The first PROJECT CARS had a fascinating history behind it. The team at Slightly Mad Studios, who were previously known for the Need for Speed: Shift series, decided to take their ambition and fund a racing game through their own money along with the funds raised by the community supporting them. It was a different funding scheme than Kickstarter or the Early Access Steam feature, as supporting the development went as far as being an investor in the project, gaining payments back after release if the game made profit (which it did). It led to creating a great racing game with beautiful visuals and stunning weather, but did suffer slightly with AI issues and adapting its handling model to a controller. Over two years later and more experience in hand, the sequel is here that builds on all the great things about the original game, but still can’t quite shake some of the issues that spoil the overall package.
Career returns for the game’s main single player progression, but with a few changes that make it a more dynamic and interesting. In PROJECT CARS, the career felt soulless, being a lifeless grid to fill in, completing each section as players moved up the ranks to the big leagues of motorsport and ticking off those accolades for each race type. Another option was simply to start big by hitting the Tier 1 tournaments and enjoying the fastest cars in the game. This is all still here in the sequel, somewhat, as the option to start in Go Karts, Renault Sports or low league racing vehicles are still available, but higher events are something to strive for, as they are locked until arriving onto their tier category, offering a progression goal for each tier from the six career starting options. Pathways can cross between these six lines, so if you fancy jumping out of touring cars and into rally cross, which is on a different career line, you can, as long as it’s on the same tier as currently unlocked.
It is the added variety and options this time around that improves the career. Players still need to finish the championship they signed up to before being able to continue on, but the game offers short or long versions of each tournament by decreasing the track list. On top of the first game’s features, such as allowing to skip practice and qualifying, Project CARS 2 goes a step further and allows the player to set the lap amount – minimum is determined on the length of the track, so it’s often two or three laps for standard circuits – or time limit if the race is timed based. This is a brilliant time saving feature for anybody who doesn’t enjoy spending 20 minutes a race, but also gives the option to those people that do. Throw in a few invitational events that can be taken whenever after unlocking, rather than part of the calendar date that was used in the first game, plus unlockable loyalty events for manufacturers, and you have a career mode that is enhanced with better pacing and choice. It’s still not on the level of something like the Forza Motorsport series, but I found what is here adds enjoyable progression to this series.
All the brand new content helps the career stay entertaining; there is a huge increase of cars, tracks and motorsport types. The addition of new cars, jumping from the base game of PROJECT CARS‘ 65 count to just over 180 in this sequel, allows for the events to stretch out and bring disciplines like Rallycross and IndyCar, while the selection of cars covers many eras of motorsports, from the vintage open wheel racing of the 60s with the Lotus Type racing cars to current technological masterpieces in the form of the 2017 Honda NSX. The track selection is just as impressive, adding another 20 to the base roster, increasing its total to 60, with 130 layouts across them. What is nice to see is the inclusion of historical tracks, while not many of them (only two), it’s cool to see a developer go out of their way to bring more history to racing games that isn’t in the form of cars. Anyone who has played a racing game recently will know the Circuit of Spa-Francorchamps, but what about the famous track from the 60s? The 14km course that was one of the more difficult circuits in F1, and with the inclusion of the classic Lotus vehicles, you can replicate such events from the safety of your own home.
Staying at home is something recommended after seeing the brilliant weather effects in play. Project CARS 2simply has one of the best implementation of weather in a racer. There seems to be an issue with some racing games that limit its weather conditions to specific tracks, but Slightly Mad Studios has created a system that enables every track to feature every type of weather dynamically, but not only that, it also can be at any time of day and have settings from one of four seasons, and all this will affect how the car handles. An endurance race could begin at sunset with beautiful clear skies, but suddenly turn into a nasty thunderstorm as the sunlight vanishes and the night sky blankets the track. If you want to go to the extremes, quick race allows all the parameters to be set; pick a date, a time and multiple weather properties and watch as the game goes from fog, to storm, to sun and then to a blizzard in the matter of minutes with the x 60 weather cycle speed. That would really mess up with people’s vehicle handling and pit stop strategies, especially so on dirt surfaces.
