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Project Cars 4 Leaves a Big Gap in the Racing Game Landscape

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The original Project Cars was an incredible looking game for its time, back in 2015.

The original Project Cars was an incredible looking game for its time, back in 2015.
Image: Electronic Arts

Project Cars 4 was supposed to be a return to form for a series that fell astray of its simulation roots, but this week we learned that it won’t be anything at all. The upcoming entry in the Slightly Mad Studios-developed series has been canceled, an Electronic Arts representative recently confirmed to GameIndustry.biz, leaving a sizable gap in EA’s racing repertoire.

EA says it’s working to place Slightly Mad staff in other roles around the company, where possible. This was the statement the publisher provided to the site on Tuesday:

“Today we announced internally an update to our racing portfolio. Following an evaluation of the next Project CARS title and its longer-term growth potential, we have made the decision to stop further development and investment for the franchise.

“Decisions like these are very hard, but allow us to prioritise our focus in areas where we believe we have the strongest opportunity to create experiences that fans will love. We are focusing on our strengths in our racing portfolio, particularly licensed IP and open-world experiences, and expanding our franchises to be more socially-led with long-term live services that will engage global communities. Games are at the heart of sports and racing entertainment, and with shifting fan expectations, we recognise the need to evolve our games beyond pure play, providing experiences for fans to also watch, create and connect with their friends.

“We are working with everyone impacted by this decision to place them into suitable roles across our EA Sports and racing portfolio, as well as other parts of EA, wherever we can. Our priority now is on providing as much support as possible to our people through this transition.”

Electronic Arts completed its purchase of Codemasters, the British company known for its history of beloved racing games, in early 2021. When Codemasters arrived, it brought IP including Project Cars, Dirt, and Grid to EA’s stable; it also held the official F1 and WRC licenses. Of those, Project Cars is now confirmed dead; Dirt has presumably suffered the same fate to make way for the upcoming WRC title next year per Insider Gaming; and Grid’s future is unclear after Grid Legends’ lukewarm market reception. Only F1 and WRC remain.

That’s not surprising; after all, EA primarily bought Codemasters to stake its claim on F1 like it has with football and soccer. And while it’s disappointing to see another franchise retired — and unfortunately all too common when a relatively smaller developer falls under the purview of a publishing goliath of EA’s scale — Project Cars and its development team has endured a somewhat troubled few years.

The lead-up to Project Cars 3’s launch in late 2020 was fraught with confusing messaging about the title’s nature. Former SMS studio head Ian Bell described PC3 “all of the sim you could want with all of the fun you could want,” while the first and second entries were fully of the sim camp. Fans sensed that the game appeared to move in a more accessible, less realistic direction, which became very obvious upon release.

I still had a good time with Project Cars 3. It’s a fun game, and the handling on pad especially was extremely engaging and about as enjoyable as it gets. But it wasn’t what the audience wanted or expected, and in the wake of the game’s release, both Bell and design lead Paul Rustchynsky — the mind behind Sony’s MotorStorm and Driveclub — left Slightly Mad. Furthermore, SMS had fallen under EA’s umbrella once again via the Codemasters acquisition. It was an inauspicious development, considering how the last time the two entities worked together, on Need For Speed Shift and Shift 2 Unleashed a decade earlier, things didn’t end so well.

Slightly Mad’s wellbeing seemed uncertain, though EA hadn’t yet outright canceled PC4, and the next entry figured to serve an important pillar in the publisher’s arsenal of racing games — a true, general-purpose sim with the power to take on the likes of iRacing and Assetto Corsa, if given proper care and attention. Oh, what could’ve been.

It’s disheartening to lose another racing franchise at a time when the genre feels stagnant. Forza Horizon and F1 are good, but resoundingly repetitive and hardly boundary-pushing. Gran Turismo 7 is a sublime driving experience wrapped in a single-player campaign that often feels architected to keep you from playing. Who’s to say what Need For Speed Unbound holds, but given the brand’s track record over the past decade, tempered expectations are probably best. Rinse and repeat that sentiment for the upcoming Forza Motorsport, due next year.

I am at least eagerly anticipating Codies’ first WRC game, though. The combination of the Dirt Rally team’s mastery of off-road racing physics with the official series license seems like a match made in heaven. Perhaps with EA freeing up yet more racing dev resources, it can cobble together a group of people to finally make a new Burnout. There’s no doubt in my mind it’d sell, and besides, a guy can only play Burnout Paradise Remastered on every platform so many times.

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