Project Cars 3 really stretches the definition of a sequel. It bears no resemblance to previous Project Cars games, tossing aside the franchise's traditional tough-as-nails racing for a more approachable formula that a wider range of players can enjoy. The result is a racing game that leans heavily into territory that should be familiar to Forza players, meaning you can enjoy its racing without extensive knowledge of the inner workings of each car you drive. But it's also a racing game that struggles to bring together all of its new elements cohesively.
Core to Project Cars 3's transformation is its overhauled handling system. You'll have more than enough downforce in the front to bend around each corner with the right amount of car, only briefly having to counter-steer to prevent the back from whipping out from underneath you. It makes racing faster and more action-packed, and it's exhilarating when you're chaining together one perfect corner after the other.
The suite of assists lets you cater the experience to your needs in a granular way. There are standard difficulties to choose from, but each option--including stability assists, traction control, and ABS brakes--can be tweaked independently to deliver the right amount of challenge. Having more options to tune Project Cars 3 to your preferred playstyle is a welcome addition to the series, opening it up to more players than before. There's still just a hint of simulation constantly present that reminds you to still take care of how you approach each turn, which is aided by markers on the racing line pointing out each braking zone and apex. Having markers instead of a dynamic racing line keeps some of the thrill intact when tackling a track for the first time, challenging you to come to grips with its best lines and limits. It's exhilarating to perfect a track after mastering each corner, even if Project Cars 3 sometimes rewards some messy sectors when it shouldn't.
AI difficulty can be adjusted independently of your assists too, which is useful if you enjoy racing without the stresses of feathering the brakes or shifting gears. Unfortunately, even at its highest settings, the AI fails to muster up convincing challenges in medium to long events. Cross-country road sprints were especially telling, with any semblance of challenge evaporating before I reached the halfway point most of the time.
Every action on the track rewards you with some XP, from clean overtakes to sitting in the slipstream of an opponent. The HUD can get a bit messy with all the information it's trying to convey while you're focusing on the road ahead, flashing with each new reward that you obtain. It's helpful having a shortcut on the D-pad to turn everything off entirely at any point, but some visual issues cause the entire overlay to intermittently flash during a race, which can be even more distracting. The race engineer that you can choose to have blaring in your ear during a race also falls flat, rarely conveying important information that helps you with each lap and pronouncing your victories with hollow fanfare.
You don't progress Project Cars 3's campaign by winning races, but instead by completing the three challenges in each of its events. These challenges are often easy enough to pull off without too much effort, from executing a certain number of perfect corners or setting the fastest lap. Others feel counterintuitive to the flow of the action on track. Some sticklers force you to hang back behind opponents to draft them for a set amount of time before pulling off an overtake, while others require strings of perfect corners in conditions and on tracks that punish just one poor turn. Thankfully, if you're just looking to continue with the campaign, there are more than enough opportunities to complete challenges without having to return to those you dislike. But removing a race win as the ultimate goal does dilute the feeling over victory that should accompany crossing the line ahead of everyone else.
Campaign events are collected across 10 series, each of which requires a car of a certain spec to compete. You start at the bottom, with traditional road cars and old classics, slowly working your way up to exotic racing machines designed top to bottom for a track day. Purchasing the cars you require for each series isn't much of a hurdle given the generous amount of credits doled out for each event you partake in, but it's still exciting to get behind the wheel of a new car to learn its ins and outs on familiar tracks. The steady progression never keeps you locked into one series for too long, or forces you to grind out its objectives to get access to the next class. It feels in step with the pace of your own improvement too, making each step up to a new tier feel earned and adequately challenging to undertake.
If you're too attached to any one of the cars in your showroom, Project Cars 3 does also give you the ability to customize its performance to make it eligible for tiers it realistically shouldn't be in. You can have one of the lowest Class E vehicles you start out with go toe-to-toe with some of the game's most powerful supercars, which really drives home how much of a departure this sequel is from its simulator roots. It does eliminate the constant need to change vehicles if you prefer sticking with what you like. Customization also extends to cosmetics, letting you choose from numerous decals, sponsor stickers, and even tire brands to personalize your favorite set of wheels. It's not as robust or freeform as I'd like, but it's enough to make your showroom stand out from the stock crowd.
Customization does mean interacting with Project Cars 3's messy menus, however, which are just one part of an uneven presentation in and out of races. After a race, you're taken back to the event menu for the same event, making it very easy to accidentally kick off the same race and sit through the two loading screens that accompany getting in and out of it. When applying customization options to cars, my custom designs would sometimes reflect as equipped but wouldn't appear when in a race. Other times, the textures on my car would flicker in certain weather conditions, with restarts not resolving the issue either.
Project Cars 3 nails the details of each of its vehicles when they're intact, but slight collision damage looks unrealistic and just out of place most of the time. The dynamic weather during races can be a treat too, especially when tracks are bathed in dark clouds and heavy rain. But clear weather produces flat lighting that accentuates the lack of detail in the track designs, sapping some of the splendour out of iconic settings.
Project Cars 3 might not be the sequel you expected from the series, but its shift to a more arcade style of racing is one that makes the series approachable for the first time. It's not a clean cut from its roots, and Project Cars 3 retains just enough of its simulation options to provide enough of a challenge with all of its assists turned off. The transition isn't seamless, with some confounding racing objectives and uneven AI that takes the sting out of some events. But if you're looking for another way to get out on a virtual track, Project Cars 3 is an exhilarating new alternative.