Project CARS, Just Like Many Real Cars, Can't Match The Media Hype

Jack Baruth
by Jack Baruth
project cars just like many real cars cant match the media hype

Project CARS is probably the most hotly-anticipated automobile-related video game to “drop” in the past few years. It’s ridden a positively Kanagawan wave of media hype and compensated “viral” marketing to its release – but at least one well-informed source is saying that this new emperor is decidedly trouserless.

The site is called Pretend Race Cars and although its “Community Assisted Review” of Project CARS is well into TL;DR territory for all but the most committed, here’s the money shot:

I don’t know what to say, other than we told you so. It sucks that a large portion of the community was turned into viral marketers for a game described as “middle-of-the-road” and playing with a traditional controller “borders on impossible.” We pointed out the abundance of bugs mentioned in the WMD forums several times. We pointed out the internal discussions of poor controls. We had others confirm performance issues. We called the lackluster driving physics and shoddy AI. It’s a flop, guys.

If you’ve followed the so-called “GamerGate” controversy over the past months, you already know that gaming journalism is under precisely the same sort of close community scrutiny that is applied to the autojourno biz only once in a while, and that the results of that scrutiny have been disturbing to say the least. It’s been shown that the vast majority of new products aimed at the “gamer” market are reviewed by people who have nontrivial reasons for promoting many of those products and ensuring their success, and that those reviewers are often actively hostile to, or contemptuous of, the gamers who are supposed to be the audience for their reviews.

Does that sound familiar? It should. We’re fighting the same problem here in automotive journalism. Our founder, Robert Farago, created this website because he wasn’t comfortable following the manufacturer-provided narrative. Years after his departure, we’re still trying to bring you the truth about cars, regardless of how unpopular it makes us at the auto-show dinners. So I’m not surprised to see something like the screenshot at the top of this piece that shows Kotaku publishing the same basic promotional article over a dozen times. Just substitute “new Mustang” or “Cayman GT4” for “Awesome Screenshot” and you’ll have a microcosm of the world of auto media. What did the Apostle say? And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind.

But the problems with Project CARS go beyond a merely compliant gaming media. The business model followed by Slightly Mad Studios has been utterly fascinating to observe; the more you paid, and the earlier you paid it, the more say you could have in the development of the game. This is brilliant for multiple reasons, but perhaps the most pertinent is the tendency for people to have a bias towards their own purchase decisions. Speaking personally, I wonder if I would have been able to evaluate the BRZ/FR-S twins honestly had I managed to succeed at getting into the “First 86” early release. The more you spend for something, the less likely you are to call it a piece of shit in public.

The exception to this, by the way, would be the Superformance S1 that I purchased new in 2001. I’m perfectly willing to talk about what a piece of shit that was despite the fact that I handed over nearly forty grand in cash to make it happen.

The large number of people who had bought into the Project CARS, er, project took even the mildest criticism personally:

Reading this and other comments, I can’t help but think of the people on the various GT-R forums who openly wished for my violent death after I suggested that Nissan might have been gaming the so-called “Nurburgring record”. None of them were Nissan engineers, and none of them were on the Nissan payroll; they were simply emotionally invested in their prospective purchases. You cannot buy the kind of rabid loyalty that your own customers will award you simply for accepting their money.

The combination of a see-no-evil media and a large group of pre-purchasers intent on justifying their credit-card bill can be a powerful one when it comes to swaying public opinion. For that reason alone, I wouldn’t be surprised to see more and more automakers adopt a long-lead strategy of getting customers for new automobiles on board early with small deposits and constant communication. It’s what Elio Motors has done, and if you could see the behind-the-scenes statistics for TTAC articles, you’d know that Ronnie Schreiber’s articles on Elio are extremely popular and controversial even months after they’re written. It isn’t because the man on the street knows or cares about Elio; it’s because the average Elio “intender” is far more involved in the fortunes of the company than the average man or woman who just wanders onto a dealership and buys a Camry is in the fortunes of Toyota.

