Project CARS 3: This Is Not A Simulation
The Project CARS 3 announcement made quite a stir among the racing community and expectedly so. For a franchise which grew from community support, together with its heavy focus on simulation. The Project CARS franchise & brand has become well loved by all racing fans.Project CARS is enjoyed for those very qualities but with this new iteration that has seemingly been turned on its head.
A lot of us have probably witnessed the announcement trailer, which in all honesty doesn’t present any of the qualities which fans have come to love about Project CARS, which is a racing simulation experience, not an arcade “fun fest” of Fast and the furious Hollywood style driving, with a side dish of vehicular carnage.
The future of racing simulation on Project CARS, despite some marketing from SMS and Ian Bell’s (CEO) constant squawking on forums and Twitter that those aspects remain, seem to be over but what if we go comb through all of what we know, what we can see and make an informed conclusion.
There isn’t a huge amount of content available but we do have a trailer, some gameplay footage, some interviews and the knowledge that Codemasters now own Slighty Mad Studios (SMS)
By collating all this information we can make a fairly good conclusion what kind of game Project CARS will be and if any of the simulation qualities remain.
The Gameplay Footage
- What we can see is new for the series, in its layout and design but giving the Ai names which continuously appear in the races, can provide us a name and driver to target, especially when we dislike them for beating us in races prior. The other similarity which I think is most striking is its familiar look and design to the interface in GRID 2019, a game of which Codemasters developed.
- It’s obstructed by the reminder that this is “Early BETA Footage” but the headset icon with the message “That’s great stuff we’re upto P5 – no mistakes, stay calm and keep pushing” is a persistent device we’ve seen through previous version of Project CARS, especially in the career mode, so we have some similarities here. Too bad it makes zero impact on the overall type of racing game this is.
- This may have been a stylistic choice from the design team but the exaggerated blur effects, which must have been added to help create that sense of speed, is something closer to need for speed than any pCARS release. It may be a coincidence but this is another Codemasters like design feature, which seems to have creeped in.
- This one’s not so obvious but the amount of laps per race might be a hint that the career mode is a lot closer in length to an arcade racer like GRID 2019 and even NFS Shift (Which Ian Bell continuously mentions when talking about pCARS3) Expect quick, snappy races that keep the racing flowing, with 2 or 3 lap races being the normal.
- Comparing game interfaces between past games, is the reason I bring your attention to the speedometer. When comparing to both pCARS 1 and 2, this version is on the simplified side. We don’t see thing’s like tyre temps, fuel levels, brake & accelerator inputs etc.. all we can see is the icons for ABS and Traction Control, of which we know can be turned on or off due to gameplay footage but when it comes to all the important dials and knobs they are missing. Meaning the focus on things like track temperature, tyre degradation, tyre performance and focus on weight levels with fuel, plus all the other myriad of small details which go into a racing simulator appear to be absent. With all these parts missing, the chances of pCARS3 harbouring more advanced simulation modelling under the hood looks bleak.
- This one is straight from NFS Shift, it was a game mechanic used to show the racer if they had mastered a corner or not, which also added to the racers score for that race. While the UI for the scoring seems absent, this mechanic is clearly aimed at the racing newbie. While on principle there is nothing wrong with that but it’s another mark in favour of the arcade style racer.
- This is almost a shot for shot of what you see in GRID 2019, the handling assists can all be toggled on or off, which is what a simulation fan base would want but may I suggest for those racing online that you keep those proximity indicators on. While this I think is meant to appease those who where so vocal early on about the games arcade look, we don’t get to see what levels are allowed or if they are just on off switches. Customisation of the racing has always been a big part of pCARS but this looks very simplified.
- This is also a long time game mechanic which has been creeping into racing games over the past decade but one used all the time in Codemaster titles. The driver earns more XP at the end of the race depending on the difficulty settings and which assists are used or not. The XP system has never been apart of pCARS but it is certainly making an appearance now.
- This one is another big one and would backup the lap length prediction in point 4 and even the points in number 5 but this is the pit entry at Brazil and it’s closed off, there is no way into the pitlane and if there is no use for the pitlane what else does the game not have a use for ? Fuel, tyre changes due to degradation or overheating, changing strategy due to dynamic weather conditions, practice sessions for tweaking setups and unplanned stops to fix damage, are all things the pit lane would be used for, so without one this game will have none of that.
