Developer: Slightly Mad Studios
Publisher: Bandai Namco
Release Date: 21/09/2017
Format(s): Playstation 4 (Reviewed), Xbox One, PC, HTC Vive, Oculus Rift
Racing fans are pretty spoilt for choice at the moment. There’s the likes of Forza 7 just releasing on the Xbox One and Gran Turismo Sport coming later this month for the Playstation 4, whilst those who prefer a more frantic arcade twist on their racing have Need for Speed Payback just around the corner too.
Then there’s Project CARS 2 – the follow up to Slightly Mad Studios’ crowd-funded racing-sim. Full to the brim with new tracks, cars, a revamped single player career, and fresh features, Project CARS 2 looks to improve upon the original game and offer an even meatier experience than its predecessor. It succeeds too, with the improvements made over the first game clearly evident – even if the initial overwhelming difficulty might make them hard to notice at first…
One of the major improvements is found in Project CARS 2’s single player Career mode, which works across multiple different styles of car and events but with the freedom granted to the player to take on whatever challenge they want. Want to prioritise Karting? Go for it. Want to take on the licenced IndyCar Tour? Jump right in. You can even have yourself simply start from the beginning of a driver’s career and work up to the pinnacle of super stardom through each discipline; there are plenty of different options for you to choose from, with the Career mode offering plenty of diversity. It’s never just Championships that you take part in either (which can be short or long, it’s up to you) – there are also invitational events as well as special events where your favourite car manufacturers will have you show off your skills.
There’s a lot more variety on offer compared to the original Project CARS (which was a little poor as far as a Career mode went), so returning gamers will be pleased to see that there are potentially hundreds of hours of racing on offer across all of the different options that the Career mode offers – especially since each of the different options manage to feel so different. Slightly Mad Studios took what was one of the most criticised features of the first game and improved upon it massively, proving that Project CARS 2 isn’t just a bundle of new cars with a fresh lick of paint.
There are plenty of different events to race across outside of the Career mode too though, each of which can all be fully customised to offer almost infinite amounts of different racing scenarios. You’ve got access to everything from the get go, so you won’t see any cars or tracks hidden behind barriers. There are so many different tracks on offer in the game that that you’re spoilt for choice as far as setting up a race goes anyway, but the fact you can use any car or weather set-up on them too just adds to the variety offered as a whole.
There are near enough 200 cars for you to race with throughout the game that are all spread across multiple different types, meaning there’ll be just about anything for anyone. One major addition this time around are the Porsches, but the fact there are so many differing race styles like RallyCross, IndyCar, Formula A (that’s the game’s take on Formula One), Karting, and many more also ensure that there are plenty of different kinds of automobiles for racers to get stuck into. Each different type of car naturally feels different too, with Project CARS 2 going a long way in ensuring the standard of authenticity is certainly a high one.
Whilst the original game was known to boast an impressive level of authenticity in its gameplay design, Project CARS 2 ups the ante as far as attention to detail in track design goes thanks to the newly revamped technology the game boasts known as ‘Live Track 3.0’. This ensures all the tracks you race across are not only perfectly recreated but also realistically represented, meaning the likes of the track surface, the effects of weather, or the depth of each corner (which might not seem like a big thing until you see the dynamic puddles forming around you) can all affect how you need to drive. Add to that the fact that there’s a day-and-night cycle in some of the longer races as well as dynamically changing weather, and you’ll quickly find that racing on each course will never feel the same. A lot of these different factors might be intimidating to racing game novices, but real petrol-heads will be in their oils.
It means you’ve got to be willing to adapt and change your approach on a whim. Project CARS 2 isn’t an easy racer at the best of times, but having to suddenly take a different race line to avoid some huge puddle or take a slower approach due to snowfall ensured there was always a fresh challenge to be aware of. It might make the game a bit more unpredictable and harder to play, but it’s difficult not to be impressed by the feature; there’ve been so many times in racing games where I’ve took the lead and simply coasted to victory with no threat, but Project CARS 2’s Live Track 3.0 ensures you’ll be on the edge right until the very end.
I’ll be honest, when I first started playing Project CARS 2 I was absolutely terrible. I could barely turn my car on some bends and almost every race I entered turned into a catastrophe – maybe it didn’t help that I was driving some high-spec cars, but I’d never found the initial difficulty of a racing sim more intimidating than I had here. It didn’t leave a particularly great first impression, even if it was more to do with my lacking skillset as opposed to the game being some over-the-top incredibly difficult experience.
