Slightly Mad Studios returns with their eagerly anticipated Project CARS 2 which is available on consoles and PC. From the off there’s much more on offer in every way but the real issue which faces this game is whether it’s an essential buy or not. To answer this question lies firmly with the type of player you are, but more about that in a moment.
Firstly, what’s served here is a wide selection of modes, vehicles and track selections – and once again enough tailoring to the rules, appearance and conditions to keep you well entertained when it comes to variety. There’s a progressive career mode which sees you start out at the bottom of the racing ladder and work your way to the top (which is nothing new) however it does lack personality with very little reward other than having a gold, silver or bronze badge next to the completed event before you move on to the next (that’s if you managed to hit the podium). A bit more of a story would have been most welcome to distinguish it from its predecessor which followed a similar progression style. At least the career allows you to create multiple drivers and sample most of what the game has to offer one way or another.
Players can also just jump into bespoke events with a massive amount of choice in terms of how you would like to play. Fancy a bit of snow at night? Sure, this is possible and with things like being able to speed up the time x60 means you can start a race in the sunshine and have it progress to a rainy night for the final laps. It’s all here and works well enough for those who like to tinker with the options.
It has to be said, there is a greater selection and choice of vehicles this time, but not so many in each class so you’re somewhat limited if you want to stick with lower class road cars for example. The game spreads itself out across multiple vehicle classes including Rallycross, GT and Indy, Formula racing. The choice does keep the game interesting and with a selection of liveries to view and ponder means you’ve got some neat selections on offer. It’s not the largest roster of vehicles in a racing game but seems to have covered most manufacturers that were absent last time such as Ferrari being included this time.
So, the biggest element of Project CARS 2 is how it plays and we’ll go back to our original question here. What type of player are you? If you’re a casual racer who likes plenty of assists, being eased gently into starting races to get the hang of things before working your way up, then sadly you’re going to be left out in the cold. This game rest firmly on the side of sim racing which means you’ll struggle to get to grips with some vehicles (pun intended) and have to face some rather unforgiving AI that either drives erratically poor or steams off ahead taking corners like they have glued wheels. It’s very hard to find a balance here even if there are tools in the options to make the game a little more friendly. For example you can tailor the AI aggressiveness or skill level but this means on one race you’ll lap the slower cars making for zero challenge, then the next struggle to position at all. The AI tailoring is hit and miss and doesn’t work well and is something you’ll need to adjust for each race. The game is set up so players take part in the full race weekend rather than skip things like practice and qualifying sessions. Whilst this is authentic, again it’s not user friendly to those who just want to skip it all and race. In many instances if you ignore qualifying or even post a decent lap time then skip the remaining time, you’ll fall foul of the AI who will beat you into submission leaving you in last place on the starting grid. It’s awesome for purists that want the full experience but not so great for more casual players. Effectively this sentiment sums up the entire experience. Sure, you can get better over time, but the steep learning curve is likely to deter many players unfortunately.
Physics seem to have been improved a fair bit with less of the sliding around on the first lap due to tyres not being the right temperature before pushing the vehicle harder. It’s a little more forgiving this time (unless you race on ice that is). However, there’s plenty of frustrating moments where the car will spin out of control for no apparent reason on select corners, or it will rain heavily leaving highly unpredictable puddles on the track. Whilst this captures the essence of real racing, at times it feels a bit cheap spinning out whilst you’re fighting a hotly contested lead on the last lap due to being nudged, or hit a puddle badly. There’s no option but to restart races here which is better than nothing but still rather painful.
In terms of visuals Project CARS 2 looks great with improved details and neat lighting effects. Car models look slick as does the reflections off the metal or raindrops on the windscreen. As mentioned, there is plenty of variety here to keep the visual aspects constantly fresh. The game runs smoothly on PC and can even maintain 60 fps at 4K on some circuits which is a bonus – when using top end hardware of course. There are enough options to mess around with to suit your PC requirements and even the choice to play in VR as a standard feature this time for those with VR headsets. Audio is a little hit and miss due to a lack of music being played whilst driving. Again, this is due to the sim nature of the game but being left with the sound of engines and screeching brakes does become a bit monotonous over extended hours. A choice of having a radio station would have been a neat inclusion.
Gamers will be able to sink plenty of hours across the single player modes, challenges and events alongside online play to sweeten the deal. As with most racers there’s always something to play or work towards and this game is no exception in providing a suitable hook.
To conclude, Project CARS 2 is an improvement over its predecessor in terms of content, but it needs to have some fixes before it can truly shine. It’s a shame the rather unforgiving nature of the AI and some handling can’t be better suited to those looking for an arcade experience, but perhaps for those who really persist will gain some enjoyment once there’s a bit of tweaking behind the scenes to get what should be working (AI difficulty) up to speed. For purists into the most sim-like of racers this is a really good game which could propel itself even further over time. So sim racing fans this one is for you. Anyone else would do well to wait and see how post launch updates improve the game. That said, the core experience is pretty sound (aside from a few glitches) so hopefully it shouldn’t take Slightly Mad Studios long to update.
Score – 8/10