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Online Racing The Way It Was Meant To Be
There are only a handful of MMOs out there that focus on racing. One of those MMOs happens to be Invictus’ free-to-play Project Torque, a truly original arcade-racer with a few layers of simulator-based elements tossed in for good measure. This is one of those rare MMOs that gets a lot of what it tries to do correct and actually has long-lasting appeal.
What’s funny is that Invictus isn’t a well-known developer in the circle of mainstream gaming press but they definitely deserve to be with a quality title like Project Torque. I’m not going to keep this review looming around a lot of empty praise, though, keep reading to find if what’s under this game’s hood is worth your time.
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Getting started in a racing game like this means, first and foremost, acquainting oneself with the controls. Thankfully, Project Torque offers gamers a fair selection of options for maneuvering the vehicles in-game. Players are given the choice of using gamepads, steering wheels and the good ‘ole keyboard, all of which can be used to play with a variety of sensitivity and gameplay options to help adjust the vehicles' responses to the player’s liking. It's especially convenient for players who use force-feedback steering wheels and want an extra edge of realism out of their online racing experience.
The tutorials and practice modes also work well for finding an affinity with a control scheme that works best for players. Even the keyboard steering sensitivity can be adjusted for gamers who want harder or softer turning out of their vehicle. While driving in the actual game I can attest to the controls being designed perfectly for the tracks and car handling, so long as players use the first-person driving mode. Unfortunately, the controls are a little awkward in the third-person mode because it feels like there is either too much over-steer for short turns or way too much under-steer for sweepers.
Again, the odd turning in the chase-view cameras can be avoided by keeping the camera in the first person, in-car perspective. Besides, the drifting and car handling from within the in-car view works best for driving and seems to be the prime view in which the game was designed to be played.
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Graphics And Sound
Project Torque looks nice, real nice…in fact, the cars look stunning. The lighting and texture work on the high settings project superb visual quality in both the cars and the environments. Now, this is not to say that this is equivalent to the likes of something like Forza Motorsport 3, but this game does look exceptionally pleasing to the eyes. Add in the option to customize both the physical and performance aspects of the vehicles and the game is taken to a whole new level of immersion.
If I did have a gripe with the graphics it would probably have to be with the in-game hands on the steering wheel…they just don’t seem to react in the appropriate manner and they can end up being quite distracting. Other than that the visual aspects of this game leave nothing to be desired.
The sound isn’t quite the same as the graphics. The problem is that there seems to be a bug in most Invictus games where the sound disappears if the sound hardware acceleration is turned up while the speaker setting is on 5.1 surround sound. So yeah, I spent a good part of the day reading through the forums trying to find out how to fix the problem. They should really have included that note in the installation process because updating the game is anywhere between a five and six hour process and uninstalling and reinstalling the game is not fun at all. Otherwise, if you do get the sound to work it’s the standard-fare techno-romp music with fairly decent car sounds, crashes and environmental ambiance. The only plus side to the music is that you can important your own tunes using the provided folder within the game.
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Despite the cars controlling like arcade racers from the likes of Test Drive or Need for Speed, the actual racing is fairly solid. And to countervail the arcade-style car handling is a series of license tests to push even the most avid racing sim fan to their limits. Much like Gran Turismo, the license tests are extremely difficult to achieve gold awards but definitely help players get familiarized with the various tracks and cars.
Now, even though the drifting is a little bit shoddy because of the unrealistic turning mechanics for the cars, the actual races happen to be very fun. There are a series of game modes available for both novices and experienced players, and the level separation is handled like any other MMO with rooms designated for racers of specific skill levels. The major difference is that lower-ranked players don’t have as much access to parts, cars, designs, upgrading or race tracks as higher level players. So usually players of lower levels must stick together and race while higher-ranked players can participate in more challenging events.
Speaking of events…Project Torque offers gamers an impressive array of playing options. Not only are there standard arcade racing modes, with options for laps, car damage and the amount of players who can participate in each race (up to 20, in case you were wondering), but there are also off-road racing options, derby car oval tracks, capture the flag games, an explorer mode, tournaments, and a simulation mode. For this game to be free to play all the modes play out like top-notch, triple-A worthy game modes.
As for the car damage, this is something even $60 racing titles don’t always get right, but it’s executed extremely well in Project Torque, allowing for players to bump and grind with the damage showing up on the appropriate car parts. Heck, under the right circumstances players can send opponents spiraling into the air like some teeny-bopper Fast and Furious stunt.
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Using quality-driven free-to-play gameplay on top of the ubiquitous MMO cash-shop paradigm is genius if a company can ensure that the game keeps players playing and tempts them to buy from the cash shop. In the case of Project Torque, after putting in a few hours, many player would be hard pressed not to lay down cash for this game. It’s extremely addictive and eggs players to keep playing with its engrossing mission setup and unlockable content.
The mission/questing setup is what’s most impressive about the leveling model in this game, because players only have a limited number of mission keys. Using the keys to unlock a mission allows players to earn more cash and experience points. In turn, once the keys run out players can no longer unlock new tasks, quests, missions or assignments, which mean they must compete in a variety of races or modes against other players to earn more keys to earn more money and experience. The process requires a lot of repetition in a fun way that keeps players coming back for more.
And to cut down on the “clone" factor that many MMOs suffer from, players can use their money to buy tuning modifications for their car or buy a whole new car altogether and mod it. Because of this setup I have never ran into a doppelganger using the same car with the same setup on the game. That’s almost a milestone achievement in the world of free-to-play MMOGs.
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Project Torque delivers more than it needs to and in a big way. Leveling is fast and fun for both new and veteran players, the car customization features aren’t quite as detailed as Forza Motorsport or Need for Speed but offer enough to ensure that clone-cars and doppelgangers are not a common occurrence. Add in the option to do a variety of unique and challenging game modes, missions and car club tournaments, and this game basically takes the free-to-play model to a whole new standard of quality entertainment.
This is probably the first MMO that actually should have been pay-to-play. With very little lag, a great community of players, lots of games to participate in and a setup that ensures that players hit the ground burning rubber, there just aren't enough nice things to say about this game. This is a driving simulator for just about any racing fan and I simply can’t recommend Project Torque enough.