Project Cars 2
PC, PS4, Xbox One
Developer Slightly Mad Studios Publisher Bandai Namco Entertainment Format PC (tested), PS4, Xbox One Release Out now
Project Cars 2 is, perhaps more than any other racer, a game about choices. Automatic or stick; rallycross or Le Mans; a beautiful summer’s day or a dull, blisteringly cold one. Perhaps you’d prefer a midnight runaround under cover of darkness. Well then, do you want it at Suzuka, Silverstone, or Spa-Francorchamps? And we don’t mean the modern F1 course; it’s the 14km long, see-the-Belgian-countryside route from the ’60s – a gauntlet that claimed many lives in the more dangerous days of motorsport. Oh, and before we start: would you like two laps, or 200?
That’s a lot of questions, but you get the picture. Project Cars 2 is for committed racing-game enthusiasts who live in thrall to every facet of speed, from tracks to tyre pressure and everything in between. It’s for the veteran sim lovers, not to mention the time-poor purists who are so put off by the thought of having to unlock the best cars that almost everything is open to you from the get-go. Despite this unorthodox approach, developer Slightly Mad Studios succeeds in restructuring this much improved sequel. It offers a career mode that has a much greater sense of purpose – one that’s no longer quite such an aimless sprawl.
Although it remains wildly accommodating to those here for freeform customisation and beneath-the-hood tinkering, Project Cars 2’ s career first offers up, yep, another choice: which racing discipline to get started with. It’s from there that you’re propelled through a fabulously broad variety of different automotive series. Only the most advanced top-tier events are locked off when you first sign a contract for your chosen team. Also inaccessible are the game’s brand new Invitationals, which provide more specific, guided undertakings with set parameters under five umbrella categories: Historic, Track Special, Low Grip, Road and Supercar. These unlock once you’ve put time into completing certain career milestones – completing 500 laps, for instance, or winning a particular championship. Overall it’s a pleasant balance of progressing through the ranks of your chosen motorsport, while also retaining a level of freedom within those races. It’s a mantra that extends from being able to adjust whether or not you engage in free practice and qualifying before the race, to being able to increase or reduce the number of laps for every event.
That’s if you want to tackle the career at all. You are free, should you choose, to simply set up your own custom races, using a vast spread of options and settings that let you race a field of grippy, zippy Formula A cars around a pitch-black Nürburgring in the middle of autumn (yes, you can even set the time of year). Wedged into the superbly detailed cockpit view, Project Cars 2 proves there’s nothing quite like rocketing from the relative safety of a floodlit starting grid into pitch blackness, with only the faintest glint of a white line to mark the track’s extremities, only the distant red glow of the car in front to gauge whether it’s time to start braking yet.
The original game’s greatest sin, at least for those on console, was the way that, when the starting lights went green, any players using a gamepad were left in the dust. Simulation fans accept – and expect – a challenge, but those with a preference for a controller were poorly served by the Project Cars of 2015. The game’s acceleration system simply didn’t transpose well to a trigger, resulting in a disappointing, if not quite ruinous, lack of control. That’s vastly different here: unlike its predecessor it delivers nuanced, varied and fair handling to pad players without compromise. Assists can be switched on and off mid-race with a quick dip into the menus, meaning that while the steep learning curve requires some effort to surmount, it is at least possible using standard console controls. No matter how you tailor the difficulty, however, Project Cars 2’ s moment-to-moment driving model is not exactly world-beating, thanks to an occasional floaty disconnect that rather tarnishes an otherwise authentic sense of traction. But Slightly Mad’s achievement lies in the way it offers such a widespread roster which, while inconsistent in a couple of areas, makes each series of vehicles feel properly distinct from the other. At times, it doesn’t just feel like you’re racing different cars, but like you’re playing different games entirely. Flit between a vintage Ferrari, worming your way through the barricaded streets of Long Beach; a rallycross event at Hell, where grip comes and goes as you careen off the asphalt into the mud; a Ford GT pelting around the sweeping apexes of Laguna Seca; or a teensy kart at Bathurst. Project Cars 2 gets dangerously, dizzyingly close to the sim lover’s dream.
Aside from the handling foibles, there are problems elsewhere; opponent AI is inconsistent, and a few bugs have snuck into the final code. Such issues are fixable, of course, but it means that when 26 cars bear down on Sainte Devote at Monte Carlo, the result is frequently a massive pile-up. Physics glitches are less gamebreaking, but do mean you’ll often find yourself spinning out if you catch opponents at odd angles. It’s not unusual to see a souped-up BMW launch itself, without warning, high into the sky simply because it had a light collision into Druids at Brands Hatch.
Still, few games in this genre have so accurately portrayed the rampant kineticism of a fleet of McLaren P1s haring round a racetrack, the blind terror of rear water spray behind a Formula 3 car, or the perilous loss of grip as you aquaplane across a dynamically generated puddle. It’s scrappy, sure, but no racer offers such a breadth of choice, or seems so willing to let the player set the rules of the road. When Project Cars 2 gets into gear, there’s little else like it.
It delivers nuanced, varied and fair handling to pad players without compromise