Played on Windows.
Also Available on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One.
Project CARS 2 is the sequel to the rather interesting Project CARS, they’re racing games made by a passionate group named Slightly Mad Studios. The original game was community funded, and heavily influenced by feedback. The actual title for the game is Project Community Assisted Racing Simulation. So after a successful first game, Project CARS 2 should be the bigger and deeper racer. Is it?
The fact is Project CARS does a lot of things to live up to that goal. It’s clear where the inspiration of the name comes from because Project CARS 2 (as well as the original) leaves it up to the player to make their own game. The focus on the game isn’t to lead you to the fun but to give you a deep simulation that allows you to experience the joy of racing, as well as the visuals.
Those visuals are beautiful. Where the original game was made on a bit of a budget, Project CARS 2 feels like it had more money to play with. Tracks are laser scanned, there are more cars, and everything looks more detailed than ever before.
So much of the game is beautiful and it’s absolutely gorgeous to look at, though I would argue that graphics aren’t as important in the game when the player is flying down a track at 120 miles into a corner. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want to see two pixels on a course, but framerate is crucial in this game. It’s a mix between a steady framerate, and being able to watch the track for any sign or keeping an eye on an opponent and waiting for them to break into a corner will always be crucial for any racing game.
The good news for graphics fans is that Project CARS 2 clearly understands this and offers the ability to replay a portion of the race or switch to photo mode to capture a beautiful moment. The game’s graphics really shine in both of those modes as the player can sit back and appreciate the beauty while trying to review or capture it.
There are so many minor touches here that work well, i.e., the pit now has the ability to show your pit crew, cars do show damage, though it is mostly minor damage likely due to licensing agreements, and subtle pieces of the track is really impressive.
Normally I touch on the story after graphics. This is a racing game though, and it’s not a racing game that tries to tell a story, thankfully. I’m going to spend this space to talk more about progression here. The story of most racing games is about how the game challenges or builds up the player’s skills and gives them meaning to the playing of the game.
I mentioned above that Project CARS 2 is a make your own racing game. That’s most apparent in the career mode, which is where I spent most of my time. The game starts offering you a choice of 19 (out of 29) different championships, ranging from tier 6 (the lowest) to Tier 3. The final two tiers are locked off at the start, giving you something to reach for.
From there you can choose your championship, including the ability to make it a short season (half or fewer races), your team (which doesn’t appear to change much in the races I chose, just the livery) and then you’re committed.
From there, you start your next race and, depending on which championship and discipline you chose, you can change options. For most races, you can choose to practice and/or qualify for each race, or disable both to rush through quicker. In addition, you can change the length of most races, shaving off or adding a few laps whichever you wish. Even the difficulty, aggressiveness of the opponents, or the ability to restart races are allowed. The player is in control of his destiny here.
You can simply choose your length and in this case because you win a national championship you have a second championship to tackle.
That is what Project CARS 2 is really about. You choose your ascent, your championships, your progress. If you like racing Formula cars, you can focus there from Tier 5 to Tier 1, if you want to switch to Rally Cross or other events, the game doesn’t even try to stop you, or force you back to Tier 5. The player is always in control of what’s going on.
This is interesting, but I feel like I also see it as one of my complaints. I enjoy the freedom to choose my own future and find what I want to do with the game. But at the same time without a forced progression, I am making the choice of what I want to see next. The ability to change the difficulty does allow you to get easy wins or to challenge yourself if you want to tweak that.
But really, Project CARS 2 is about what the player wants. If he wants to struggle, it will allow that, if he wants to dominate and race to the top, Project CARS 2 doesn’t seem to judge. Short races with no practice or qualifying are as acceptable to it as someone who wants to play every Practice and Qualifying, as well as lengthen the races. There’s no judgment from the game and it’s nice.
Sadly though, the progression stops there. Cars are free to use, and there are no upgrades to cars, and not even suggested contracts to take for future championships are available. While there is tuning, the majority of the game is focused on the race and you can choose what you want to do for the game.
In addition, Project CARS 2 does have a few bonus races to run. If you like a specific manufacturer, you can earn “Affinity” with the brand, as well as being invited to special invitational races. It’s a small amount of progression but both really amount to different races with a different focus that have to be unlocked. There are a number of trophies, lifetime goals, and more that are available in the Career mode, but it mostly is up to the player to choose what will be important to him in the long run.
