Project Cars 2

PC, PS4, Xbox One

EDGE - - GAMES -

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

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