Project CARS 3 is a racer so fundamentally different from its immediate forerunners it’s bordering on unrecognisable. It abandons the sim racing sensibilities and adopts a radically different driving feel and a new career mode mostly made up of snack-sized racing and driving challenges. There’s never a time when it feels like an actual sequel to Project CARS 2 – and that is disappointing.Slightly Mad Studios hasn’t just sanded the edges off its previously stoic simulation experience; it’s smashed it to bits and reassembled it using two-thirds of the pieces, filling the gaps with stuff snapped off other racers. There are times when it appears more like a mobile spin-off, and other times where it seems like somewhat of a spiritual successor to the developer’s own pre-Project CARS racer, Shift 2: Unleashed. The upshot isn’t necessarily a bad racing game, but it’s one with a real identity crisis that’s hamstrung in a number of baffling ways compared to its excellent predecessor.Project CARS 3 ditches the race driver-for-hire model for a 10-tier curated experience stretching from road cars to hypercars, and race cars to faster race cars. Gone is the ability to work your way through individual championships, replaced with a shotgun spray of fairly shallow five-or-so minute events. XP is accumulated, small smatterings of cash are awarded, and boxes are checked. The end result heavily resembles 2019’s Grid and, if you’re a fan of that game’s easy-to-digest format and zippy, stylised take on motor racing, you may be content with this. There’s also an asynchronous ‘Rivals’ mode along the lines of the identically-named mode that’s been doing the rounds in Forza games for many years, and it pilfers the GT Sports approach to scheduled online racing (which, admittedly, GT Sport lifted from iRacing in the first place). That said, if you remain keen on the meaty race weekend atmosphere of Project CARS 2, you should definitely keep playing Project CARS 2.
The end result heavily resembles 2019’s Grid and, if you’re a fan of that game’s easy-to-digest format and zippy, stylised take on motor racing, you may be content with this.
The races are pretty typical of the catch-the-rabbit style of racing that works in most other arcade racers and semi-simulations; that is, sprint from last to first in a few laps. You can generally gobble up half the field by the first corner. There are a few other event types, like a block smashing event type akin to those you’d find in Dirt games, and two slightly different time trials that would be more fun if they let you spend more time lapping continuously and less time hammering through menus for another shot.
It rapidly becomes a bit of a grind, though, and the initial payouts are a little too stingy to completely support the number of cars you’re asked to continuously buy to complete specific events. Moving up and down tiers with a single car is a little inelegant, too; if your car’s not currently eligible you have to shuffle all the way back to the main menu, which is ill thought-out.Each event has a trio of objectives to meet in order to unlock further events, many of which are straightforward enough to be completed without really paying attention to them. Some are overtaking quotas and some are drafting challenges. Some combine drafting and overtaking, but I can never get those ones to register. Others are often related to perfecting corners, Project Gotham-style. Corners are now marked with digital indicators for entry, apex, and exit à la GT Sport, though that can be toggled off. It is arguably a better solution than conventional racing lines but the braking markers are regularly too cautious considering how effectively overpowered the braking seems.
Access to higher tiers requires a lot of completed objectives, though you can also buy your way directly into tiers with in-game cash. It borders on pointless unless you’ve also got the adequate driver level and cash to splurge on an eligible car, but with enough upgrades even entry-level cars can compete and win in the top tiers.
Tyre and Bridgestone
You can upgrade your first ride to take on the best Project CARS 3 has to offer, with performance and visual customisation featured for the first time in the series. Stuffing enough upgrades into a Tommi Mäkinen Edition Lancer that it can go toe-to-toe with a Bugatti Chiron has a certain charm to it reminiscent of the original Gran Turismo and the great many games it subsequently inspired, but it feels pretty weird in what used to be a realistic love letter to the otherwise regulated world of authentic racing. Road cars can also be turned into race cars via a race modification feature, the kind you may recall from the original Gran Turismo games (or the ‘Works Upgrade’ option in the Need for Speed Shift games).