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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.

And that's my biggest issue with Project CARS: It tries to be everything to everyone, but it isn't really.

So you get keyboard and mouse controls that barely function. You get default gamepad controls that don't even make sense--the sensitivities are so whack, the community has published numerous guides on how to fix it. You get races in Career Mode (already weird for a simulator) defaulted to two laps, as if that were enough time in a sim racer to pass all your opponents (hint: it's not). Hell, two laps isn't even enough for you to experience the tire wear model the developers painstakingly built, or require a pit stop.

There are all these concessions built in for the Forza Horizon/Burnout Paradise/arcade racing crowd (of which I am normally a member) and yet the game remains maddeningly obtuse. The game urges you to tweak your car before races--change tire pressure, adjust springs, whatever--and yet it doesn't tell you (except for brief, general-overview fluff) what any of the settings do, nor why they matter, and it hides them in this awful UI. I mean, look at it again:

That's not just unintuitive. It's unfriendly. If you don't already know what you're doing in Project CARS, that UI is going to actively turn you away from learning.

Project CARS also forces you through ten-minute practice and qualifying sessions before races in Career Mode, and while you can skip past both (simulate to the end), that's basically a good way to ensure you land seeded in last place for the actual race. Let me reiterate: The game allows you to set the real race to two laps, because it acknowledges some of you have limited time on your hands or whatever. But then it forces you to sit through about twenty minutes of prep before your two-lap race.

Again, it's a hardcore sim clumsily bolted onto aspects of a friendlier arcade game, and ends up landing somewhere in between the two markets.

I wish they'd just doubled down on the simulator aspects instead, because those aspects are pretty good! Not a ton of cars, but a decent selection of tracks. Excellent graphics. Fantastic weather effects (both visually and otherwise). Handling and physics models that are at least on par with (and occasionally better than) the competition. If you have the patience to deal with its eccentricities--to dial in your controls, to tweak your car, to mess with the settings until they're exactly how you want them--then Project CARS  is a good game.

But you might not stick around long enough.

Bottom line(s)

Car Mechanic Simulator 2015 and Project CARS are both super-niche games for a super-niche crowd that, for some reason, make a bunch of concessions to "ordinary" people. Car Mechanic Simulator could use more cars so it feels less like a grind, sure, but its biggest sin is how easy it renders car reassembly--literally 50 percent of the game's appeal minimized. With Project CARS, the simulator aspects are co-opted and somewhat compromised by a desire to simultaneously appeal to the arcade racer crowd--without actually being an arcade racer. I think both are good games, but slightly miss the mark for both casual passersby and enthusiasts.

Regardless, I'm done with cars. I'm turning off the Springsteen. I'm removing my driving gloves. I'm throwing out that DVD copy of Drive that's sitting in my living room. I'm done. See you on public transportation.


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