Project CARS 3’s biggest problem isn’t the gameplay, but its name

Thomas Harrison-Lord
Panoz GT1 in Project CARS 3

What’s in a name? This question must be circulating in the brains of the Slightly Mad Studios development team ad nauseam. The answer is quite a lot, as it transpires.

Project CARS 3 was released at the end of August 2020 to cries of foul play and much derision. An unedifying situation for a franchise that was once so full of promise.

Now, I should state that my own opinion of the game isn’t favourable. The visuals were more 2010 than 2020, AI opponents inert and career progression that lacked engagement were amongst the afflictions.

Not completely without merit, the core gameplay could be fun with a controller, drifting around corners with abandon. You also didn’t need to win races to progress, per se, but rather complete race objectives such as overtaking several cars or slipstreaming for a certain time period. In-race, you could earn bonus XP for sliding or earning ‘perfect corners’. This all reminded me of Driveclub’s unique twist on the accessible-racer genre.

Nissan Z Proto

But then, the objectives in that game were at least achievable, whereas some are simply daft in Project Cars 3. Plus, Driveclub looked incredible, and its cornering had a feeling of solidarity. Especially if you have tuned a vehicle, PCARS 3 can bounce around like a game of Buckaroo.

Putting all these issues aside, though, the biggest beef with the game online seems to be that it’s not like Project CARS 2. That game was billed as a simulator. People used it to race online in competitive clubs, don VR headsets and turn steering wheel peripherals.

I’m okay with a new game by Slightly Mad using its MADNESS ENGINE to focus on controller gameplay. Trying to compete with the likes of Need for Speed, Burnout and DIRT 5 is a great idea. The team did that previously with the underrated Test Drive: Ferrari Racing Legends. However, if you’re going to do that, don’t call it a numbered title which the game-buying public would rightly assume directly follows on from the previous release.

The two games are polar opposites.

Really then, I think the main reason why Project CARS 3 is relatively unloved was failing to meet expectations set by the game‘s name. Those with sim-rigs were disappointed as the game isn’t suited to those setups at all. Worse, it annoyed those who backed the Project CARS project for over six years. The handling is one thing, but a direct sequel not having tyre wear or pitstops? Come on now, this should have been a spin-off.

Below are some names which I think would have diverted some of the heat:

  • Project CARS: Street
  • Project CARS: Racer
  • Project CARS: U-turn
  • Project CARS X GRID
BMW M3 touring car in Project CARS 3

A name sets out the stall for a game. You get a vibe before even watching a trailer as to what it’s like. ‘Project CARS 3’ is not only misleading, but it’s also a slap to the face of a loyal fanbase.

Now, to clarify, pre-release, studio CEO Ian Bell was at least quoted as saying that Project CARS 3 will “be more of a spiritual successor to [Need for Speed] Shift.”

Assuming that many people read that interview though just shows how blind the people involved in the nomenclature where. Arguably, NfS Shift 2 is closer to ‘realism’ that PCARS 3 anyway – but perhaps that’s a debate for another time.

The point is that this statement alone doesn’t give you a get-out-of-jail-free card. What exacerbated the problem was the marketing and PR spiel surrounding the game.

As I write this, the game’s official website reads “experience the thrill & emotion of authentic racing.” Aside from the offensive use of an ampersand, what really sticks out to me is the word ‘authentic’. Authentic to me means something that is genuine, original and representative of real-life. Project CARS 3 is derivative, in some ways a straight-up copy of other racing games and anything but real.

It got worse when YouTuber and expert car wrapper Yianni was brought onboard to help promote the game on the day of release. I like Yianni a lot, I respect how he’s established his Yiannimize business and does so with humility. As a paid partnership with Slightly Mad Studios, he published a video where Project CARS 3 was played. I don’t have a problem with that in theory either.

But in the video, the game was played using a full sim-rig, accompanied by a racing driver expelling its virtues. They drove a Honda NSX in real life and tried to compare how it drove in the game. All of this, plus the aforementioned website hyperbole added to the mixed messages.

The post-release backlash was severe and pointing to the Shift 2 reference alone simply highlights the hubris surrounding this release. They only have themselves to blame for the rebuttal.

A shame, because I do believe there’s a fun arcade-style racer within Project Cars 3, while Automobilista 2 has shown how the same game engine can form a credible sim. Unfortunately, though, in the end, the community received a mishmash of lukewarm ideas, which was only exaggerated by the short-sighted game title.

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