The death of Project CARS is a massive loss for sim racing

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Project CARS is dead.

This week, Gamesindustry.biz reported that EA is not only cancelling Project CARS 4 but ending the entire Project CARS franchise. EA says it pulled the plug on Project CARS because it’s “unlikely to become a successful game or fit in with the rest of the publisher's racing portfolio.”

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Since then, developer Slightly Mad Studios announced on social media it “made the tough decision to halt the next Project CARS game.”

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“On behalf of the entire team, we thank you for your dedication and passion over the years,” a statement on Slightly Mad’s social media accounts reads. “We hope to see you on another grid in the future.”

This is a huge blow for sim racing fans. One of the most ambitious and beloved sim racing franchises, the death of Project CARS is a massive loss for the genre.

The ultimate sim racing sandbox

Released in 2015, Project CARS was a landmark sim racing title in many ways. Slightly Mad Studios envisioned Project CARS as the ultimate sim racing sandbox that would take on Gran Turismo and Forza Motorsport, the two established titans of the genre.

Project CARS screenshot

Instead of getting funding from a traditional publisher, Project CARS (which stands for Community Assisted Racing Simulator) was crowdfunded by the community and developers, raising $5 million.

This meant crowdfunders could provide feedback and influence the game’s development. Slightly Mad also consulted with professional racing drivers including former Top Gear Stig Ben Collins, touring car driver Nicolas Hamilton, and WEC driver Oliver Webb to create the most authentic racing simulator possible.

What also made Project CARS stand out was its wide variety of motorsport types. Whereas Gran Turismo and Forza focused on collecting cars, the career mode made you feel like a racing driver and took you on a journey.

Project CARS screenshot

Like many real racing drivers, you started your racing career in karts or Ginetta Juniors before progressing to top-tier touring car, single-seater, or endurance racing. The path was up to you.

Unlike Gran Turismo and Forza, every track could be configured with weather and time of day options. No other console racer let you compete in a 24-hour race at Le Mans with a full 60-car grid, race around Thruxton in vintage touring cars, and drive single-seaters at Monaco in one comprehensive package.

This extensive customisation, authenticity, and variety of racing disciplines has never been matched.

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For many, Project CARS was a gateway into sim racing. At the time, hardcore sim racing games like rFactor and iRacing were only on PC. You also needed powerful and expensive hardware to get the most out of them.

Project CARS screenshot

For the first time, Project CARS brought this experience to a wide audience on PlayStation and Xbox. It offered a console racing experience like no other and paved the way for Assetto Corsa to also arrive on consoles.

If you had the hardware to run it, Project CARS also looked impeccable on PC, running up to 12K ultra HD resolution years before 4K went mainstream. 

Project CARS wasn’t perfect, however. The game was riddled with bugs at launch, but it made its mark on sim racing, selling more than two million copies.

Project CARS 2 was even better. Released in 2017, the track selection was, and still is, unrivalled, with a whopping 60 tracks and 140 layouts.

Project CARS screenshot
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The car roster doubled to nearly 200 cars and the sequel also introduced off-road and snow racing, with new disciplines including rallycross and IndyCar racing. One of the most defining features was the groundbreaking “LiveTrack 3.0” system that simulated track temperatures and dynamic weather.

Puddles would gather on the track and affect grip levels, with dry lines forming as the rain dried out. rFactor 2 featured a similar system where rubber built up on the track over time, but this had never been done before in a console racing game. On PC, PCARS 2 also offered one of the best VR racing experiences that still holds up today.

Project CARS 2 screenshot

PCARS 2 was critically acclaimed, making it the first racing franchise to give Gran Turismo and Forza some serious competition.  

And then it all went wrong.

A wrong turn

Project CARS 3 was a departure for the series, straying from its sim racing roots in favour of an arcade-style experience to attract casual players.

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With DriveClub’s Paul Rustchynsky on the design team, it was effectively a spiritual successor to Driveclub, featuring cars that were fun to drive and a Rivals mode where you sent challenges to friends.

Notably, several cars made their console racing game debut in PCARS 3 including the Chevrolet Corvette Stingray C8, Lotus Evija, and Nissan 400Z Prototype.

Project CARS 3 screenshot

It wasn’t a bad game, but it should never have been marketed as a Project CARS sequel. This wasn’t what players wanted and PCARS 3 suffered from an identity crisis as a result.

With the removal of pit stops, tyre wear, and fuel usage coupled with simplified driving physics, the third game alienated Project CARS fans and failed to bring in new players. Reviews were mixed and PCARS 3 reportedly sold 85% fewer copies than PCARS 2.

Before PCARS 3 launched, Slightly Mad Studios was acquired by Codemasters in 2019. Last year, Codemasters was then bought by EA, which acquired the Project CARS IP along with the DIRT, F1, and WRC licenses. Shortly after, former CEO Ian Bell left Slightly Mad Studios.

Project CARS 3 screenshot
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Although it was never officially announced by Codemasters or EA, Bell announced Project CARS 4 was in development before he left Slightly Mad. Taking the series back to its sim racing roots, the former Slightly Mad Studios CEO boldly claimed that PCARS 4 will be “the most realistic simulation ever made” in a series of since-deleted Tweets back in 2020.

Social media posts from developers suggest Project CARS 4 was shaping up to be something special.

Sadly, we’ll never see the project come to fruition. Or will we?

Will Project CARS’ legacy live on?

While the PC market is saturated with racing sims like rFactor 2, iRacing, and Assetto Corsa Competizione, the death of Project CARS 4 leaves a gaping hole in the console racing market. Aside from Assetto Corsa Competizione, there’s a distinct lack of serious racing simulations on consoles.

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But Assetto Corsa Competizione only offers GT class racing, meaning console players looking for a realistic sim racer with multiple classes are out of options right now. Console players may have to wait for Assetto Corsa 2 to fill this gap, but it’s not clear if it will get a PlayStation and Xbox port.

Project CARS 3 screenshot

With staff being relocated to other projects, this could also be the end of Slightly Mad Studios. But all is not lost. The legacy of PCARS may still live on.

Running on the same Madness Engine that powered PCARS, Automobilista 2 is shaping up to be a spiritual successor to PCARS with its licensed and fictional Grand Prix cars and ability to race on tracks from multiple eras. 

Meanwhile, Ian Bell has blasted EA’s decision and is looking to hire former Project CARS developers to join his new company Mildly ANnoyed Studios and work on GTR Revival, an Unreal Engine 5 reboot of the beloved GTR series due to arrive in Q1 2024.

Unlike Automobilista 2, GTR Revival is planned for PS5 and Xbox Series X as well as PC. Bell claims it will be a "generational leap" for sim racing, continuing the legacy of Project CARS. 

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We’re sad to see one of the most ambitious racing franchises reach the end of the road so unceremoniously with so much wasted potential. It may have been flawed, but Project CARS pushed the genre forward and will be sorely missed.