Can it get pole position ahead of the competition?
Project CARS 2 on PC
Slightly Mad Studios does a lot right with Project CARS 2, its take on the racing genre that focuses on giving the player a realistic and challenging experience. The career mode works just like it did before, with six tiers of racing that you slowly make your way through. You also have manufacturer and invitational events that you unlock along the way which, like in F1 2017 and the Forza Motorsport series, help break up the regular championships that you undertake.
I can only praise the extra amount of variety that the developers have put into the styles of racing and the choices that you have to choose from compared to the first Project CARS. While the first game had seven tiers with 16 series with fairly generic names, two of which were for two different karting championships, you will now have 29 different series to choose from. Although you can choose to start anywhere in the first few tiers, the top championships are unlocked through progression. There are five routes of championships, each with their top-tier competition featuring some licensed real-life series that motorsport enthusiasts will appreciate like the Renault Clio Cup, Pirelli World Challenge, and IndyCar.
The number of cars for each of the championships is impressive here, too, with 180 cars included in the game from recent Rallycross cars to the 1988 Ford Sierra Cosworth. What truly got me excited as a motorsport fan was the choice of circuits on offer, and that a lot of detail had been put into each one. 20 new tracks have been added to bring the overall total to 60, with over 130 individual layouts overall. The inclusion of the historic circuit layouts of Spa Francorchamps and Monza was great to see, taking players back to what it would have been raced in Formula 1 during the 1960s.
I noticed early on that there isn’t any flexibility with the session lengths during career mode other than the race itself. If you want to take part in a practice session, which gives you time to get used to the track and tune your car, it will last for at least 30 minutes. Separately, if you want to go through a qualifying session to give you a better starting position in the race, it will last at least 15 minutes. That will be fine for some, but for others who may not want to put that much time into a single championship round, it doesn’t make much sense to go through a 15-minute qualifying session if you have the race length set to a small number of laps. There is an option to skip to the end of the session when you are happy with your time, but what seems to be a bug in the game at the time of writing gives some of the AI drivers a sometimes impossibly better time when you do so.
Jumping into my first session of career mode, I was happy to learn straight away that the gamepad controls have been improved. The first Project CARS game had issues with car handling when using the controller, with cars previously tending to be overly twitchy. After spending time completing the Ginetta Junior championship and dabbling with a variety of other cars in Project CARS 2, however, the handling felt difficult but fair. With the right assists and controller configuration for the type of experience the player is after, it can feel very rewarding. Learning to master both the car you drive and the track you are competing on, attempting to get every tenth of a second out of it to set the best time possible, and great battles with the AI, these are the moments that games like Project CARS 2 should be all about.
Unfortunately, I did later fall into issues with the handling of the Formula C cars in particular which slightly soured my experience. The cars felt very awkward during corners even with changes to the driver assists and the controller configuration. I was able to make a slight difference through this and being more careful while driving, but I still didn’t have the feeling that using a controller allowed me to push the car to its limits. When tested in a custom race, the Formula Renault 3.5 and IndyCar vehicles, which like Formula C are classed and open-wheel race cars, were easier to get used to initially, and it felt like it was possible to push the car and improve your lap times. However, I still got the feeling at times while racing that using a steering wheel and pedals would make the majority of the cars more enjoyable to drive, even with the improvement to the controller gameplay.
Project CARS 2 also has its fair share of bugs and glitches that I experienced during my time with it. Sometimes the racing line assist would be either incorrect for the car that you are driving or would decide not to show up for an important corner at all. There were also times when my lap times were deleted when I still had at least two wheels on the track, although this could be explained by the amount you need to be off the main track by to gain a penalty being stricter, and I had an issue at one point with the HUD disappearing until restarting the game.
While these small issues did detract slightly from the overall experience, it didn’t get in the way of being able to notice the less thought about areas that the game has done well. The dynamic weather system during race sessions is one of the best that I’ve seen in a racing game in terms of the variety of options, with multiple levels of rain and even snow possible, and the conditions can improve or worsen during your time on the track. The rain affected certain cars differently, while the Ginetta Junior cars still had a good amount of grip in each of the conditions I raced in with it. When taking part in a rain-affected invitational event at Silverstone using the McLaren F1 sports car, it was a challenge to even keep the car driving in a straight line.
The graphics for both the cars and each of the tracks I drove on were absolutely stunning and made me feel like I was there in person. You could tell the difference between the slick surface of a famous circuit like Monza and the bumpy track of a smaller venue like Knockhill in Scotland. While it didn’t seem to affect how I drove the cars, it gave the locations personality and made them more enjoyable to be racing at.
Overall the graphics, the choice of cars and tracks, and the way each car feels different to drive, adds up to create one of the best realistic racing games that we have seen. The number of licensed cars and tracks in the initial release is great to see as a motorsport enthusiast, and the enhancement of career mode with extra championships, some of which use official championship branding and cars that you would see in real life provides all the authenticity enthusiasts are after.
Controller support has vastly improved compared to the first game, with configuration options and game assists available to tailor your experience. I still get the feeling while playing that due to the realistic handling of the cars, the game is better suited to a wheel and pedal setup. While some small bugs were noticeable, there’s no doubt that Project CARS 2 is one of the best racing games out there, but to get the most out of it a steering wheel and pedal system is still needed.
Score: 4/5 – Great