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    Project CARS: Can this crowd-funded racing sim really steal Forza’s crown? Maybe…

    Just imagine if someone asked you what you’d like to see in a new racing game. Which cars you’d want to drive, which  tracks you’d like to race on. That’s how Project CARS was designed. Its development was crowd-funded by racing fans, who then had their say on what went into it and tested it along the way. And now,  after more than three years in the making, it’s finally revving up on the Xbox One starting grid.

    Just so there can be no confusion: this is a hardcore, ultra-realistic racing simulation. There are novice difficulty options, plus driving lines and assists available, but the experience is meant to be as realistic as possible, so it pays to switch them off. Mind you, if you push your car too hard or get in one too many scrapes on pro difficulty, it will give up on you. The power dies, you pull over and then your race engineer radios to tell you to stay in your seat until a marshal comes. So you sit quietly at the side of the track, wondering if the cloud of smoke in your mirrors means you’re about to explode. Yes, GTA does have a lot to answer for.
    Get into too many scrapes and your car will give up on you
    The car handling varies nicely between the disciplines, from floaty, thin-wheeled junior categories and twitchy karts through to stuck-to-the-track, high-downforce, flat-out-through-Eau Rouge mean machines. And, unlike Codemasters’ F1 games on Xbox 360, getting a single-seater’s wheels caught up in someone else’s ends in realistic disaster. Similarly, hitting a car from behind will pitch it upwards over your nosecone. It isn’t uncommon to see unfortunate racers flipped over in accidents. The damage modelling is unlikely to satisfy Burnout fans, but it does affect your car’s performance.

    You can jump straight into Career mode, but it’s the single-race option that is likely to fascinate you most when you start playing. The options for races are exhaustive, with any hour of the day or night available on every track, ready to combine with every kind of weather condition bar snow. The dynamic weather system features magnificent rolling clouds, which clear in real time (or in accelerated time, if you prefer), changing from dry to deluge seamlessly and affecting your car’s grip accordingly.

    The tracks, too, offer an impressive spread of experiences. One minute you can be thumping kerbs at Oulton Park, the next gawping at the view on California’s coastal road.With an optional, breathtakingly authentic in-helmet camera option to experience it all, Project CARS has the potential to set a new benchmark for racing game realism on console. But that potential may yet go unrealised.

    Several aspects the AI, in particular still needed a lot of work the last time it was shown. It really could go either way. Keep your fireproof-gloved fingers crossed: this might be amazing.

    Go, have fun
    Here you go, take the keys. To absolutely everything
    Forget the ‘pootle about in a meticulously rendered Reliant Robin for a week to get to the  good stuff’ school of design. Everything’s unlocked from the start. You can move between teams and disciplines by earning contracts in Career mode, but there’s nothing to stop you going straight into Formula A the generic equivalent to Formula 1. You’ll struggle to be immediately competitive, but that’s realism, eh?

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