Another racing game, another sequel – sometimes you wake up feeling that by just slapping an incremental number at the end of a title you would leave it at that with just an updated roster. With Project CARS 1 having such a vast roster of cars and tracks, it’s difficult to see how a sequel can possibly outshine such a mammoth of game.
Well, quite incredibly, Slightly Mad Studios (SMS) has done it. With almost everything from the previous game incorporated this time around, plus Porsche making its mark, the car tally really has grown substantially to include even more series, from Go-Karts to Formula A (F1 in this case), but what was not expected was adding RallyCross to the mix. It felt like that moment when Gran Turismo was given the dirt tracks, rather simple and horribly handled, but it was a nice surprise. SMS has done the same with Project CARS 2 and not just RallyCross on dirt, but also on gravel, tarmac, and in the snow!
Differing track surfaces is one thing, but in most games, they all feel too alike. All the tarmac roads feel the same, all the gravel and dirt tracks also feel similar to one another, and this happens in Rally games too, but that is until you taste the sample of the weather effects that affect your handling here.
It’s hard to emphasise the feeling of taking a real vehicle onto a track outdoors and feel the difference in traction beneath your wheels during various weather scenarios in a single session, but when you know that feeling and take it to the virtual world, SMS have replicated that feeling with almost perfect precision. The variety of track conditions ranges massively from fog and sunny spells, haze and rain, to the thunder, lightning, and snow. It’s all here and every weather effect plays an important part on how your car feels on the road.
Watching the blue skies while racing on a grippy tarmac surface is wonderful to see, even in the blinding sunlight, but once you see those clouds slowly move in and darken, you immediately get the feeling of a change in tactics. Rain starts to appear and the track becomes ever more slippery, the moisture begins to shoulder its muscle, and suddenly thunder and lightning bellow in the distance. Large puddles and streams start to form and finding the patches of grip become a real challenge, but once found it makes a huge difference in lap times.
The day and night cycles make driving Le Mans and Bathurst a real treat, especially when the unpredictable weather is thrown into the mix. And adding that weather to some of the most historical and iconic tracks globally is what Project CARS 2 excels at the most. The roster of tracks has been exponentially increased and all with wonderful detail.
Driving with both a gamepad and a wheel, the historical and deadly Spa Francorchamps, while in a 1965 Lotus Type 38, was particularly hair-raising. I was amazed at how easy the cars were controllable with the gamepad this time. Project CARS 1 had a terrible time with controllers, and even with the wheel it wasn’t perfect by any means. This time around the developer has incorporated an approach where you can turn off all aids, turn on all aids, and have them set authentically dependant on the vehicle you’re driving. Combine that with the controller set options for the vehicles and you have a winning combination that works. I’m surprised that no other multi-tiered racing game has done this until now.
For those that remember Codemasters’ TOCA Driver series, they added multiple categories to the game, but SMS went that extra step further to take the pain out of setting up the control scheme for the series at hand. It has become a massive benefit to newcomers for sure. While the cars are easier to handle on the gamepad, I did find myself squirming about quite often like its predecessor – that was until I went into the options and toned down the 7% defaulted dead-zone on the steering. A tad too steep and once dropped to 1%, it made driving that much easier.
Driving all of these cars with both methods was a real joy. Every car feels different and the petrol heads will simply drool at the sound of some of these behemoths of racing. If you hate the whine of go-karts and open-wheeled Formula cars, then take out a Porsche, Ferrari, or even a Koenigsegg and revel in the sound of pure harmonic bliss.
However, despite the cars feeling much better than before, you still don’t get that connection you get with the likes of Assetto Corsa, iRacing, Gran Turismo, and Forza. There just seems to be something missing from the gamepad/wheel and translating it directly to the car and track – it’s like there’s no weight to the cars. Despite this, the driving is a joy to behold and both sim racer and casual alike will enjoy driving the plethora of cars available.
What I really love about what SMS is doing on PS4 is adding graphical options for you to enable or disable. There have been many times where, during a busy screen, the framerate would often stutter, but turning off things like heat haze, bloom, and any post-processing features can help stabilise the framerate dramatically.
