According to Morrish, for players tossing up between the excellent Project CARS 2 and the upcoming Project CARS 3, the decision is simple.
“In that situation, when you’ve got somebody in a store – looking at the two copies and thinking which one to go for – kinda by definition they’re not in the initial target market of Project CARS 2, which was very much towards racing fans and simulation heads and people that were fans of motorsport and so on,” said Morrish. “So there are certain things that we’ve done in Project CARS 3 that make the new version the version that that particular person should go for, at the drop of a hat.”
“So that person that’s umming and erring between the two versions needs to go for the latest version, because – as an experience – it’s much more their cup of tea, we think. It’ll let them find their position on the continuum between casual, mass-market racing fan or petrol head and all the way to hardcore sim racer.”
Project CARS 3 will feature a completely new career mode for the series, rebuilt from scratch. It’s pitched as a curated experience, taking players through 10 car classes and introducing upgrades and unique visual customisation options to the series for the first time. That said, the team was quick to stress this new approach to career mode hasn’t come at the expense of the series’ deep racing toolbox.
“We haven’t forgotten about what got us to this point and the people that supported us up to this point,” said Morrish. “So what they know and love about the franchise is there and it’s better than it ever has been before.”
“In the custom event mode all the cars and tracks are available straight away in that mode,” added Joe Barron, marketing and esports manager for Project CARS 3. “So if you’re more on the hardcore end of the scale and the first thing you want to do is turn every assist off and go and race in a thunderstorm in the middle of the night in your prototype or something like that, you don’t have to play through hours of career mode to get there if you want to jump straight into a custom event.”
“And likewise in multiplayer as well; everything is available straight away in multiplayer. The difference is, in the multiplayer side of things, if you don’t own the right car for a specific multiplayer event you can borrow one from the game for that multiplayer event. The only difference there is that you can’t customise or upgrade your car if you’re borrowing it for a one-off event, whereas if it’s in your garage you can do all the tweaking.”
IGN was shown a glimpse of some of these upgrades in action, which involves customising livery templates, rims, tyre lettering, and so forth. There will also be the ability to build your own race cars from selected road cars in the game, which sounds like the racing modification feature in Gran Turismo and the ‘Works Upgrade’ option in Slightly Mad’s own Need for Speed Shift.
“With the upgrade system, one of the things we’re keen for people to be able to do is that – if they do latch onto a car that they really like early on in the career – you can carry that through the car classes,” said Barron. “The only thing I can’t tell you right now is which exact cars this applies to but quite a lot of the road cars have full race-spec kits that you can upgrade them with as well, so you can take them all the way up to some of the very top classes in the game.”
Multiplayer has also been overhauled and will include scheduled races (à la Gran Turismo Sport) and proper skill-based matchmaking.
“In Project CARS 2 we already had this competitive racing license system that was measuring everybody’s skill level and safety or sportsmanship level within the multiplayer side of things, but we didn’t do enough with it,” said Barron. “All that data existed and was attached to everybody’s individual profile; if you were setting up a custom lobby you could set parameters to limit who could join to certain skill levels.”
“But now that we’ve got the scheduled races and all the skill-based matchmaking, we’re actually making proper use of that, and that’s going to make a big difference to people being able to jump in from day one, find their level up against the right part of the community for them to be racing against, and improve the quality of racing.”
Slightly Mad Studios showcased a pair of new locations for Project CARS 3, including Brazil’s Autódromo José Carlos Pace (better known as Interlagos) and a street circuit in Shanghai. Amongst the many, many returning tracks we also spotted a Havana-based track. Shanghai and Havana have been locations in Codemasters’ Grid games in the past, but Morrish explains this is a fluke.
“Hand on heart, it is just coincidence,” he said. “Too little time has passed for any real coalition of our dev and their dev to have taken part. At the moment we’re part of one big family, and there are certain background things, boring HR processes, and stuff like that that we’re beginning to meld together, but the games we’re working on were too far developed to really have any cross-pollination of ideas or any new assets or things like that.”
“The stuff that we were working on pre-acquisition is the same post-acquisition. Future projects, things might be different, but Project CARS 3 is the same game as we started making.
“Codemasters have their own engine and we have our own engine. It’s a bit like Unity and Unreal, say; you can’t take stuff from Unreal and stick it directly into Unity, and we’re the same sort of thing. We’ve got a mature tech stack we’ve been working on for 10, 15 years, same as Codemasters. So although they’re throwing around similar things, which are our version of a track and their version of a track, we can’t just suck one out and pop it into the other one.
“But we will be able to share assets more effectively and take advantage of some of the economies of scale that a larger company has and so on. So it’s a positive thing, we think, across both companies.”
There have also been huge changes to the gamepad handling and improvements to force feedback for wheel users.
“One of the things we’ve spent a lot of time on is adding lots of little details and new features to the way that force feedback works for steering wheel players,” said Barron. “We’ve been looking at each phase of cornering as an individual part of the process, so braking and turn-in: what extra detail can we add there? What extra detail do we need as you get through the curve to the apex, and what extra detail can we put in as you start to put power on again? We’ve made some big steps in that area; as soon as we started compartmentalising it like that we made some big steps on force feedback, which has been really cool.”
“And we’ve really done lots of work to the gamepad handling as well, in terms of how the game reads – in particular – left analogue stick input, and then also making the assists a lot less intrusive on the gamepad. So they’re still helpful, but they become less of a crutch if you’re playing on a gamepad, and it’s easier to gradually turn them off and increase the difficulty, and along with that you’re going to be earning bigger rewards for experience and credits as you do that.”
Project CARS 3 will be available for PS4, Xbox One, and PC later this summer (or winter, for everyone below the equator). If you’re unfamiliar with the series, check out IGN’s review of Project CARS 2 here.
Luke is Games Editor at IGN’s Sydney office. You can find him on Twitter sporadically @MrLukeReilly.