These are the things we can all observe with the Project CARS gameplay footage and when you initiate a closer look beneath the surface layer, you can begin to deduce what type of game Project CARS 3 is, what it is designed to be, plus the target audience this was made for. While the overall design philosophy hasn’t been a secret, the hype, marketing and comments made from those within SMS claiming that all the simulation aspects we have grown to love still exist, are quickly being uncovered as nothing short of false values.
What The Interviews Say
The claims that what Project CARS fans have come to know and love about the series are still present, seem to be misinformation, especially the simulation side of the coin. The following interviews are used to backup the observations above and also uncover more evidence that this is purley an arcade racer, which just so happens to bare the Project CARS name.
- There has been a lot of talk about how Codemasters have heavily influenced this game and it certainly seems that way, especially when it looks like some of the in game interface and game mechanics seemingly come from the Codies playbook but we must remember also, the sale of SMS was only finalised at the end of 2019 and now six months later, we have a game ready to be previewed and shown-off with some level of polish, that is hardly capable in a mere 6 -7 months. Codies have surely added their own flavour but it’s clearly been a design choice made by SMS prior to the sale.
- This line is cause for concern, while not all those who have driven in pCARS like the simulation and physics models, it’s certainly not an arcade style. pCARS has a certain sense of realism to it but if they have designed this new title while changing the fundamental models, which form the basis of how the game feels and drives. Fans of the simulation handling better believe in miracles. While there’s a slim chance the “Simulation” handling in pCARS 3 is close to something we are all familiar with, what we’ve known is probably all but a memory, especially when nothing under the hood is the same as before. The question also remains that if it’s still as sim focused as before, why are things missing like pit stops, tyre temps and fuel gauges. A list which could potentially grow when we learn more.
- The focus now is clearly the more casual racing fan and the ethos of providing a realistically looking racing game, which is easier to pick up, learn and play is notable and something the more hardcore sim fan can lose sight of but this is also the cause of the outcry amongst the community. While I feel it’s somewhat justified we shouldn’t get so protective that we push away new fans but it also seems fitting to mention that, pCARS implementing such a drastic change, from what has made it so successful in the beginning, will disappoint fans and players who have supported pCARS and have grown attachments to the franchise through leagues, memorable races or some other emotional connection.
- This point can be connected to the setup that both NFS Shift and Grid 2019 implemented with their career modes. Starting from the bottom, building up to faster and faster cars, applying upgrades while all culminating in the final most prestigious racing championship, which I guess will have the word “world” embedded in its title somewhere. The career mode in pCARS3 looks to have this as its final goal. This is a long way from the freedom of past titles to start anywhere and concentrate on what’s involved in mastering your chosen racing discipline.
- This is about the only good news that has come out of any press material for pCARS3. Multiplayer has always been a big part of the series but anything outside the lobbies setup by leagues, where probably a nightmare to be involved in but a new online system which allows quick matching of players, especially within skill and racing etiquette boundaries will make for more exciting and enjoyable online races. While no system is perfect, for those who can’t commit the time to league racing, this works pretty well.
- Every time a developer makes special mention of the gamepad handling, it’s clearly focused at the more casual driver or fan. While most of you reading may have a wheel and have only sim raced on console, there’s far more players who play on the console, who only have a controller. Meaning that pleasing the masses with easy pick up and play is by far the priority, alongside selling as many units as possible.
- This point provides some hope, especially if you are expecting to use a wheel but it then quickly contradicts itself by saying “Having a more consistent experience across the car roster” This can only mean one thing, unlike past pCARS titles where each car or at least category of car had its own nuances and unique characteristics, the feeling along all 10 categories will feel the same, no need to find the correct setups or change the driving style, because every car will feel just like every other car.