Thankfully, you can fine-tune the difficulty with a series of sliders and options to ensure that you’ve got the optimal settings in place to suit your driving skills. There’s nothing worse than playing a racing sim where you just can’t handle the cars, but the options in place here will let you ease your way in and learn the ins and outs of everything that the game has to offer. It can take a while to get it right, but the tough simulation nature of Project CARS 2 simply won’t be for everyone, so a few refinements will be essential for some players to be able to really enjoy the game.
There’s even a Racing Engineer available who gives you advice with how to look after and tune up your cars, so newbies will definitely feel comfortable with managing their garage of slick automobiles. You can actually tune up your cars however you want, but the addition of the Racing Engineer was a great help for me; whilst I love playing racing games, I’m not necessarily a pro when it comes to knowing the ins and outs of each and every car. The fact I was able to be advised on how to set them up to perfectly suit how I race was ideal then, and made the ‘what’s under the bonnet’ aspects of the game a lot more enjoyable. I was actually quite proud of myself when after a few hours I was able to identify exactly what I needed myself; it’s like Project CARS 2 goes out of its way to ensure complete newbies can get to grips with it the game, but also that it teaches you how to do it on your own eventually too.
As far as online mode goes Project CARS 2 has all the options you’d expect, with the likes of custom races, championships, and competitive leaderboards being at the forefront. There are also community events where everyone can take on the same challenge and see who comes up on top, so there’ll always be something different on offer if you tire of simply taking part in the same kind of races over and over again.
The game’s online aspect also adopts an interesting system that essentially ranks you as a racer, with the compulsory ‘Competitive Racing Licence’ letting other players know what kind of driver you are. This doesn’t just keep track of your victories or how good you are though, but also how you race; no-one likes a driver who just wants to ruin races by shunting and bumping as soon you’re starting, so any bad behaviour will pop up for other players to see.
It isn’t just in place to ensure you’re not matched up with scummy drivers though, but is also used to make sure that there’s a fair race in place with drivers of similar abilities – something that I mightily appreciated when trying to get to grips with each different aspect of the online races. Playing online doesn’t offer the same flexible freedom when it comes to refined difficulty settings, so it’s fortunate that you can find yourself in a lobby with others who might find themselves in the same boat. It ensures that it stays fun, addictive, but most importantly fair, with Project CARS 2’s online modes proving to be something I can certainly see myself coming back to time and time again in the future.
Visually, Project CARS 2 looks great, though it’s not the most attractive racer I’ve played – well, not on console, anyway. I’ve also played the game on a powerful PC set up, and it definitely looks a ton better than what I was used to on the Playstation 4. It’s not that it’s ugly by any stretch of the imagination, but rather that it’s lacking some of the texture detail and fidelity that you’d find when playing on a high-powered PC. That doesn’t mean it’s lacking in attention to detail though, with some of the cars looking absolutely unbelievable; there’s no denying that Project CARS 2 is a stunning game and it’s certainly not lacking when showing off the intricacies of each track, but I’ve just played other console racers that have impressed me more on a visual basis.
At least the audio design is absolutely on point though, with every growl that comes from the engine a pleasure on the ears. It’s certainly authentic, and even changes up depending on the camera view you choose in-game.
Those playing Project CARS 2 on PC will be excited to see that it has support for the HTC Vive and Oculus Rift, but unfortunately Playstation VR hasn’t been included in the mix. I don’t know if it’s a case of it possibly coming later on down the line or that the somewhat limited specs of Playstation VR simply can’t handle the game, but console owners looking for their fix of virtual reality racing action will need to look elsewhere.
Despite getting off to a bad start thanks to how intimidating and tricky the game was for me, I actually had a really good time playing Project CARS 2. It might not be the most stunning racer I’ve ever played nor is it the most forgiving, but it’s so jam-packed with content and authenticity that it’s hard not to be impressed by it all. Add to that the fact that Live Track 3.0 ensures that each race can drastically change on a whim and you’ll quickly find that Project CARS 2 is easily one of the most intense racing sims available.
You might have to fine-tune the difficulty settings to get the most out of the game, but once you get going you’ll find that burning rubber on the tarmac (and every other surface in the game) in Project CARS 2 is a hell of a lot of fun.