode just screams easy. Normally, I’d be able to stick to normal and get enough challenge with maybe a driver assist tweak here or there for added flavour. Here, you can even do that, adjust the difficulty of the AI and even change how aggressively they drive. But because of its’ move to a more pick-up-and-play style of game. I was able to quite comfortably adjust the AI overall and aggression up a level each, whilst also removing a driver assist, without any real trouble. This concerns me, because I play games like these to be tested. However the game makes up for this with Pace Setter. It’s Time Attack on steroids. Complete three laps under the required average lap time to win pass with flying colours.
Again, seems easy no? Wrong again friend. See if you go too far off the track, and that can be easy enough to do, or even impact a wall, you will find said laptime deleted and you can no longer beat the event. This means you could perfect the first two laps, only to fail the third and need to restart the whole event. Suddenly not as easy as it sounds eh?
The game’s overall difficulty seems to be a bit on the easy side, however that being said, the game punishes you hard at times. Corner cutting is a staple of arcade racers, but Project Cars attempts to retain it’s professionalism by taking no prisoners who try to. The punishment is that the game locks your speed at ultra slow, so that you lose far more than you would have gained. This forces you to think outside the box and get creative, or adjust your play style to compensate.
Multiplayer is as bland as anything, early attempts netting nary a result. As many did not even have the game. Later attempts bore more fruits, but latency has always been my Achilles heel when it comes to racing games with servers primarily overseas. Other game modes feature a custom race mode, where you can pick any car from over two hundred cars. Select any of its one-hundred and twenty something locations, add in some wild effects and away you go. And I do mean, wild effects. The game has a dynamic, ish, weather and day cycles system. Some races transition from late afternoon to evening, others from dry to wet. These effects work really well and change the atmosphere entirely.
Evening races are harder to see the correct racing lines, whilst wet races really screw you over. Think of it like driving on ice, because that’s how it feels. Perhaps it’s a bit too hyper-realistic for a game that has effectively now switched racing genres. It feels a little out of place, but it does make for an almost insurmountable challenge to the racing. Rivals mode is another interesting one, it borrows from Need for Speed’s Speedwall feature. You post a time, others try to beat it, or vice versa. This earns you rival points, in a sort of ranking system. At the end of the end of the event period you earl credits based on your placing. An interesting idea and a clever way to get those against multiplayer, like myself, to taste a little bit of the dark side.
The game lacks individual character. It gave up the charm it had worked so hard to build and tried to be too much at once.
The level of customisation in the game is pretty good too. All of the Project Cars vehicles can be upgraded, similarly to Gran Turismo. Some even have the option of a Works package to become full fledged GT cars. Performance tuning can be made when the right parts are installed and give real feedback to the players. Allowing them to tune a car’s settings to their unique play style. Cars and classes unlock as you level up your character, but progression through levels is relatively slow. You can buy into the higher tier classes with in game credits earned through prior races, so after a brief stint in Class E, if you saved up all your dough, you could be brave and buy a beginner GT car and unlock the beginner GT series.
There are lots of ways to earn exp however. Each exploit you do in race, nets you a bit of exp. String a bunch together and you can earn 10k+ in a single race. Things like clean passes, dirty passes, drafting, corner mastery, track mastery, drifting. All net you a little bit each. Then there’s goals, much like challenges in Halo MCC or something similar. Goals like, X number of total passes, X number of total wins, race wins with a specific car or manufacturer. With so many ways to earn experience it’s no wonder the level requirement is so high, but it does leave a bit of a sour taste it takes so long.
I must note, firstly that I was playing on my now heavily outdated OG Xbox One. So I might be forgiven for my opinion here. Graphically however, the game is mismatched mess. Menu graphics are of a high quality, not the best, but far from the worst. Cars look detailed well, the “social spaces” look very nice too. All very detailed and well crafted. The lighting could do with some work and the attempt at glossy finishes on cars left a bad taste on my tongue. Despite their accurate detailing, cars look far too glossy for my liking. Maybe that was a style choice, maybe it was engine limitations. Either way, it was a bit much.
