And thus ends a month of rivals mode! Every day, right after breakfast, I booted up Project Cars 3 and spent time playing whatever rivals mode had on offer. And this morning, I was greeted with my final results for the month for February.
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 career progression in most racing games is linear. You start out with pokey road cars and gradually unlock events for increasingly powerful cars. One day, you’ll get to hypercars and supercars and formula racers and various other Batmobile iterations. But Project Cars 3 wants you to freely sample its wares. So its career progression is a tree instead of a power curve. A veritable jungle gym.
Today’s rivals event is a breakout layout on Monza, using a lime green doorstop with a bunch of random stickers slapped on it. I am amazed at how gaudy actual races look, with stickers all over the cars, with signs and banners scattered around the track, crowding to get into every shot to peddle motor oil and beer. It’s just so unsightly. Races are literally littered with advertising. I can hardly blame today’s poor car for trying to stand out by being painted lime green.
But I’ve come up with my own solution. If you can’t beat them, join them.
Today I learned about the revolutionary cooling system in a 1989 Sauber C9 Mercedes-Benz, which is the fancy racecar you drive around a canyon track in today’s rivals event. Wait, don’t go! I know it sounds boring. But it’s not what you’re thinking. It’s like something out of Cyberpunk 2077. I’ve even included video!
Today’s rivals event puts you behind the wheel of an unremarkable Toyota Supra. But then it adds the dramatic stuff. There’s a rainstorm. It’s night. You’re on a track with plenty of twists and turns and elevation changes. In other words, lots of rear-wheel drive slippin’ and slidin’, in poor visibility, with a car just sluggish enough to let you enjoy it.
I’ve driven some weird vehicles in my day. Once you get into the Badlands in Red Faction: Guerilla, you’ll find some real doozies. The Batmobile has its share of idiosyncrasies. Some of the trucks in Spintires, Mudrunner, and Snowrunner are clearly from another world. I routinely drive a rabbit and a manta ray in Guild Wars 2. But then today’s rivals event in Project Cars 3 happened.
Project Cars 3 doesn’t have much of a sense of humor. It’s a serious game, obsessed with cars and tracks and uninterested in silly party games. That’s the next door down. You can’t miss it. It says Wreckfest on the door. Wreckfest is Project Cars’ younger funnier brother that everyone loves.
But sometimes Project Cars 3 tries to tell a joke. It’s not very good at it. It messes up the punchline. Its timing is off. But it’s trying. Here’s how the joke goes:
The last couple of daily rivals events have been forgettable. Generically overpowered cars on generic racetracks. But the current weekly challenge has shaken up my game a bit. It’s been educational. I’ve advanced my knowledge of cars and how to do car talk. And my collection has grown. Let me show you.
Like most colonies, Australia was built from its coasts inward. If you go inland from Sydney, you can’t get very far without bumping into the Blue Mountains. But just beyond the Blue Mountains, settlers discovered an expanse of arable land called Bathurst Plains, watered by Australia’s largest river system. To open the way from Sydney, a hundred-mile road was built through the mountains, ending at the newly founded town of Bathurst in 1815. It was Australia’s first inland colony.
Today, 37,000 people live in Bathurst. South of the town is a 400-foot rise called Mount Panorama, because you can stand on it and get a nice view of the town. The town spray painted the words MOUNT PANORAMA on the slope, in bright white capital letters. Not quite as showy as erecting giant wooden letters over Hollywood, but the sensibility is the same. Five times a year, the streets in the southern part of Bathurst are closed off for racing through town, up the slope of Mount Panorama, and back down into town. This is where I went for today’s rivals event in Project Cars 3. And this is where I discovered one of my new favorite things in racing.
Are Rivals events like New York Times crossword puzzles? Is Saturday the day for sadistic challenges? Why else would I be driving Project Cars 3’s most powerful car in the rain? Why else would I be hydroplaning in a car so absurdly overpowered that it doesn’t even have a name? Why else would I have done what I did to finish this challenge? Why else would I sink to these depths of shame and loathing?
It might surprise you to know this, but I’m no car expert. Everything I know about cars I Googled and then forgot ten minutes later. When I go to the mechanic, I make a great show of nodding sagely while he explains in detail why he’ll be charging $742.18 to my credit card. He might as well be speaking Klingon.
However, I do know physics, common sense, and today’s rivals event in Project Cars 3. I also know the ongoing weekly rivals event that will be in effect for two more interminable days. From these things, I have some advice to offer the supposed experts who make fancy cars. Because right now, they’re Doing It Wrong. So I’m going to tell them how to make their fancy cars work better.
Today’s daily event was a lap around Donington Park, which is a real-world track in Leicestershire, England. The track is named after a nearby castle, which I probably climbed around on while playing Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla. The car is called a Caterham. I’ll have more to say about it shortly. There will be cussing. My best lap time, after using all 20 available attempts, was 1 minute and 38.589 seconds. As of this writing, that puts me in the silver ranking at 132nd place.
Following are ten reasons I’m not in 131st or better place.
One of the multiplayer modes in Project Cars 3 is called Rivals. It consists of month-long seasons. Each month, there is a single event which you can drive as often as you like to improve your standing. There are also rotating weekly events and daily events, each with a limited number of attempts. When each event closes, you win points based on how you placed on the leaderboard. Those points accumulate over the course of the season. At the end of the season, everybody’s ranked and wins experience points based on how well they did. And, of course, you’re earning experience points along the way just by driving the events. However you choose to play, you’re always making progress in Project Cars 3. If you drive, you advance.
But what if I let Project Cars 3 have a turn at the wheel?
Racing isn’t just about speed. Speed is the goal, sure. But the important part is knowing when to relinquish speed. The important part is figuring out when and how much to slow down. It’s hardly surprising most racing videogames downplay this part. In most videogames, you mash down the accelerator, feel the exhilaration, and have a win! But what’s distinct about Project Cars 3 — at least among consumer-friendly racing games — is that it downplays speed. It emphasizes precision, consistency, calculation, practice. Project Cars 3 has plenty of speed, but that’s not what it’s about. Instead, it’s a game based on driving well. And it’s about more than that. It’s ultimately about something too few racing games know how to express.