Back in 2015 after much deliberation Slightly Mad Studios released their gem of a racing game called pCARS or ‘Project Community Assisted Racing Simulator’. The premise of the game predated the Kickstarter/Early Access system where people would use their money to become investors into the project and create a racing simulator game for the people that wanted it. This resulted in one of the best racing games I had ever played and the attention to detail blew me away multiple times over. Now Slightly Mad Studios are at it again, this time with Project CARS 2.
Let’s get something straight right off pole position. If you’re a new player to racing games or even sim racing games, you may have a hard time getting into Project CARS 2. If sim racing has a hardcore mode then this would be at the forefront and it may put a lot of players off. In saying that, if you have a dedicated racing setup and a will to push the pedal to the metal then this is one of the best racing sim games I have ever played.
The first major improvement from the first game is the UI and menu design. Options are clearly defined, easily accessible and each new menu is explained for newer players who don’t know where they’re going. This goes the same for tuning setups, downforce, gear length and more so even if you aren’t a mechanic you can find out how your minimal tweaks can greatly affect the performance of your car.
The amount of detail in the tuning menus alone is enough to make any car fan cross their legs in excitement. This is akin to the character creator screen and save for a explosive expansion of each of the working parts, everything is customisable. If you don’t know what a particular option does, there’s a helpful racing engineer that gives you suggestions on what you might want to change if your brakes are locking up or if you are spinning out of corners as you accelerate. This is extremely helpful when you just need to make a minimal adjustment and are completely lost in how to make it.
So you’ve jumped into career mode, selected your starting tier, spent twenty minutes on your car tweaking every setting under the sun and you’re ready to take your first podium. Let’s get into the meat and potatoes of this sim racer.
Project CARS 2 is gorgeous and every detail of the experience appears to be painstakingly crafted to be as realistic as possible. Car internals are accurate and constantly updating, the weather effects are amazing and the sound of each of the cars is like nothing I’ve heard before. You can tell the difference between a Lamborghini or a Porsche engine as it roars down the back straight of your favourite track and it makes me want to purchase a driving setup just so I could get a more immersive experience. But it isn’t all sunshine and rainbows when it comes to some of the moment to moment gameplay.
With most of these sim style racing games you are playing in a single player environment with your own customised car so opponent AI is paramount. Unfortunately, I feel Project CARS 2 may have taken a step back from the first game. Opponents jerk and stutter in their movements, especially when you get close to them in a tight cornering situation. This problem is multiplied when you add more opponents into the mix. Even after a few patches post-launch, the first corner of every race was a jumbled mess of cars and bumpers. While certainly interesting to watch each time, it took me out of the experience and I would have to constantly wade through the carnage to continue the race.
If single player isn’t your thing there are only a few options for you in terms of online connectivity. Player hosted lobbies are available to join but you have to time them pretty well as you can only join in once the current players have finished their existing race which meant that I was constantly hopping from one lobby to another just trying to find an active room to play in. When that gets too much to deal with there are the ever changing community events. These weekly time trials are set up by Slightly Mad Studios to allow the best drivers to put their skills to the test and it gives players a variety of options to choose from if you can’t think of what race to do next.
On multiple occasions I easily spent 90+ minutes in a personally created endurance race, white knuckled, forcing my way up from 23rd into the top 10 all the while having a hell of a great time. I love that the focus isn’t on winning each and every race which adds to the realism. Even in career mode, you can come in last place for an entire season and still slowly make your way up in the next, learning each car and how it handles. Everything on the track is amazing and if that was all the game could be based on then this would be a stellar experience. Unfortunately this isn’t the case and there are a few shortcomings for a modern sim racer.
Project Cars 2 feels like a racing game made for robots and sometimes it lacks the heart of other modern racers that have been released recently. It’s a blank slate and while that’s a benefit to the hardcore players to have that freedom, I feel like I am left not knowing what race to create next. For me, it felt like it was missing something that could be related to my lack of a dedicated racing setup. If you want the hardcore, min/maxed, 100% on the track racing sim then Project CARS 2 is the game you need to buy and create your own 24hr Le Mans races in.
Project CARS 2 was reviewed on PC, using a review code provided by the publisher.