[Review images: https://app.box.com/v/PCARS2 ]
Project CARS 2 improves the art of racing simulation, but is it a good video game?
Project CARS was a revolutionary game when it arrived. It was easily the greatest simulation racer that normal people could buy and play, and it brought an incredible level of realism to the console market. But it has some major issues like terrible AI, lots of bugs, and it was practically unplayable with a controller, which is absurd for a console game. A few years have passed now, and Slightly Mad Studios has returned with a new iteration of Project CARS and they claim it surpasses the old game in every way.
So how do those claims hold up?
Visually, Project CARS holds up its legacy as one of the best looking racers on sale. The dedication to detail is superb, and even when zooming in on the smallest pieces of the cars like badges and brake ducts, there are visible textures and paint details that lesser games would skimp on. The environments have also been improved, with each location feeling just a bit more alive than the last game. We aren’t sure if it has to do with better polygon modeling or shader changes, but the world just feels less flat and more animated.
This is great considering the vast breadth of cars and tracks present in Project CARS 2. The first game had a large number of racing locations, but the car count was woefully lacking and unimpressive when compared to games like Forza and Grand Turismo. In total Project CARS 2 features more than double the amount of cars and tracks, with 189 wheeled machines and 63 locations, that covers 146 different racing layouts. That is a lot of different places and ways to race.
To make that racing as varied, interesting and dynamic as possible, Project CARS 2 also arrives on the scene with the best weather system we have ever seen in a racing game. Not only has the dynamic weather system returned, but it can now be adjusted to localized regions around a track, and it flows with seasonal weather patterns. That covers all four seasons, which means that snow and ice are now included, which completely changes the way you will race.
When you compile the full day-night cycle with the new dynamic weather system, it leads to some of the most dramatic racing I’ve ever had in a video game. Being two hours into a four-hour long mini Le Mans race, and then having rain roll in during the night segment of the race took a difficult race and made it outright dangerous. Trying to navigate the glaring lights and rain streaks to get into the pits made me sweat and kept my heart racing like I’ve never experienced.
And the simplicity of the game’s main career mode is refreshing. After tackling the RPG-like upgrade system of F1 2017, Project CARS 2 feels clean and easy. You start your career by picking a racing tier and then you simply get in a car and drive. You can tune and adjust your car if you prefer, but there are no long and drawn out upgrade mechanics or on-time use cards to mess with.
In your career mode you are constantly hoping around the different types of racing disciplines. You’ll do rallycross racing, then open wheel races, and then GT street cars, and it all melds together in a way that feels really cohesive. It also lets you experience all the various types of racing that Project CARS 2 has to offer in a really quick and satisfying way.
The best way to play Project CARS 2 is still with a racing wheel, but thankfully they have managed to make gamepad control bearable this time around. It is still far from perfect, but if you spend time tweaking and adjusting everything, you can get an enjoyable experience.
Speaking of far from perfect, the games computer racers still need work. Forza Motorsports Driveatar system, and the magic that Codemasters worked with F1 2017’s AI both prove that you can make a racing game with believable and dynamic computer racers. During our time, the AI did feel more natural, and occasionally you would watch then botch a braking zone, or slide out in a particularly tough turn. The effect was more noticeable when the weather was bod, especially in the snow and ice, but overall the computer still feels like a perfect machine that is forced to just be slow sometimes to make things “fair.” There are also too many instances of the NPC drivers sticking to racing line above all else, even if that means bashing you out of the way to get there.
This behavior is bad enough on its own, but it can force you to restart a LOT of races. Because, you see, as fun and interesting as the Career mode can be, it has a pretty glaring flaw. If you finish outside the top three in tour respective championship, you are forced to start the entire championship again. That means that once you have made it six or more races into a particular championship, every single crash or mistake can major consequences. It can really sap some of the fun out of the game. Also, please think twice before starting a championship. During our review time with the game, we found no real way to just “quit” a championship if you were not having fun. I found the quickest way to end things was just to start every race and immediately pit so I could retire.
How hard can adding a “Quit Series” button to the pause menu be?
Finally, in a weird turn of things, the weather system means that in a custom race you can set any type of weather to any track. At first this seems fun, but then you realize it creates some odd circumstances. For one, we made it snow on the Azure Circuit, Project Cars replica of the Monaco F1 track, and all the cars tried to take off, and then just stopped. Like traction control systems just shut off all their engines. We also found that putting heavy rain on some tracks basically caused areas of them to flood, making the race basically impossible to complete.
If you are someone looking for a tool to enhance your understanding of car control, Project CARS 2 is still the greatest of the breed. This is game that has been created and designed around a hard core racing enthusiast that is chasing tenths of seconds in their lap times. For anyone with a dedicated wheel setup, this game also makes tons of sense. No other racing game utilizes a racing wheel so effectively, or with such poise and accuracy. It truly is astounding.
But that said, if you are just a racing fan looking for something to scratch your driving itch, Project CARS 2 is hard to recommend. This holds especially true for console owners. Both Forza Motorsport 7 and Grand Turismo Sport are just around the corner. If you just want a fun racing game, you are better off spending your money there.
And that is what it ultimately comes down to. Project CARS 2 is not a racing “game” it is a racing “simulation.” It is a powerful tool for honing and improving drivers, and less of a way to just kill time on a Saturday afternoon.
Project CARS 2 was reviewed on PC and PS4 with “retail” code provided to us by the developer. All of our PC testing was completed on the “Project Stingray” PC using an Xbox One controller and a Logitech G920 wheel. Our PS4 testing was completed on a standard PS4 using a controller.
[ED NOTE: I didn’t know how you would want to format this, so I included two alterations –Moe]
Project Stingray Specs:
Case: NZXT Noctis 450
CPU: Intel Core i7-6700K
Mobo: Gigabyte Gaming G1 Z170X
GPU: Gigabyte GTX 980Ti G1 Gaming (x2)
RAM: G.Skill Trident Z DDR4-3200 32GB
Storage: Crucial MX300 2TB (x4 in RAID0)
Case: NZXT Noctis 450 – CPU: Intel Core i7-6700K – Mobo: Gigabyte Gaming G1 Z170X – GPU: Gigabyte GTX 980Ti G1 Gaming (x2) – RAM: G.Skill Trident Z DDR4-3200 32GB – Storage: Crucial MX300 2TB (x4 in RAID0)