The Career has been fully overhauled from before too. While it looks the same on the surface, deeper down they have changed the way it works. It is possible to choose any category and go for your favourite, starting from the bottom and working your way up allows for a more accomplished experience. Not only that but each season and championship now leads on to the next, during each season you get loyalties with the teams you drive and it helps further down the road.
If you wanted to jump straight into the top two tiers of motorsport, such as the Formula A and LMP1, then, unfortunately, they’re locked off until you amass certain goals within the career before they’ll unlock for you to compete in the championships. But once you get there the feeling of accomplishment is immense.
During these championships you’re given challenger events which encourage you to drive iconic cars from various manufacturers and allow you to become an eventual factory-driver from a manufacturer – this allows even more possible team vacancies open to you as you progress through your career.
SMS are trying to bring eSports to Project Cars 2 by having an entire main menu screen dedicated to the news, Twitch streams, events, results, and more. Instead of building the news and results into the game, you’re taken straight to their website instead, which seems like a cop-out but it works nevertheless. But when it comes to eSports, you must reach a certain reputation before you can even compete in the series. This means playing online in community events and hoping not to be taken out by a child thinking it’s funny to wipe out everyone on the grid.
Because there were reputation points to acquire, the eSports mode was not truly available due to player count as the game is not released yet. Once released I imagine a highly competitive scene amongst the serious racing sim fans. Even without the eSports mode, you are able to join other players and set up an online championship or single events. For those with multiple friends that are buying this, you will all most likely be training in the online championships to get your reputation points up, then to enter the eSports arena.
What I do like about the reputation points is that even if you don’t enter the eSports mode, the more points you have then you will be facing off against similarly-levelled drivers on the grid. This is to prevent childish nuances from entering the fray amongst more serious racers.
It was all going swimmingly, everything was playing out like a synchronised ballet until some glaring issues prevent this show hitting the big league. If you have one or two ballerinas that underperform, it generally causes curtains for the rest of the cast, and the same happens here with the AI. While the AI has been dramatically improved, there are often situations, most notably on corners, where you have the AI suddenly do a sharp turn cutting the corner or taking out another car, just from nowhere. It might sound extreme but having one or two AI cars do that on the first corner often lends you to lead the race after a pileup – much like Vettel taking out Raikkonen, Verstappen, and Alonso in Singapore on the weekend then.
There are also times where you think you can’t see a thing in the pouring rain and mist, only to find that you can see the windshields of the cars behind and in front, it is even more apparent when looking at replays. The beams from the headlights look fantastic when it’s all you should be able to see in the dense fog, but when you can make out the defined glass, it breaks the immersion a fair bit.
And while the graphics and lighting are superb, it feels rather dull in a grey monotone scale. The world should be coated in vibrancy – not that I want it to look like Gran Turismo’s over the top contrast, but it feels like the colour has been beaten out of the game with such a low contrast filter. When a lot is happening on track, especially when it comes to the weather dynamics, it has occasionally led to stuttering, perhaps this is because I only have an original PS4, but it should not be like that at all. Add in the shadows that flicker frequently on the track and it just makes you want to cry a river at how close Project CARS 2 came to perfection yet ultimately hurts itself with these few missteps.
It’s not just the graphics nor the AI that has an issue but also being penalised on track. Often times, when the AI decides to wipe me out, it’s not the AI that gets a penalty but myself. Also when it comes to driving around corners, even when there are two wheels clearly on the track, I still get a warning or penalisation, yet there are places where I can take the four wheels fully off track cutting a corner and get away with it. While almost all racing games do have these issues to an extent, Project CARS 2’s penalties seem just far too inconsistent in this case.
It is delightful to see SMS push the boundaries of Project CARS 2 well beyond the original by sorting out most of the issues that its predecessor had. The majority of kinks have finally been ironed out and a bowl full of sugar has been added on top – not to mention a mountain of cherries too. However, it’s just unfortunate that there are some niggling issues remaining that would have pushed it well beyond the top dogs of the genre.