Slightly Mad Studios delivered the original Project Cars in 2015. It attempted to go three-wide in the turns with Gran Turismo and Forza, and came close to making a podium. Two years later, Project Cars 2 pulls up to the line having learned from the mistakes made by its predecessor, while at the same time, doubling down on its dedication to the goal at the cost of alienating casual players. The game is bursting at the seams with content and options that will satisfy those dedicated players looking for an authentic driving game, but may serve to intimidate anyone who does not fully buy into what is being offered.
Building a Better Race Car
I’ll go ahead and be upfront about my experience with the original Project Cars on the PC. I was enthusiastic about jumping into the game because I love racing games and very much enjoy the titles that steer towards the simulation side of the track. I quickly backed away from the first Project Cars due to performance issues with the PC port. At the time, I tried playing with a GTX 970 and was unable to find a combination of graphical settings that would prevent in-race stuttering. During the times that the game ran smoothly, I found controlling the cars to be a hassle while using a regular, wired Xbox 360 pad. To call the overall handling characteristics of the cars in the first game squirrelly would be disrespectful to squirrels.
Thankfully, Project Cars 2 has moved past the cripplingly inconsistent performance of the first game. A solid, locked 60fps is attainable across a variety of hardware configurations (and from what I’ve seen online, the console versions also run well). The smooth, stable presentation is paired with a nice boost to overall image quality compared to the original game. The occasional spikes and stutters are only a concern when the game’s fantastic weather system is in full effect, while clear daylight driving is unaffected.
Project Cars 2 spent many months in the hands of players prior to release via the developer’s World of Mass Development portal. Fans were able to buy membership packages and gain access to early builds and offer feedback on their experiences. This approach seems to have paid off as controlling the cars with a gamepad is no longer an exercise in futility. Regaining control of your vehicle after you slip out during a bungled corner attempt is actually possible in Project Cars 2. A plethora of driving assists and accessibility options are at the player’s disposal to help fine tune the driving experience.
The Drive To Be a Champion
Like every racing game ever released, Project Cars 2 offers single race mode, online racing modes, and a career mode. I chose to hop directly into the career mode. Upon launching the game, this mode is presented front and center, so I assumed taking this path was what the developer intended. I was prompted to create and name my new driver. Witness the birth of hotshot American driver Ass Masters. He is a loose cannon, but he will win races for a championship team. I told myself this, honestly believing it and I continued believing it up until my sixth or seventh hour attempting to make the podium in any of the three rookie series that are offered when you begin the career mode.
Each race in a series gives you points based on how you finish. Across the races in a series, your points are totaled and you can advance if your combined total points are higher than most of the pack. Getting podiums in a single race is tough when you are starting out in Project Cars 2. A couple of the series are with open-wheel vehicles and those wheels are easily tangled. When this inevitably happens to you, your chances of winning go to zero and you might as well restart the event.
Ass Masters understands that no one starts at the top and began working towards improving so he could advance in his championship racing career. This never came to pass and Ass ragequit his championship dreams around the ten hour mark. The early losing didn’t hurt Masters as much as the prospect of being an afterthought. As his hero Cole Trickle once said, “I'm more afraid of bein' nothing than I am of being hurt.”
The Track is Your Playground
Thankfully, the game offers a customizable single event mode that allows players to build the race conditions of their dreams. Project Cars 2 is loaded with tracks, cars, and environmental variables. Hundreds of combinations are possible. Recreating real-life race events is straightforward, but I found the most fun in exploiting the customization to produce scenarios that would never happen in real life. Ass Masters was never able to escape the shackles imposed on him by the career mode, but now he was going to participate in the first ever Nascar Winston Cup event held during a hurricane at Daytona International Speedway.
Nothing is off the table once you let your creativity run free with the custom event options. You can organize a Rallycross event in Dubai during a blizzard years before Trump’s environmental policies make it a normal occurrence. Rounding up a set of 30 go-karts for a hazy, sunset-drenched race on the legendary Nürburgring was a quite a bit more engaging than repeating the same small circuits from the opening of the career mode.
A Value in a Class All Its Own
In a year where many games have arrived light on content and heavy on microtransactions, Project Cars 2 feels like a unicorn. Not once during my playing time was I ever prompted to buy cyber currency or shortcuts to locked content. For players engaged with the simulation-style approach, the amount of options and ways to customize the experience are staggering. The front end menus are bursting with toggles and sliders. While I did not test the game with a VR headset, Oculus and Vive users will be presented with a vast amount of options and can launch the game directly into VR modes via Steam. Graphics setting junkies will find an exhaustive assortment of configuration possibilities, including the fine-tuning of the post-processing features that obscure the field of view, like lens flares, dirt, or raindrops.
Any players that are serious about taking in the full Project Cars 2 experience will need a steering wheel, shifter and pedals. While it is much more forgiving for gamepad users than the original, deep progression and understanding vehicle feedback requires dedicated hardware. It lacks the rumble trigger feedback support present in the Forza games and the audiovisual cues provided will pale in comparison to what the player can experience with a force feedback wheel setup. While the heavy tilt towards simulation provided by Project Cars 2 is not really in my wheelhouse, I can still objectively see it for what it is, a love letter to driving that hardcore players will find irresistible. 8 out of 10 Shake ‘n Bakes
Reviewed on a PC equipped with an Intel 7700K, 16GB DDR4, and nVidia GTX 1080 Ti.