Project Cars was a great racing game. Project Cars 2 was even better. Slightly Mad Studios took all those years of experience from working on titles such as GTR 2, Need for Speed: Shift, and Test Drive: Ferrari Racing Legends and asked fans for the money to realise its simulator-dream, Project Cars, and since that day the studio has been fighting at the top of the sub-genre with the likes of Assetto Corsa and iRacing. With the last game, a passionate team on the outskirts of London managed to challenge giants like Forza Motorsport and Gran Turismo, not to mention PC-exclusive simulator giants like Raceroom and Rfactor, and when we heard that Slightly Mad was getting ready to announce the third game in the series, we took up the opportunity to catch up with the studio and find out more.
Before producer Pete Morrish and esports manager Joe Barron from Slightly Mad jumped into an online meeting with us on Monday, I got a chance to look through a roughly 20-minute long presentation of Project Cars 3. During this brief hands-off demo, the game was shown from several different angles and even though Ian Bell and his racing-crazy team currently aren't discussing the lineup of cars, the number of tracks, the racing disciplines that'll be included, it was clear that the studio intends to broaden the market and target more gamers, something it already succeeded in doing with Project Cars 2.
"One of the most important aspects for us this time has been to try to create a racing game that never compromises with the fact that it simulates absolute reality when it comes to conditions on the track, how the cars behave and so on, but at the same time does not scare away new, casual players. We want to make Project Cars 3 easier to get into. Easier, at first, with less of a threshold. Part of this has been about creating a better and more rewarding feeling when driving with a gamepad," Morrish told us.
The presentation that we get to see looks more like Forza Horizon than Assetto Corsa, with neon yellow arrows, pink nameplates, flashing icons and heavily italicised HUD typography. I honestly feel a bit surprised at how "arcady" it looks in terms of the presentation itself. Early on during the interview, I asked, generally speaking, whether the focus has shifted towards a more easily accessible experience. However, Pete Morrish assures me that this is a misunderstanding.
"This is a pure simulator and we have built the game on the same engine with the same physics system on the stable foundation we created in Project Cars 2," the producer explained. "Car physics are finely polished and the racing is now even tighter, more tense. At the same time, as I said, we intend to broaden our target audience further, attract new players and be inclusive rather than exclusive, which I think some games in this sub-genre can actually be. It easily gets a bit boring in the racing sim-genre, I feel, a little elitist, and we will definitely try to counter that with Project Cars 3."
The idea is, of course, a good one. For Project Cars 2, I think Slightly Mad succeeded in this better than many of its competitors and to continue to build on a successful concept is smart. However, at the same time, the video presentation gave me the vibes of, for example, Forza Motorsport 7, where Turn 10 intended to do exactly the same, but went a little too far. That game was too easily accessible and was too inviting when it came to new players, and in doing so, it scared away some of the racing-minded hardcore crowd that has been worshipping Microsoft's Gran Turismo challenger since its Xbox premiere. Of course, there is a risk in everything and although the interface can be turned off in Project Cars, at first glance this feels like it might be a little too frivolous for my taste.
In addition, however much I loved Project Cars 2, there is a real concern still plaguing parts of that game and I wanted to ask Slightly Mad if it perceived the problem in the same way as I (and large sections of the game community) did and still do. Project Cars 2 was bursting with content. A little too much, I would say. Parts of the game felt like they were overflowing. Around 50 of the 170 cars never held the same high standard as the rest of the content and this is something that Morrish is very well aware of.
"We know, we bit off more than we could chew and it got a little crowded there, in certain sections and certain places. Some cars were much better made in terms of car physics than others, and there were tracks that were less elaborate than others, too. We have worked hard on this, this time. I can't promise anything but really think that Project Cars 3 will feel much smoother, tighter. We are more focused this time."
Can Project Cars 3 improve on an already great recipe and offer a racing experience that keeps the most engaged fans engaged and at the same time attract new blood? When asked about the rallycross and whether it will be included or not, the studio reps said that they had no comment on that at the moment. I also get the same answer when I ask about the number of cars that will be included, and whether the game will be released on PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X. For now, all lips are sealed, at least for a few months more.