Opinion: Fans have problems with Project CARS 3 before it has even been released. But what’s behind it and why is it largely unjustified?
Project CARS 3 has been announced over a month ago. While the initial trailer was a typical “cars-driving-fast-and-looking-good-in-the-sunlight” simulation, the first real gameplay and a blog from the creators has set the community ablaze. A true outrage has emerged, aimed at the developers Codemasters and Slightly Mad Studios with fans rioting against the newly taken approach in PC3. As it turns out, a lot of it is garnered from gatekeeping and some of it is legit criticism. But in the end, the community does not understand the why’s and doesn’t care to think about them.
The victim was young. So young, it didn’t even fully exist. It is truly tragic. It is the lastest of three siblings. They all weren’t the most beloved, but the victim was far more hated than the others. It was different. But it’s never bad just to be different, is it? It’s a shame: It was deemed dead before it ever got the chance to show what it was capable of. But how did it happen?
Slightly Mad Studios reached its goal in 2012. After a crowdfunding effort from the community, the so-called Project Community.Assisted.Racing.Simulator or short “CARS”, became reality. Slightly Mad promised a game that would be in the limbo of genres, partly simcade (like GT and Forza), partly sim (iRacing). When the game launched in 2015, it turned out to be a partial success. PC1 was received well but never quite found its place. It was a restless journeyman of a game and its ambitions to release on console as well, shifted its focus away from the PC-centred sim racing scene.
Fast forward: Five years later and we are awaiting the third iteration of the series. The second game was very much an expansion on the first and its problems remained the same. The self-proclaimed entrance to sim racing lacked character. Then, all of a sudden, a new trailer came out of nowhere in June 2020. Nothing fancy but it served its purpose. But things went downhill quickly.
On July 4, gameplay footage from an early beta was uploaded to YouTube.
It lit a flame in the community that led to countless (negative) reactions.
While this was probably not the reaction the developers had hoped for, it got even worse. The developer blog later confirmed what fans seemingly feared the most. A more streamlined and arcade-like approach to the game. Adding to that they confirmed the complete removal of pit stops, tire wear and fuel usage. A cardinal sin in the eyes of the hardcore fan. Countless videos were published and the community firmly expressed that it was dead on arrival to them.
What the criticism boiled down to were five main points:
- The steamlined approach of PC 3 (removing pit stops/tire wear/fuel usage)
- The switch to an ‘arcadier’ racing game
- The developers allegedly subverted community expectations
- First game was crowdfunded by “hardcore” racing fans
- Going for the “low hanging fruit” of basic fans instead of sticking to their guns
Switching the stance
Project Cars has never been the most popular sim racing game out there. The competition is way to established and popular with the fan base. iRacing has an unbelievably dedicated player base and rFactor 2 as well as RaceRoom may be trailing behind, but they are still more realistic than Project Cars. For the very limited audience of sim racing, the market is already saturated. Yet, all of them (except for the recent iteration of Assetto Corsa) are solely PC-based. That was the chance Project CARS sought to capitalize on, thinking there would also be a sim racing community on consoles.
As it turned out, the most popular racing games on consoles are simcades for a reason. First and foremost, they easily accessible to new players. This left Project CARS in the limbo it had maneuvered itself into. In the end it was a sim racing game also made for console and left things to be desired.
What is more, the amount of time put into features like the graphics probably didn’t validate the reception it had in the end. While being in limbo Project CARS was easily the most aesthetically pleasing sim out there.
Some speculate that a takeover from Codemasters forced Slightly Mad Studios to make a decision. Instead of competing in a filled market with less potential, Project CARS 3 is created to be more of a simcade and tries to build its own niche that brings together both hardcore sim racing and casual fans. A decision that should have been made last time a Project CARS game was to be released.
Because making the game more casual-friendly in some areas and keeping the sim feeling in other parts, opens opportunities for the future of the series. It’s the only logical step to do. So, the “low hanging fruit” of casual players are more chance than harm to the scene.
Grandpa has to clean up
You may know this situation. You go and visit your grandparents and every time you see grandpa’s old fishing equipment on the wall. As he is past his prime, all of this will never be used again, and he knows it. Yet when you ask him why he doesn’t sell or donate it, you get the very concise answer: “I may need it again. You’re not a real man if you don’t have a real fishing rod.” That is usually the point where you know that grandpa has a problem with letting go. A lot of us may have this problem. The sim racing community certainly seems to.
The removed features of pit stops and tire wear may be a critical factor in a race that lasts 50 laps and sees a lot of different strategies emerge. However, if you have ever had a look into the online lobbies of Project CARS 2, most of them are short or medium races. Which means, none of the removed factors ever came into play. Grandpas fishing rod was irrelevant to approximately 90% of the player base. Yet still, it seems like a sin to delete these things. Why?
The process of streamlining is extremely common in game development. It describes the removal of rarely used features to make the game more accessible. Slightly Mad Studios has the self-proclaimed goal to focus solely on racing: “[W]ith the tyres at their optimal range all the time and fuel at optimal load, there is no break in the action to stop for more fuel or new rubber. It’s pure racing action .”
It is a reasonable approach to cut some features from the game that could lose you a race at worst and were a by-standing feature at best. It is a smart decision, that people exaggerate because others tell them what a sim racing game has to look like.
Reality is often less spectacular than our imagination. This holds true for a lot of things including Project CARS. I am sure that come release day the game will see a slightly reduced number of purchases. However, I think the direction Slighty Mad Studios and Codemasters take with Project CARS is the right one. In order to rise from mediocracy, they needed a change. A change that is more than better graphics or an improved damage model. These things are important but knowing that Project CARS was the best-looking racing sim out there already, it would be unrealistic to expect an improvement in this area.
I do believe the community has a right to like and dislike what they want. But they should think about why they dislike something rather than just blindly hating it. A lot of gatekeeping is involved here and views a lá it-was-always-like-that further a culture where essentially every game is expected to be iRacing remastered.
So, in my eyes Project CARS is alive and well. Neither dead on arrival, nor the start of a war on sim racing.