- Why they need to continue to smash this down our throats, im not too sure but SMS have taken a very aggressive approach towards any detractors, while they have appeared to have forgotten what “Simulation” means. Challenging yourself by turning off the assists is a right of passage for alot of players and something we’ve all done, not all race categories have everything turned off. Having the ability to match real world assists is simulation too. The metion of adverse weather is nice to see but if we don’t have pit stops, it’s probably not going to be dynamic.
- It’s a strange time to be releasing a new game title, especially if historically you’ve focused on the simulation aspect of racing. It is no secret that the current gen consoles are aging hardware, that’s why both the PS5 and new Xbox are just around the corner but if the focus has been on graphics, which all the evidence points towards, the compromise will be with the algorithms that handle all the tricky things like physics, tyre models, complex AI and more, if they have simplified the physics, then this will be far from the “simulation” style they cotinue to bark about.
Breaking News: The Developer Blog
PLEASE NOTE: The preceding was all written before the release of this blog post from the developers of pCARS3 and it not only backs up several of the observations but adds even more fuel (or lack of) to the new direction pCARS is heading. Less simulation and more arcade. The claim the game still has simulation handling, looks to be mere marketing and a subjective claim made by Ian bell himself.
- This entire paragraph from Kris Pope looks to be having a go at how technical the motorsport world can be but it also shows that SMS and the team working on this new game have completely lost sight of what it is about motorsport that the simulation fans loves. All the aspects, especially finding the right setup is just something that is part of racing, it’s also an enjoyable aspect for many too and clearly that’s just not important anymore. It’s also ironic that there could still be a “wrong setup” if in the race it has no effect on the results. Simulation, I think not.
- So this should answer any questions about why the tyre wear and temperature interface was missing from the gameplay footage. Because it doesn’t exist. The tyres will remain at the optimum operating temperature and never wear down. They did try to confuse the story by explaining this layered approach to the tyre model but every racing game needs a tyre model, it’s a racing game! It’s how close the real world is modelled in game that get’s the attention of simulation fans but if you just dumb that down out goes strategy and the consequences for those drivers who are overdriving their cars. Again nothing wrong with doing this but how can this be considered “still a simulation experience, if you so choose” ?
- This was another observation which has been confirmed through this blog post, as both fuel and pit stops are history but saying that removing these variables means we get better racing is just a fallacy invented by SMS. If you where lucky enough to witness FNL1 take their first podium in the 24hr of lemans on iRacing a few weekends back, you would remember how tense and anxious the situation was becoming. This all due to the fuel and tyre strategy of the competing team in 4th. FNL1 where lifting and coasting to save fuel and even save some tyre life, while the chasing team had a small advantage and could begin to overdrive the car, wearing the tyres more. While this was much more risky to execute, it played into the intensity of the situation. To wipe out strategy all together is absurd but it’s a design decision that has been made.
Prepare For Something Different
Slightly Mad Studios seem to have lost the plot when it comes to providing a racing title for what was their core audience, in some cases even coming off as combative to the notion that sim racing fans are too quick to judge. The Project CARS series used to be about providing a huge collection of tracks and cars, while also providing a competitive, realistic experience. Aspects of racing such as setups, track temperatures, tyre degradation, optimal tyre temperatures, fuel strategies and all myriad of variables which go into real world racing, where once the forefront of the series’ concept and ethos. Unfortunately that has all been pushed aside as they chase a wider audience, which must be a decision based purely on the potential sales numbers.
Those of us who have enjoyed Project CARS over the years, are the reason SMS has had the level of success they have had. Through supporting them from the very beginning, providing feedback, criticism and ultimately buying the end product. It hasn’t been everyone’s cup of tea but for those who have really grown attached the series, this new approach is an insult. The community outrage shouldn’t be seen as sim racing elitist guarding the virtual motorsport community from new comers, as most of us love that about simracing and we welcome everyone to have a go but why did SMS, along with Codemasters have to drag the Project CARS IP through the mud ? Had this been called anything else, we would have left it alone and enjoyed it for what it is but the name has been used to give credit where none has been earned. This is what frustrates us and this is why the outrage will persist.
Wheather or not Codemasters influenced Project CARS 3, they will from here on out and if this is a decision SMS came to on their own, then we have little luck that Project CARS 4 will be back to it’s roots.
Because…well, it’s Codemasters.