Project CARS 2 (PC) Review

By Tomas Barry 18.09.2017

Review for Project CARS 2 on PC

The community-centred Project CARS is a franchise with interesting origins. The original was a collaborative project that found its feet without the traditional financial aid of a publisher, thanks to community funding. The fanbase's efforts where not just financial, however, since racing fans who invested in the game were also granted an impressive amount of input. That led to something extremely ambitious, and turned out to be successful in many ways. Perhaps it was inevitable that from within such a system, another entry or two might be required to perfect things, though. The sequel wisely opts to reduce the static noise, taking on board the advice of a much smaller pool of expert drivers, with clear know-how on how to push the series to its limits. Building on the foundation of the original, Project CARS 2 looks to drastically improve handling and authenticity, and significantly widen the scope for different race experiences.

When scrutinising a realistic racing game, one always feels obliged to place it on the spectrum between the simcade experience of Forza and Gran Turismo, and the simulative heights of iRacing and Assetto Corsa. Often, it's hard to tell the difference by sight. The devil is in the detail, after all. For all serious sim racing fans, it's fair to say that the most important and visceral detail comes from the force feedback of the obligatory racing wheel. That's mostly where the sense of illusion is made and broken, since you want an impression of the car's weight as you hurl it through a corner, and to be able to interpret the backend if it kicks out.

Force feedback needs to be nailed and consistent, because drivers rely on it in so many ways. Without the highly attuned details that one gets through the wheel, how can you feel and manage tyre wear as you hit the final few laps of a highly contested race? Since Slightly Mad Studios has basically centred on the principle of ultra-receptiveness to their fanbase, they listened when fans said that the physics and handling needed serious improvement. It's mostly good news in that department, since the attention paid to this aspect of Project CARS 2 certainly puts it in the realm of a very serious sim racer - although there's a slight reservation, too, where that's concerned.

Screenshot for Project CARS 2 on PC

Let's not get into the old physics and handling chestnut quite yet. First, we should talk about what makes Project CARS 2 surprisingly distinct and fun. There's no doubt that the label of 'sandbox sim racer' is quite a broad term. Arguably, it should include the likes of BeamNG.drive, a game where you can drive through an assortment of huge maps, fly off any cliff, or try stunt challenges based on realistic physics. However, if we draw back from that extreme to something strictly race-related, we realise that for Project CARS 2, the sandbox is more about implying the whole driving universe in realistic terms. It's about jumping from touring car racing to Indy Car, and hopping straight out of a go-kart into a rallycross session - learning all the time about each race discipline, and picking up knowledge on how to tame a motor, and identifying the differences between each race experience.

It turns out this is an incredibly sustaining fuel for Project CARS 2, especially as it has branched out so much more, with over 180 licenced cars this time, the largest track roster of any console racing game and surely the biggest range of types of racing on offer. This results in a far greater wealth of single-player content and experience than last time around. In fact, it's one of the most impressive congregations of race disciplines ever seen in a racing game on day one. Really, it's only PC racers with mod functionality that can compare in terms of sheer range of content, which says something. While, unfortunately, not every single one seems so highly attuned, they're all at such a standard that almost all of them will provide a distinct experience in some way, with, at the very least, convincingly real physical challenges when playing with 'raw' feedback settings, which are the strongest available.

Screenshot for Project CARS 2 on PC

The most impressive added discipline is probably rallycross, which wasn't really expected, but holds up extremely well against other options, such as DiRT Rally and DiRT 4. This mode benefits from the improved handling and force feedback, as transferring from dirt to tarmac feels convincing, and so, too, is the way dirt collects on the wheels and affects the tyres.

Elsewhere, Indy Car is here, which is a huge amount of fun. It's also great to see one of the major race franchises on console embrace oval racing, which feels like a whole other world sometimes, because of the way cars pack together and compress, and make use of aerodynamics and the little space available. For drivers who have never leapt into that sort of race experience before, it will likely be one of the big highlights, since tyre wear and traffic must be much more acutely managed than in most other situations.

As one might expect with this level of race discipline sampling, Project CARS 2, shines extraordinarily as a single-player experience. It fills a void in the serious racer genre, because thanks to major improvements to driver AI, it's a very comparable experience to racing with real people, a rarity for most and hence a fantastic stepping stone towards high-intensity online racing. Unlike in the original, where the AI meant that all too often cars would obnoxiously nosedive you, cause disruption, but then race with mechanical precision for the rest of the time, here, it's a dynamic field of drivers that the player needs to be mindful of. There's a real possibility of an authentic incident when navigating a blind corner. Drivers will spot others returning to track from incidents not in eyesight, and witness plenty of others succumbing to fellow AI pressure, messing up a line, colliding with one another, and, of course, suffering mechanical failures, too.

Screenshot for Project CARS 2 on PC

The thing is, the unpredictable behaviour is a realistic variable and dynamic, with a very impressive scalable level of difficulty, so that the sandbox element comes into its own all over again. Prior to playing this, there was no game I'd advise friends to start playing alone that would amply prepare them for racing real people. Project CARS 2 changes that. While AI is never going to bear a grudge in the same way a real foe would, or remember something that happened the last time players raced some weeks back - which is a very real and immersion-effecting part of online leagues and competitive sim-racing - there's a fluidity to the on-track behaviour, and race incidents that can't be found elsewhere. When you combine this with the introduction of dynamic weather, and the vastly improved tyre wear models, there's just no denying that the single-player remit of Project CARS 2 is extremely useful - and more to the point, it's a useful tool for those wanting to learn how to race in authentic race conditions, and eventually with real drivers.

