Racing sims have always been popular amongst fans of motorsport, of course, but the average gamer? Not so much, especially in today’s world of racing sims as they become more authentic and realistic. One of the new editions to the realistic racing sim lineup is the Project CARS franchise. The first Project CARS, which came out back in May 2015, was a huge crowdfunding success. It was a clear passion project by racing fans for racing fans, hence, why the ‘cars’ part of the name is in capitals (Community Assisted Racing Simulator). Due to the success, it was obvious that Slightly Mad Studios would look to make a sequel. In fact, funding for the sequel was actually started only a month after the release and, in February 2017, it was announced that Project CARS 2 would release later on in 2017. Well, it is later on in 2017, and Project CARS 2 is here. Is the sequel more forgiving than the notoriously hard first entry of the series, or will you find yourself spinning out on every corner? Well, it is a bit of both, really.
Firstly, Project CARS 2 really is a gearhead’s dream. Straight out of the box, there are over 180 cars from 38 different manufacturers. The big names are all here: Lamborghini, Ferrari, and now the likes of Jaguar, Nissan and Volkswagen also make an appearance. There are also 60 tracks (which contain over 100 different layouts), with some of the world’s most famous racing arenas featured.
The first Project CARS was notoriously difficult to control with a standard controller and really required a steering wheel and peddles to truly play the game properly. Thankfully, that is a necessity that is no longer required in Project CARS 2. Using a standard controller is much, much better here, and a steering wheel is now more of a personal preference. You can also adjust various configurations in the options menu, such as clutch dead zone, if you choose to play with a manual transmission, or something as simple as steering sensitivity. Slightly Mad Studios have given a lot of freedom for players to adjust Project CARS 2 to their exact liking, which helps make it an accessible racing sim for players of all abilities.
One thing that is a bit weird in Project CARS 2 is the bonkers AI. The AI drivers mostly do a good job in giving you a challenge during the races, and their skill level and aggression can again be adjusted in the options menu. There were numerous times though when I was completely rammed off the road as if the AI driver I was racing against thought this was a Destruction Derby game, or a car in front forgot they were in a race and suddenly drove like it was a Sunday morning. Thankfully, most of the time the AI is fine, but these sudden blips do occur and can either be funny or extremely frustrating.
Career Mode is a simple yet fun way to play Project CARS 2. There isn’t any flash or Hollywood style story of an up and coming young racer who faces numerous challenges while trying to make a name for himself. This isn’t what the Project CARS series is about, it’s about the actual racing. You are also given the freedom to start at any level you want. Want to skip straight to the professional realms of Touring? Then go right ahead. Or do you want to start at the very bottom and work your way up from the Karts series? After choosing the career series of your choice, you’ll be locked in there until you complete it, but there are Manufacture Drives which can help break full on race series. There are some other invitational events as well to help break up the action. Before each race, you’ll be given the choice to participate in a practice and qualifier session. These can be invaluable to your chances on race day as, obviously, you can move higher up the starting grid, but practising will also give you the chance to test your car and see if it needs any work before the race.
Thankfully, Slightly Mad Studios has novices like me covered where you can ask the race engineer to help fix your racing experience. You can ask them to improve on breaking, downforce, suspension and gearing by making simple statements like, ‘I am not breaking in time’ or ‘I can’t hit my top speed’. You are then offered some advice by the trusty expert and the option to tweak a component of the car if your race discipline allows it. This a great help feature to help players not completely clued up on break ratios and suspension settings.
It isn’t just the friendly race engineer that Project CARS 2 has to help inexperienced players. You can set the gameplay to a more arcade-like experience with steering and braking assist, traction control and have a race line so you know when to break and which corners to take. I tried to play without all these settings and spun out on every corner and kept crashing into walls. If, like me, you haven’t a clue about racing, I highly recommend you start with these settings all active, and when you eventually improve, which you will, then much like learning to ride a bike, you can start to take the stabilisers off and then just spin out and crash again. I joke, after spending time with the assist settings on, you will become a better racer. Out of Career Mode, you can jump into a quick race or challenge yourself against other players in the online modes.
Graphically, you would never think this was a crowd-funded game. Project CARS 2 looks gorgeous, which is helped by the dynamic weather system. The sun will beat down shining off all the cars, and when it rains, puddles form almost in real-time and will splash when you drive through them, which will increase the dampness of the track and could cause you problems later on. If the sun comes back out after a brief downpour, then the puddles shrink and evaporate just like in the real world. It isn’t just the daily weather that’s taken into account either, the time of the year will also determine if you are racing in blistering sunshine or sliding around a snow-filled winter track. The weather changes are not just there to look great but also make you rethink your racing strategy. If it is pouring down with rain, then a quick visit to the pit is needed for a tire change. And driving in the rain is not only a visually spectacular experience as you see the water splash off the cars in front for you, it is a heart-racing panic. One wrong move, taking a corner too aggressively, breaking at the wrong time, etc., will result in you spinning out and potentially ending your chance of a podium finish. The graphics in Project CARS 2 truly are a marvel to behold, this game looks better than some of the big releases with huge budgets and resources behind them.
Developer: Slightly Mad Studios
Publisher: Bandai Namco
Platforms: PS4, Xbox One, PC
Release Date: 29th September 2017