There are a lot of options in the Career mode, but options are what makes Project CARS 2 really stand out, there are a wealth of options at almost any level and any mode, and some fans might feel overwhelmed by the number of choices the game asks you to make. Most options do have a solid default value that new players will enjoy.
There are a ton of options just for the game overall, there are 16 gameplay options just for authenticity, ranging from ABS and TCS assists to damage taken or even manual pit stops, and then 16 more options just for the HUD and overlays. That’s just for the gameplay settings there are of course visual settings, HUD manipulation (locations on screen) audio choices, VR additions, multi-monitor support and more. The fact is, Project Cars 2 seems to really excel at allowing the player to make the game what they wish.
Personally, I realized I didn’t have to change too much, though I did change the damage model from none to Visual damage only, and turned on the driving line and turn indicators to make the game a little more accessible to me. Those are just my choices though and that’s really what I like here. I’m free to make Project CARS 2 feel comfortable to me.
The driving line is quite helpful in a number of situations. And that wet track…
At its heart, Project CARS 2 is a simulation game. There are a lot of different meanings to the word simulation, where Forza and Gran Turismo claim it, but have almost lip service to the idea, as the player is able to easily slide around the track. At the other end of the spectrum, there is Assetto Corsa, which I have yet to play, though sounds absolutely terrifying from the way people talk about the minutiae of driving with those games.
Project CARS 2 is somewhat in the middle of those two extremes. It’s closer to the Forza, Gran Turismo, and Dirt series, but takes itself a little more serious. The driving in Project CARS 2 does feel very good, and while I only used a controller, I could get a feel for the simulation as I played the game. This is not a game where you can just peg the accelerator and controller in a direction and hope for the best. Slower more deliberate motions will result in a better experience with it.
The thing is, Project CARS 2 finds the right place, and it is a couple of steps further down the simulation track from the popular driving games, but not so far to exclude those who don’t want to learn everything about driving. Understanding the driving line is important here, as well as Apex turning. The first time you go off the track, you quickly learn how punishing that can be. The simulation is real enough to feel good, but not so realistic that novices will struggle to drive their dream cars.
I used a Steam Controller for the game, focusing on just the joystick and triggers, and the game works very well. It’s not perfect, and those with Steering wheels will get more out of it, but using a lighter touch on the steering will benefit players and the game is very enjoyable with a simple controller.
One area that the simulation excels at though is weather effects. You can see in my first look, on the second race, I thought I was in for a simple race. Suddenly the rain started. You might not notice how different the handling of the car was, but if you watch my lap times you might notice. Project CARS 2 went from a completely dry track to a track that was starting to get wet, and then a soaked track. There was a noticeable difference to the game, where I could no longer be as aggressive as I was, and had to deal with a changing track.
Photo mode and replays are available, and are the only time that I really can marvel at the graphics.
The weather system is both amazing and challenging. While playing Rallycross, which requires 6 races on the same course on the same day, there is often rain during the various sessions and you can clearly feel the difference. The weather systems in Project CARS 2 is exceptional at this, and the only thing I really want from it is to potentially see snow or ice just to see how the cars change there. It’s probably not needed, but the rain is so enjoyable as an evolving challenge that I ended the first look being even more impressed with the game.
So a question will be how is the difficulty or how the AI is in the game. This is one of the issues that I think Project CARS 2 is fuzzy on. The AI isn’t awful, but I found I had trouble dialing in the difficulty. When I first started the game, I was running at “20%” difficulty on a scale that goes up to 120, which fans call “120%”. At 20 percent I was barely faster than the pack, though much of my time was learning the simulation and getting comfortable in the game. Eventually, I started demolishing my opponents and looked at the difficulty a bit more.
From my experience, I can tell you that each race and discipline seems to use a different standard. This was most noticeable when I changed from a normal track race to RallyCross and suddenly was unable to find a good difficulty. I raised the difficulty to 80% because the other cars weren’t giving me enough challenge.
The fact is the difficulty slider, as well as the aggression seems to need constant updates. It’s not as simple as an “Easy, Medium, Hard” slider, but at the same time, it’s nice to be able to tweak the difficulty instead of being given a set challenge.
It’s also great because there are a lot of opinions on how aggressive, or challenging games should be. I personally don’t like to lose against AI, but I know a number of players want to feel like they bested proper AI or fully mastered a course, both options are equally supported here.
The amount of detail on the cars and track is incredible.
