Project Cars 2 Review

 

 
Overview
 

Genre: Racing
 
Rating: G
 
Release Date: Septemberr 22, 2017
 
Overall
 
 
 
 
 
4/5


User Rating
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Positives


- Solid racing with vastly improved physics
- Gorgeous visuals, with weather and time-of-day effects
- Revamped career mode offers a lot more variety

Negatives


- High AI difficulty makes it difficult for new players to break into the game
- Icy tracks are near-undriveable


Posted September 19, 2017 by

 
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“You can catch it. That’s the difference.”

This is my Dad after he got out shape on a corner at Oulton Park, one of the over 50 tracks included in Project Cars 2. Still adapting to the game’s new physics model, he’d brought his Ginetta in a bit too hot on the corner and had his rear wheels step out. A little bit of counter-steering and throttle manipulation later, and the errant rear had been brought back in line and the car continued around the track without incident.

This kind of refinement is what Project Cars 2 is all about. Slightlymad made a confident debut with 2015’s Project Cars, and subsequent updates fixed many of the issues the game had at launch. With all that knowledge under their belt, they’ve been able to bring us a sequel that can truly stand tall against rivals such as Forza Motorsport and Gran Turismo.

The big selling point for the first game was its focus on building a racing career, with a calendar of events throughout the year that players could jump between to get experience with a wide variety of cars and tracks. That progression has been replaced with a much more open tier-based system in PC2. Events are categorised into six tiers, and players can choose any event from any of those tiers except the last two, which are gated off until players pass an event in the fourth tier. Events themselves are complete championships, with multiple races and even multiple seasons in some events. This means that, while it feels like there isn’t a lot to choose from at the top level, it will take a long time to get through each event and progress to the highest level.

Alongside this, however, are the one-off races that used to clutter up the calendar. These are optional now, and are unlocked through either career progression or manufacturer affinity. They can help mix up the game when you’re deep into a log series and want to try something different for a little while.

Once you get into the racing, it’s easy to see where the refinements are. The physics model was developed in conjunction with actual racing driver and former Top Gear Stig Ben Collins, as well as Nicolas Hamilton, brother of Formula 1 driver Lewis Hamilton and a British Touring Car driver in his own right. These two worked as advisors on the game, bringing considerable racing experience to help match the game to real-world cars and tracks. The result is a physics model that feels a lot closer to reality than most other racing games out there right now.

Visually, the game improves on the original as well. Most importantly, the framerate is wonderfully smooth. I played the game on both a regular PS4 and a PS4 Pro running at 4K and both systems had no issues producing a constant 60 frames per second at all times. This isn’t surprising given the original game ran pretty smoothly on the PS4, and is one of the games that benefits most from the PS4 Pro’s boost mode. Unfortunately, my review code didn’t have HDR support enabled, so I’m not able to comment on the visual upgrades that it brings to the table. The rest of the visuals, from the track details to the way things change based on time of day or even time of year, as well as the cars themselves, all look great in either 1080p or 4K.

The first game had a cool, if imperfect, dynamic time-of-day and weather system, and Project Cars 2 improves on them dramatically. Rain is now much more realistic in how it affects the track condition, with puddles forming and changing as the race progresses. Unlike the first game, where wet weather would often reduce cars to undriveable messes, this game is more realistic in that cars continue to have handling in the wet. Obviously, you’ll be punished for doing stupid stuff, and you may need to change your tyres to best suit the conditions, but at least you’ll be able to complete races and compete with the AI when it rains. (Also rain affects AI now, unlike the first game at launch, where it didn’t until a patch some months later).

One notably missing detail to this system, which Slightlymad calls Livetrack 3.0, is when the rain stops and the track dries out. In reality, a ‘dry line’ would appear on a wet track as the heat from the car tyres dries out the racing line. In Project Cars 2 the track simply dries out unless there’s a puddle, which takes a little longer to clear up. For all the game’s realism, it’s a little jarring to notice. Especially when such a feature is coming to Forza 7 next month. On the other hand, not all tracks in Forza 7 have weather, so it’s a fine trade-off.

Back in 2015, I mentioned in my review of the original Project Cars that the game had the potential to grow into a franchise worthy of competing with the likes of Forza and Gran Turismo. That game was marred by bugs that took some months after release to be fully patched out, and it lacked certain tuning options, such as gear ratios, that are now included.

The tuning options in general are a lot better this time around. The menus for accessing them are a little convoluted but everything you could want to tune is available (assuming the car itself supports it). One nice feature is that, by default, settings that affect things like the wheels can be set to be symmetrical, so front tyres can both be changed at the same time rather than separately, but that’s also there as an option if you want it. There’s also a nice ‘Talk to the engineer’ option that provides a simplified interface where the game asks you what problems you’re having, and then suggests options to resolve them. I found that the resolutions tended to be very minor, but it’s a great way for people without much understanding of tuning cars to get into it.

Because Project Cars 2 isn’t a garage racer, there’s no buying cars with in-game currency, or building them up with upgrades. If you’re coming here from the Forza or Gran Turismo series, this may seem like a glaring omission, but, ultimately, I feel that Project Cars 2 is doing its own thing, and such features would simply clutter the game up. Here, you’re a racing driver looking to build a career with different racing teams. Those teams are the ones supplying the cars, so of course there’s no need for you to purchase them.

The upside of this approach is that every car in the game is effectively unlocked from the beginning, although, due to the way career mode works, that means something different to what it does in the other two franchises.  If you choose the quick race mode, you’ll be able to just set up a race on any track, with any car in the game. Want to go straight to racing Falcons (sadly no Commodores were included) around Mount Panorama? Do it. Nothing will stop you. Career mode certainly provides structure to the game’s progression, and the manufacturer events and special events help keep things interesting, but there’s no reason to not just set up a fun race of your choosing.

Alongside the custom event and multiplayer modes is a new mode called Private Testing. This lets you specify a car, a track, a time of day and a weather condition and drive around the track with no time limit or restriction. This is great for testing out tunings or learning a track in an environment where you don’t need to compete with anybody, allowing you to tune or learn at your own pace.

In a genre where iteration is often more important than innovation, it can be difficult to recommend a sequel to anyone who isn’t already a fan of the series it’s a part of. Upgrading from Forza Motorsport 5 to 6 was a no-brainer because how little there was in 5, but that’s usually the exception. For Project Cars 2, however, I can wholeheartedly recommend the game to anyone. If you missed the original, or put it aside after the buggy first few weeks, then you’ll have nothing to fear from the sequel. If you did spend hundreds of hours in the original, there’s more than enough new stuff here to keep you interested as well.

If the first Project Cars was a statement of intent, Project Cars 2 is the delivery of the promise. This is a game that blasts past the pack and into the tight battle for podium honours. It’s caught up to Forza and Gran Turismo, and makes it very clear that neither of those series can take things easy from here forward. It’s good to have competition, and when that competition is as strong as Project Cars 2, the real winners are those of us who love to race.


Tim Norman

 
Raised in the arcades of the 1990s, Tim believes that if you're not playing for score, then you're not playing.