The end result appears to be an underwhelming product released to overwhelming acclaim. Does that sound familiar? It certainly does, but it might not be the last word on the subject. In the modern release-now-and-fix-later mindset, Project CARS might yet be whipped into shape by its developers. Software is much easier to revise post-sale than a real car is. For now, however, those of you who haven’t yet handed over your money might want to follow the same advice that used to be given to potential purchases of GM cars: wait until they get it right.

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  • PeriSoft PeriSoft on May 08, 2015

    pCars is gorgeous, but you know what they say about beauty, right? Yeah. It's wonderful to look at, but to drive, well... not quite as much. It's not a complete mess, but there's something about how the rubber meets the road - literally - that's off. First, the FFB is, for lack of a better word, rubbery. It may be tweakable, but I'm playing with one of the best FFB wheels money can buy, and I employ the programmer who wrote its firmware so I can change anything I want about it on a moment's notice, and it's just... rubbery. It feels like you're driving through six inches of wet sand, all the time. Second, it chatters when you're on the limit. The FFB and the car both hop; this seems to occur whether you're driving a Lotus 49 or a modern prototype with tons of downforce, and the chattering affects not only the FFB but the chassis itself, which I know because I'm playing in a motion platform. Get the car 'up on the tire' and it'll shudder all the way around a corner in a very bizarre manner. You can feel, mostly, what it's doing 'through' the chattering, and it seems broadly correct, but you have to listen to the car over the din of this shuddering and bouncing. Positives? The weather transitions are gorgeous (as is the whole game) but not only that, they work well physically. The game feels much more at home when you're driving in the wet, perhaps because the tire model never gets to experience its own rough edges, and it's great fun. Even if the other issues don't get patched out, I'm probably going to keep pCars around (and recommend it to customers of my motion systems) as long as nobody else does wet weather; the rain is that good. It's a bit frustrating, because I get the feeling that they really went in with the intent of doing something polished, but it also feels a bit like they never finished the physics engine: Somebody said, "Damn, we sell another 5000 copies every time we do new screenshots" and the priorities shifted; graphics got updated and placeholder physics became shipping physics. It's just a guess, but I've been around this business long enough for me to be reasonably confident that something along those lines occurred. (It's worth noting that the wheel chatter I noticed may not be very noticeable on consumer wheels; the one we're using in-house now has probably close to 40 times the torque of a G27 so you can feel stuff with it that would be swamped by the gearing in anything normal. But the fact that it's there at all, and that it's big enough to affect chassis behavior across vehicles of disparate types, suggests that there are some significant holes in the tire model.)

  • Slow kills Slow kills on May 10, 2015

    I'm on the Elio mailing list, but never put up the $100 deposit. If I had, I do suspect I'd actually read the updates instead of deleting unread and maintaining the subscription just to know when the thing is finally available.

  • Lou_BC You'd think cops would have an understanding of the laws they are supposed to enforce.
  • Merlyn I’m on my second Spark and love it! I can pass any car I’ve never had a problem going up a hill it does just fine. As for cargo I can fit three suitcases, two book bags and still have the front seat for a passenger. Not sure what point this guy is trying to make. I have hand free phone service and Sirius radio plug in my phone and have navigation. I would buy another spark in a heartbeat.
  • Buickman I won't own one and I'll be happy!
  • Jeanbaptiste Ever since y’all started sending your damn geese down here we’re just been waiting for one of you to show up.
  • 3SpeedAutomatic Drove a rental Cherokee for several days at the beginning of this year. Since the inventory of rental cars is still low, this was a 2020 model with 48k miles and V6. Ran fine, no gremlins, graphics display was easy to work, plenty of power, & very comfortable. Someone must of disarmed the lane assistance feature for the steering wheel never shook (YES!!!!!!!!). However, this woman's voice kept nagging me about the speed limit (what's new!?!?!?!).I was impressed enough to consider this a prime candidate to replace my 11 yr old Ford Escape. Might get a good deal with the close out of the model. Time will tell. 🚗🚗🚗