There is also the ability to do some tuning on the cars. While the game doesn’t have a wealth of settings for each car, the ability to set up a car as you like it is very welcome in almost every racing game. Project CARS 2 takes that one step farther and offers the player a mechanic, which will help them tune their car and choose the right settings for them from some simple questions.
This isn’t required as gearheads can always set their car up themselves and even save multiple settings but it’s a very nice approachable way to look at settings and new players will find it much more welcoming as they can simply tell the Mechanic what’s wrong such as “Not accelerating fast enough”.
There is a lot of content here as well, 53 tracks currently, with at least 121 layouts. There are supposed to be 180 cars as well, I admit I didn’t count them all, and these are good numbers. The tracks have a lot of variety, ranging from Kart tracks, Rallycross, to the big Nurburgring, and Circuit De La Sarthe. The car selection is varied. If you only want to look at Lamborghini, Porsche, and Ferrari because of their exotic status, Project CARS 2’s lineup is for you. Personally, I love Mazda, and that would be great, but there is only a single Mazda in the entire game. There is a good variety of manufacturers here, but it depends on what you are looking for, and if you’re hoping for a specific car, it’s quite likely Project CARS 2 might not have that model.
Outside of Career mode, there still are good offerings. You can make literally any race in custom races, including insanely poor choices like Kart racing on Daytona (oops). The game supports endurance racing, using time dilation, or up to 24 real hours spent, as well as almost anything else you want to attempt. The game has 9 preset disciplines of racing, these are just guidelines and can be disabled allowing the player to change the rules at will.
The Online offerings here are good as well, I jumped into two matches and had a good time, winning one race, and leaving a second early. There are Online Tournaments, time trials, and more available so however you want to race, Project Cars 2 has you covered.
Sadly not everything is perfect here. There’s a decent Penalty system that can be toggled off a perfect example of more choice. However, the Penalties are not always clear. I’ve gotten at least one penalty for going too fast, and while this means cutting a corner, or racing outside of the lines, the game could be clearer. Penalties for cutting corners are great though, and if you pass an opponent, the game will force you to return to the position in the race in 30 seconds or be disqualified.
That’s good, but sometimes the penalty system turns a blind eye. Contact seems to be ignored. I often could spin other cars or slow down by rubbing against them with the fictitious stewards of the race giving me an invisible thumbs up.
The lack of crafted progression has been gone over a bit, but in my opinion, it becomes a major problem over time. The Ability to set the difficulty is great, but there’s no heavy challenge if you want to avoid it, so there’s no real progression unless you impose it yourself.
Hardly the only time I had an opponent airborne.
While the Simulation is quite solid, open wheel cars seem to have a constant problem as contact with the opponents can throw their cars (and one time my car) into the air. It is really interesting to see, but not very realistic to experience and breaks the immersion into the game completely.
The one big flaw of Project Cars 2 is that the simulation is not very fault tolerant. Your frame has a large effect on the experience. Going from a 15-20 FPS to a 30 fps resulted in very different games, where I was suddenly a better racer. This isn’t a huge surprise, but I often found that if my computer caused any lag, I would almost be assured to be forced to restart the race. There was at least one point where I had a stutter of a second, and it appears the game doesn’t have any cap on a single frame time for the simulation, which caused my car to plow into a wall.
Admittedly, this is a flaw of my hardware, but the fact that the game’s framerate has such a big impact on the experience is important to note. This is not a game where struggling to maintain a solid frame rate will help at all.
At the end of the day, Project CARS 2 is what you want to put in it. If you take the time, you’ll find exactly the racing game you want it to be. It can range anywhere from a simple racing game, to a challenging experience. It’s a beautiful and impressive racing game, and I absolutely love the new simulation with this game. Project CARS 2 took a little while for me to warm up to and find the feeling I was looking for, I then spent twenty hours enjoying it.
I give Project CARS 2 a
That rating is more for PC fans than console owners. Project CARS 2 is one of the few racing games that I really enjoy on PC, along with some of the Dirt series. However, on consoles, each console has their own first-party racing games that are pretty solid as well, and maybe the score drops by a half point. Either way, I still heavily recommend Project CARS 2 to racing fans, especially those who want a little more realism in their games.
I hope you enjoyed my review and by the way, I still suck at Bathurst.
Final Thoughts: An excellent racing game, tending to be a bit heavy on the simulation side. You can craft your own experience which, you’ll be forced to, but it is enjoyable for racing fans.
Stats: 23.1 Hours 21/47 Achievements earned.