The current weekly event in rivals mode encapsulates everything that’s right and everything that’s wrong with Project Cars 3. It is Slightly Mad Studio’s genius and failing played out in a single lap. It is simultaneously why I play Project Cars 3 and why I shake my head sadly so often as I’m playing it.
The weekly event is called Shanghai Sprint. You’re driving a souped-up Audi one lap on a city circuit in Shanghai called Wusong Chase. The Audi belongs to Group A, not to be confused with class A. Class A is an arbitrary category for cars in Project Cars 3. But Group A is an official designation by the International Automobile Federation for rally and racing cars that are mass produced enough to be available to consumers, but powerful enough to be driven by racers. To be eligible for Group A, an automaker has to manufacture at least 2500 of that car, although some of them cheat their way around that number. Color me surprised.
So you drive the souped-up Audi around the Wusong Chase layout. And it’s a great layout. Shanghai by night is neon, urban, and super sexy. It opens with a spin around a lovely roundabout, treats you to a wide right swoop into a straightaway along the Yangtze, and then concludes with an awesome impromptu chicane in a tunnel where you have to briefly shift into the lane for oncoming traffic. If you’re going to drive a bunch of ninety-degree turns like you do in city circuits, I’ll take Shangai over Havana any day.
So maybe you try a couple of laps, you log your best time, and you’re done. Time to go do something else. But Project Cars 3 has failed you. It didn’t tell you what’s really going on.
So far this month, only one rivals event has let you choose among different cars. But there is no indication when this is the case. Unless you go into the Vehicle Change option, where you almost always get to select among one (1) car, and then don’t you feel stupid for coming in here? Most rivals events are about a specific car on a specific track in specific conditions. That’s the point. Everyone drives on a level playing field. So why would you ever bother going into Vehicle Change?
But the Vehicle Change screen for Shanghai Sprint is the whole point. It has all eight Group A cars available. Each one a champion put forth by its manufacturer to compete in the category of cars widely produced enough to be available to consumers, but powerful enough to be driven by racers. Each one a representation of its manufacturer’s strength and style. Eight different cars with eight different personalities, eight different interiors, eight different engines, and eight different ways of handling that roundabout, that wide right swoop along the Yangtze, and that wicked underground chicane right before the finish line. Eight different ways for Slightly Mad Studios to express the joy of driving.
This is where you can see how much personality Project Cars puts into its cars. Once you know the track, you’ve got the perfect opportunity to get to know each car and, in this case, each manufacturer. And because it’s a weekly event and you only get 30 attempts, there are higher stakes at play. Which car do you prefer? Which car can you best manage? Which car will get you the fastest lap? Shanghai Sprint is a showcase not just for eight cars, but for eight brands. And ultimately, for what kind of driver you are.
But unless you go into Vehicle Change — and why would you? — you wouldn’t know any of this. You would think this is just a hot lap in a powerful Audi. Imagine a great movie, but only one character’s scenes are included. So you’re watching Chinatown and you have no idea who Jack Nicholson is talking to, or what anyone else is saying, or who got murdered, or how his nose got cut, or whose daughter is whose sister. It’s just some awesome cinematography of a hard-boiled guy in a cool hat. Huh. So that’s Chinatown. Interesting, you reckon, but you don’t see what all the fuss is. Too bad you didn’t enable the hidden setting to include the other character’s scenes.
Slightly Mad Studios is great at making racing games; if only they could learn how to present them.