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Project CARS and Car Mechanic Simulator 2015 cater to gearheads, but keep it too casual

Hayden Dingman | May 26, 2015
Like cars? Well throw on some classic rock, grab a Miller High Life, and dig into these two simulators.

Also, the graphics are beautiful under the right conditions:

That's really the sell, with Project CARS. It doesn't have the largest collection of cars, nor the best physics, nor the most competent AI, but sometimes you turn a corner and it looks like this:

...and your jaw drops.

But let's just acknowledge the graphics are phenomenal and move on, because this is after all a racing game. If all I wanted were pretty graphics, I could watch real cars drive around a real track.

As a game and not just a graphics showcase, Project CARS is a bit of a mixed bag. The AI is the most middling of the lot, with cars sticking rigorously to their optimal line pathing even when it doesn't make sense. I know Forza's "Drivatar" thing has a stupid name, but I will say the concept is sound--by "learning" from the way real people drive, it allows the AI to simulate a race in ways that make normal, preprogrammed AI routines seem really boring.

Even on the higher difficulties, the AI in Project CARS has a maddening tendency to stick to the line instead of reacting to its surroundings. Try to pass them? Lots of times they don't care. They'll stick to the line. Hairpin turn? They'll stick to the line even if it means massive traffic jam and rear cars literally slamming into the cars in front. Crash into them? "Hey, I'd better get back to driving along that line." All the time.

Unless, of course, the race begins with an AI-controlled rolling start. Then all bets are off. You're forced to watch the AI drive your car for five or so seconds before assuming control, and where you assume control? That's part of the fun! If you're lucky you'll take control of the car when it's in the middle of a turn. If you're really lucky, the car will be pointed like it's ready to head off the track.

As for the physics and handling: I'm no expert, and thus can't speak from anyplace except "plays a lot of racing games." That being said, I'd personally argue the handling is better in Assetto Corsa, while some of the physics models (particularly the tire wear) is more realistic in Project CARS.

You likely won't notice a huge difference unless you're deeply invested in cars. To the layperson, both would be intimidatingly sim-heavy. A racing wheel is heavily recommended, because even if you peruse the many "Use these settings for your controller!" Steam guides for Project CARS, the game is still nigh-on-impossible to play correctly with a gamepad--not least because there's no real force feedback. It's like trying to fly a jet but you replaced the controls with a toaster, and you're wearing mittens.


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