Once someone is on the way to learning a race type, like the prototypes or GT, for example, it's only a matter of time before they can start to identify the areas they can improve on, from managing the tyres better, and learning how to survive in heavy rain on that corner, to discovering the best way to keep the revs up to dig the car out of a tight one. All of these challenges can prove to be addictive, which shows how the physics engine and models have improved the experience. The critical improvements in handling address the issues that the original suffered from. There is now a discernible backend in the cars that require it, mostly. In addition, it is possible to catch a drift and realistically correct over and understeer with fast and small inputs - although there's still something a bit off with many vehicles, since the centre point of a lot of the cars, such as the MX5, generally feels overly light, and the sensation of downforce never quite seems as reliable as it should.

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This leads on to some disappointments with the physics and handling. Despite the advances, it must be said that the sense of braking momentum through the wheel is not very reliable in the case of too many vehicles. It's not an issue in cars with a lower centre of gravity and the more generally controllable modern cars, but it definitely does throw a spanner in the works for many other vehicles, particularly the more obscure ones, since Slightly Mad Studios has done the logical thing and prioritised the handling of the most popular cars. It is a shame that Project CARS 2 only feels like a fantastic accomplishment when behind the wheel of the most popular vehicles, since the sandbox ethos promotes trying new vehicles all the time, but it does stand to reason that this game wouldn't be able to give each and every car the same amount of love and attention.

When you look at iRacing, a subscription-based online sim racer, where except for baseline vehicles, drivers must purchase each new additional vehicle, affording them a method to do dedicated research on every single car they add here, it's easy to understand that this is a different creative model. This certainly should lighten the blow of the drawback, since the most popular cars that people want to race are those most will naturally gravitate towards, anyway. Now that more sim aspects are being embraced by mainstream driving games, it would hardly be far-fetched to expect meticulous Assetto Corsa standards of physics. That's not to say that Project CARS 2 falls too far behind those experiences; it's just that consistency across the board is also an integral part of sim racing. There's also the possibility that many of the neglected handling models may be patched going forward, too.

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As said, the devil is in the detail when it comes to this sub-genre, so there are also a few other issues worth mentioning about Project CARS 2. Firstly, while the sound is of an extremely high standard, the player's own engine doesn't stand out enough unless one makes an audio adjustment that hinders the immersion a bit. There's a lack of detail, and engines tend to blend in with each other, even when differing revs should be distinguishable. In Assetto Corsa and iRacing, players learn to interpret the engine and the tyres on the road. Unfortunately, and again probably due to how the game is budgeted, the audio is a little disappointing for sim purists, since it can't quite be interpreted in the same way due to a certain muddiness in the mix.

There were also a few bugs and niggles encountered relating to hardware. Once or twice when using the Logitech G29 pedals, they stopped working altogether. It also appears that messing with settings within PC2 affects the wheel's settings in other applications, which is an irritating issue that caused plenty of complications personally. It also wasn't possible to use a G29 wheel in combination with a different pedal, which is disappointing since other PC sim racers allow this sort of flexibility. There was also trouble setting up three monitors, though it is amazing to have that as an option, since driving fans get used to their setup - and, of course, having VR is a brilliant plus.

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The last big issue relates to the user-friendliness of wheel settings. While reducing the force feedback options down to three scalable sliders and several presents does make it easier for people to slip into a handling pillar they're generally comfortable with, understanding the relationship between these sliders is quite a guessing game. To add to this difficulty, it's not possible to save individual presents or adjust any of them in-game. With so many vehicle options, this results in a bit of a headache at times. It shouldn't be so difficult or time-consuming to find an ideal setup, or stay within the bounds of that whilst moving between vehicles. It's a shame, since other aspects of the user interface are so well-done, such as the easily managed favourites, which essentially allows users to have a playlist of custom races ready to go whenever required.

The online experience also makes a substantial effort to up the sim ethos, with the introduction of a competitive racing licence. This is a record of the driver's safety standing, and it can be used to limit drivers' participation, allowing for higher standards of race craft online, if one gets tired of the riff-raff. It also logs driver's strength, which can also be a filtering option to enhance general online race quality. These two systems are reminiscent of iRacing's SR (Safety Rating) and iRating - but not as rigid. While it would be nice to see harsher punishments inflicted on those not taking the race craft seriously, Project CARS 2 certainly deserves praise for implementing more apparatus to deter poor behaviour. Hopefully other console racers will follow suit.

Screenshot for Project CARS 2 on PC

Cubed3 Rating

7/10
Rated 7 out of 10

Very Good - Bronze Award

Rated 7 out of 10

Compared to the original, Project CARS 2 makes substantial leaps toward a more authentic and realistic race experience. The handling models, and tyre wear models, combined with the dynamic weather, which not only makes the game look gorgeous, but creates a fantastic additional selling point, adds up to something very impressive indeed. While not all its lofty ambitions seem to have paid off, it excels in delivering driving contrast and a very substantial single-player experience. Players will likely want to have several drivers on the go in career mode, whilst creating dreamlike events themselves, with real and scalable practice and qualifying sessions, too, which means that the sandbox aspect of Project CARS 2 really is something to value. The rivals out there have reason to be worried. This is a game made by fans for fans, and while it's not perfect, it's unique, and a hell of a lot of fun.

Developer

Slightly Mad Studios

Publisher

Bandai Namco

Genre

Driving

Players

1

C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  7/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  0 (0 Votes)

European release date Out now   North America release date Out now   Japan release date Out now   Australian release date Out now   

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