On the topic of handling, strides have been taking to improve driving with a controller. While it still isn’t on the level as some of the other semi-simulation racers, it’s a step in the right direction, as I can now control most cars well enough that I don’t feel like I am fighting with my input device to stay on the track. The previous game made it hard, with cars oversteering unpredictability, making it a fight to keep the car on the track without spending time in the controller options menu, even then, the results weren’t ideal. Without even touching any controller settings in Project CARS 2 and having the assists on – a cool new option is the ability to have authentic assists, which adds traction control and other computer wizardry to cars that actually have them and removes it when cars don’t – I was taking a Nissan GT-R around the countryside of the Scottish Bannochbrae road circuit without issue. Some cars will take a practice lap or two to understand their handling model, but most are straight forward and can be jumped right into without much issue when using some of the basic assists. The only issue comes with the weather, where the extreme conditions made it hard to get a grip in cars with powerful engines, even with wet tyres, so throttle control becomes important to manage the lack of grip. A little tweaking of the options might help with this.
AI gets messed about with the weather. AI wasn’t good in the first game either, and it is improved a little here with better behaviour on the track, but occasional the AI will go wild and crash on a corner or drive into the back of someone creating a pile up. I had a race on one of the street circuits that featured a rather amusing 12 car pile up in a thunderstorm, as the AI struggled to get to grips with the weather. It’s also happened in the reverse where I simply couldn’t move on the wet surface, yet the AI was driving as if it was on dry tarmac. Over the last few days, a recent patch came out that fixed the grip issue, but the AI can still flip out and pile up too often that it spoils that feeling of doing good in a challenging race. It’s one of Project CARS 2‘s glaring weaknesses that I hope can be solved within the next few weeks with the supply of patches the game has been receiving.
While the career offers plenty to do, with many achievements to unlock through its trophy and accolade collection, once done, you’re left with the free race for single player options, which packs many options to customise race and tournaments as you see fit, but multiplayer is where the rest of the fun is. Project CARS 2now supports fully customisable online tournaments, which allows to set up specific race events and rule restrictions with friends. It feels a more complete online experience than its predecessor, with an easy to understand interface enabling all the custom online sessions and lobbies to be set up quickly.
We can’t talk about Project CARS 2 without mentioning graphics. The first game was a looker, and the sequel remains that, even more so. Weather has been given an overhaul, presented even better, with rain splashing up the windscreen at high speed and snow covering the car and track as the race drags on. Everything looks that little bit finer, but the biggest surprise is the optimisation, with this game running better than the first title on the same settings and hardware. Rain was a killer previously, and while the frame rate will drop its average in the rain than a track in full sunshine, it is no longer as dramatic as previously. There is an added bonus for multiple card users, as SLI is supported here and is working well. Sound is superb, the car engines roar with ferocity and brutality when needed. You don’t need to drive the top end cars to hear this – a modified Toyota GT-86 will bang and whistle, but you can never beat the monster noise of the old BMW touring cars.
Project CARS 2 takes the foundations of its father and builds upon them, improving all aspects, but some areas have received more upgrades than others. This is no doubt a better racing game than its predecessor, with amazing visuals, fantastic sounds, more variety in cars, tracks and events, while featuring a dynamic weather system that stands above the rest of the pack, but the buggy AI sours the overall racing experience. Project CARS 2 also has that feeling that it is made for racing wheel accessories than a controller, and while the improved controller support is good, it’s still not the gold standard in the genre. It’s a rather hectic time for racing fans, with a few games coming or already out within such a small release window that there are many options to pick from for racing fans, and Project CARS 2 deserves attention for bringing great simulation racing, but stands out more for the unique driving-in-the-weather experience that cannot be found in any other racing game.