Beautiful. From the look of the cars to the shadows and reflections, Project CARS was built with attention to detail... and, apparently, thousands of gallons of clear-coat.
Project CARS' aim to please is clearly evident, from its highly tweakable graphics settings to its vast input support. You can select from a whole slew of camera views, with the number of views and types of views actually depending on the types of vehicles. To give you an idea, there are driver views, GoPro view (just to the right of the driver), dash cam, hood cam, bumper cam and chase cam, to name a few. For each of these types of views, the Field of View can be separately tweaked in the settings.
In real race cars, radios are used for communication with the pit, not for setting the mood while you race. In Project CARS, the same applies. As you race around the track, you'll receive audio communication from your crew chief, informing you when you need to "box" your car (return to the pit) for service or due to the rules of a given race (sometimes a pit stop is mandatory), or to compliment you on a good lap or overtaking an opponent, or to warn you of dangerous conditions or vehicles closing on you.
As for music, you won't encounter any during the races, themselves. If you want music playing in the background, you can open Spotify in the background, and if you like, listen to one of the 8 different playlists that have been set up specifically for Project CARS. Project CARS' eight playlists are: Classical, House, Cinematic, Tech House, Rock, Progressive, Drum & Bass and one devoted to Deadmau5. Is there a song missing from one of the playlists that you think should be included? Suggest it. Prefer a different sort of music? You can listen to a playlist of your choice or create a new one. This approach allows Project CARS to avoid paying licensing for music, which die-hard simulation fans may see as pointless anyway, but still allows them to provide a suggested tracklist for players to listen to, should they desire to do so.
There is music in the menus, however, scores written by Dr. Stephen Baysted of SMS. You might recognize his style, as he's done music for several racing games, including games in the GTR, Need for Speed and Test Drive series.
Project CARS has been designed to be accessible to any player who might possibly want to play... especially from the control(ler) side of things. I couldn't wait to try it out with my Thrustmaster T500 RS (review link below), but before I was able to try that out, I tried out Project CARS with a keyboard and an Xbox 360 gamepad. Both of these worked, but it felt like a crime to play a game that looks so realistic with such simplified and unrealistic controls. If you have a somewhat recent PC steering wheel, it's probably compatible. There were actually two different options for the Thrustmaster T500 RS, but it took a while for me to get through the multitude of controller options to find them.
While Project CARS may work with a keyboard or a gamepad, it was intended for much grander things. Like a force-feedback steering wheel with pedals. And three monitors. This is the realistic simulation that you've been waiting for, with the tweakability to get the settings just exactly like you need them and a wide variety of racing types, from Kart racing to stock cars and from concept cars to Formula racing. These different types of cars all handle differently, as you would expect, but they're all available in one place. If you opt to play the Career Mode, you'll select a Tier to start in, but other game modes allow you to select between the different types of vehicles as part of the setup of the race.
In general, Project CARS is sort of a racing simulation "sandbox." All of the modes, cars and tracks that come with the game are available for use from the beginning; there is nothing to "unlock." Even the Career Mode allows you to select any Tier to start in. Available modes include Career Mode, Quick Race, Free Practice, Time Trials and Online. Free Practice is just that and allows you to choose a car, a track and weather conditions and just tool around. You can use this mode to learn the track or to simply go for a leisurely drive and take in the sights. It's up to you. Time Trials allows you to race against the clock to see what your best possible time is for a given track, car, and set of conditions. You can opt to race against a ghost car of another player who has tried the same conditions in Time Trial, or submit your performance for others to test themselves against, as well. Quick Race allows you to jump into a race without having to work through a career to get there and pits you against A.I. opponents, whose skill levels can be tweaked in Options and Settings. I highly recommend getting a good bit of practice here before trying your hand at the Online races - at least until you've gotten comfortable with the game. Online is the mode that pits you against other players in the real world. Some will be better than you, others... not so much.
Hmm. Well, while Project CARS never brought me to tears, I did have a couple of occasions where I yelled, "Really!?" and, perhaps some expletives at the screen. I'm a fan of racing games, but I also play a lot of other types of games, so although I enjoy racing games a lot, I'm not the best at them. Also, I've played more arcade racers than simulations and, when possible, played simulation games with the more arcade-y settings enabled. I say all that to say this: Project CARS is not an arcade racing game. It is a simulation game. There are not settings to make the physics more forgiving. If you want to avoid sliding off the track in the corners, you'll need to improve your skills and/or change your setup on your car. My previous strategy of rocketing into a corner, hitting the breaks and turning the wheel then launching myself out of the curve simply doesn't work in Project CARS. In fact, if I try to take a curve without being in gear and giving it some gas, I never seem to regain any traction, so I've had to learn to drive more sensibly and realistically to play Project CARS.
Additionally, there are rules to be followed and consequences for not following them. In arcade racing games, cutting corners is a great strategy and finding a shortcut through a mall is even better. Stepping outside the lines here will get you warned, penalized or worse.
Now, while I've stated above that the physics are unforgiving, how the car handles also depends a lot on, well, how the car handles. I've always felt that, were I ridiculously rich, I would never actually buy and drive an exotic supercar because no one needs to go that fast (in the US) on public roads. However, if the McLaren 12c handles as well in real life as it does in Project CARS, it may prove an exception to my rule. Running around in a thunderstorm, I found that I could actually push it at speed and maintain control. The other cars? Not so much.
Oh, and if you find yourself overly challenged by the game, look in the Options Menu for A.I. Difficulty. I find I can pull it all the way down to 10% and still have a decent challenge ahead of me. Your mileage may vary.
Project CARS is not an arcade racing game; it's a simulation game that is designed from the ground up to give a realistic racing experience. If you're looking for realistic track racing, you're looking for Project CARS. Throw whatever hardware you have at it and perhaps, check out the "Beyond Reality" link below for ways to enhance your simulation experience. There are even apps for mobile devices that allow you to use them as extra screens in-game, as things such as maps or instrumentation.
The only downside to Project CARS is that it could use more cars and tracks. I realize that they've spread themselves a bit thin by offering such a wide variety of racing tiers, with Kart, Formula, Stock and Touring all in the same game, but the game has only one Japanese car and no VW to be found. Also they have cars that are a joy to cruise in, such at the Caterham 7, but only have one street course to cruise down (Asure Coast). I hope Project CARS does well and gets DLC to fill in these gaps, with additional tracks and cars being released. Even if that never comes to pass, however, the game looks amazing and can be a joy to play. I'm giving Project CARS a slightly less than perfect score due to this smaller selection of cars and tracks. If the DLC makes up for this (and comes in at reasonable prices), then you're looking at a perfect score and a nearly perfect game.
If you're a fan of arcade racers with rubber-band placement that keeps you in the running even if you wipe out and catches up with you no matter how amazing your performance, then you're in the wrong place. If you're tried of racing around in cars that can't take damage and you want a little bit of risk and reward... a bit of consequence with your adrenaline rush, then get in here, already; your simulation awaits.
Windows Vista, Windows 7 with latest Service Packs, 2.66 GHz Intel Core 2 Quad Q8400 Processor (or 3.0 GHz AMD Phenom II X4 940 Processor) or better, 4 GB RAM, nVidia GTX 260 / ATI Radeon HD 5770, DirectX Version 9.0, Broadband Internet connection, 25 GB Available Hard Drive Space, DirectX compatible sound card.
(For racing wheel support check the "Beyond Reality" link, below.)