Character sprites too, while a bit overworked are detailed enough. There’s a fair amount of customisation with both your helmet and your jump suit. They might be a little bland, but they do the trick. Car customisation is relatively beefy too, you can’t really change your body kit etc. The game isn’t NFS after all, though it takes ideas from it. But you can freely change colour, add decals and give it a real professional look. Or simply browse a decent array of presets.
In race graphics however, really bother me. Maybe it was my outdated tech, maybe it’s the Xbox One version, or maybe it was just poor design. Frame rates are solid, but graphics phase in and out to keep it that way. Cars can get all pixelated, decals and vinyls can render in and out frequently. The whole design feels like a late Xbox 360 title. Now I don’t want to complain too much, because as long as the content is there, graphics can be a little forgiven right? I’m afraid not, maybe if there was more consistency between menu and race graphics maybe. But the level of detail in the menu far supercedes that of the core gameplay and that cannot be excused.
And that’s not even covering the environment. Stands are akin to 2D of old, crowds within are even worse. Weather effects, mainly the rain effects, don’t look right. There’s a sort of mist, now this might be forgiven if they included fog as a weather effect but it’s clearly not. The mist is clearly design to simulate the appearance of rain, since you can hardly see water droplets falling. It’s not all bad though, one thing the inclusion of adapting water droplets was a nice touch. The slower you go, the greater number of droplets streak along the panels of your car. Hit the higher speeds and now the water droplets are flying off your car. It’s this dynamic animation that I love and really wish I saw more of.
Project Cars 3 manages to hit and miss with its audio too. In game music, is *smacks lips* mwah superb. A huge mix of high intensity trap, drum and base music adorns some of the menus and many of the races. Great for a high octane arcadey racer. And it really, really fits well. But what was surprising was some classy, elegant and smooth jazzy music accompanying areas of the menus like the showroom, garage and main menu. This split the specific areas up and game them all a strong identity.
You don’t need heavy drum and base when you’re casually adding decals to your new wheels, or whilst browsing for said new wheels. That level of intensity is saved for where it belongs, race selection and actual races. It hypes you up in preparation for races and adds atmosphere to passes, high speed cornering and more. That’s not all, the best part about it, is how the game reacts to menu swapping. The music doesn’t just cut the smooth jazz of the showroom for the high intensity race selection screen, that would be jarring. Instead blend the two together, before the former gives way to the latter. This creates a smooth, seamless transition between the genres that is easy on the ears.
That’s where the praise dies off however. The game suffers from poor ambiance, sound effects and voice talent. The voice lines, are informative and well written, but their delivery is poor. The tutorial narrator, meant to sound calming and almost sultry. But it ends up coming off cheap and ineffective. And the engineer, once again, informative, comes off really stoic and bland. Sound effects sound hollow and unrefined. Crowds, are not restricted to poor design and animation. They sound like a blown speaker. A crackly, distorted mess. Drifting sounds like crunching gravel, engine noise sounds muted and dull. I expected more for a game of this calibre.
In conclusion. The game lacks individual character. It gave up the charm it had worked so hard to build and tried to be too much at once. Struggling with it’s own identity, its flaws shine above its own achievements. Does it want to be a sim racer? Does it want to be an arcade racer? Is it appealing to the masses? Or is it appealing to die hard fans?
There are plenty of good qualities it should be proud of. But for every good quality, there was an equal or greater fault to rear its ugly head alongside it. For a game of this era and a developer with the calibre of Bandai Namco, I expected a lot more from a third entry in a relatively successful series. The game has an outstanding roster of cars and tracks. Over two hundred beautifully rendered and detail cars. Ranging from your average sporty Civic Type R, right through to Formula Two, Indy car and P1 class Le Mans’ cars. When viewed in the showroom of course. And over one hundred and twenty destinations. Tracks like Brands Hatch, Sao Paulo, Bathurst and even Monaco. All suffer from the same in game graphical problems. But accurately recreate the circuits and their character.
But all this gets lost amongst the sea of equally frustrating faults. I would highly recommend purchasing either the PS4 version or the PC version, as graphically, it seems to fair better on these platforms. Praise should be given where praise is due. For what it is, the game is an excellent, if rough around the edges, pick-up-and-play game. I’d personally recommend checking it out when on sale at a later date, as it is definitely not worth the full game price tag slapped on it.