Project Cars 2 review: Taking the fight to Forza and GT
Critics praise the ‘improved’ sim title, but can it compete with the established racers on the market?
Project Cars 2 has finally arrived – and promises to be one of the best, and most challenging, racing games of the year.
Developed by Slightly Mad Studios, creators of the Need for Speed: Shift series, Project Cars 2 offers players the chance to get behind the wheel of 170 different cars, ranging from GT3 racers to 1980s F1 monsters.
Real-world racing and test drivers have played a major part in the development of the game, in order to deliver a more authentic experience.
But can it tempt fans away from the Forza Motorsport and Gran Turismo franchises?
The Week Reviews Project Cars 2
The first instalment in the Project Cars series was an ambitious but arguably flawed take on the world of motorsport.
It was largely praised for its realistic handling model and stunning lighting effects, but players using conventional gamepads found the controls unforgiving, and there were a host of bugs that often made the game difficult to play.
Thankfully, its successor substantially improves many of the features that held back the original - but Slightly Mad Studios still needs to make a few changes before it can be considered a true Forza Motorsport and Gran Turismo rival.
One of the major improvements that gamers will notice comes from the new handling model. The makers worked with a host of racing and test drivers to perfect the way each car feels out on the track, which is evident as soon as you turn the wheel of your chosen car.
The original game was poorly optimised for gamers playing with a standard gamepad, but the developer appears to have rectified these issues in the new game.
That’s not to say that the improved driving controls are easy, as players will need to learn the characteristics of different cars and meticulously analyse the surface of circuits to set competitive lap times. They are, however, more intuitive and make setting fast lap times fun and challenging.
Graphically, Project Cars 2 doesn’t have the same level of polish as its rivals. There are some jagged edges around the scenery of most of the circuits, and the frame rate can drop when the AI crash - which is frequent.
AI is arguably the weakest area of the game, as around half the field of cars end up piling into each other at the first corner. The racing itself generally improves after that, but the frequency and size of smashes on the first lap can ruin the immersion.
Overall, Project Cars 2 is a substantial improvement on its predecessor and one that sets the franchise up for a bright future. And though it’s not quite as polished as the Forza Motorsport or Gran Turismo franchises, it certainly trumps them for driving thrills and content.
What do the critics think?
The game “plays like a pumped-up version of the classic TOCA Race Driver 3 from 2006”, says IGN, “redressing many of the complaints levelled at the original”.
“The handling has been tuned to a T, the content is excellently curated, and the amount of variety and racing available in it is delightfully daunting,” the website adds.
Eurogamer agrees, saying that the new driving controls are a “significant” improvement over the original game - especially for players using a steering wheel.
However, the site continues, a few technical bugs still crop up, such as AI cars setting “inexplicable” lap times when you skip a qualifying session, and the dynamic racing line can disappear on some circuits.
Metro also found the game’s AI to be “a problem”, as its inconsistency “can begin to make racing against the computer seem like a waste of time”.
“One minute your opponents are flawless racing machines that are near impossible to compete against,” the website says, “and the next they’re all crashing out at the first corner.”
While there are “a few potholes”, Metro says Project Cars 2 is “an ambitious game” that “succeeds better than it has any right to”.
All 60 circuits, ranging from F1 layouts to recreations of historic tracks, “feature dynamic weather and lighting”, says ArsTechnica, and there’s also the addition of loose surfaces such as snow and gravel.
The line-up of vehicles is equally impressive, the website says, with a collection of historic cars reminiscent of classic motorsport titles like Grand Prix Legends - which CarBuyer rates as one of the best racing games of all time.
ArsTechnica concludes by saying Project Cars 2 is a great addition to the racing genre for serious fans, but more casual players may find it “a little too uncompromising”.
It’s “one of the most hardcore racing sims in years and pulls off what it sets out to do wonderfully”, says Trusted Reviews. Players may find it “unforgiving” at first, but the racer is an “awesome” addition to a “very specific market”.
Price and release
Project Cars 2 is avaible on the PS4, PS4 Pro, Xbox One and PC from 22 September. The game is also optimised for the Xbox One X console, launching on 7 November.
Project Cars 2: Everything you need to know
Set to become one of the most challenging simulators on the market, the sequel to the Project Cars racing game is due to launch next month.
Players will be able to drive 170 different cars, ranging from tarmac GT3 racers to rallycross off-roaders, on 60 circuits around the world. The game's developer Slightly Mad Studios has enlisted the help of real-world racing drivers to improve the authenticity of each car's handling model.
The simulator is due out on consoles and PC on 22 September. Until then, here's everything you need to know about the racing game:
Project Cars 2 will move into new territory with the debut of rallycross, a circuit race mixed with tarmac and muddy surfaces in the motorsport franchise.
Slightly Mad Studios has enlisted real-world rallycross stars Mitchell DeJong and Oliver Eriksson to help tailor the handling model of the off-road cars in the game. Project Cars 2 will also have licensed cars from the World Rallycross Championship, including the Honda Civic Coupe and Volkswagen Polo RX.
All these cars can be driven on regular circuits as well. Players also have the freedom to drive tarmac-based vehicles on rally routes.
More in-depth dynamic weather
Project Cars 2 debuts a new dynamic weather system, where conditions change throughout the race, giving players an extra layer of difficulty.
The game will offer snowy surfaces that will make cars easier to spin, as well as heavy rain that produces puddles on the circuit. As each track is precisely scanned using lasers, puddles will form in the same areas as they would in real life.
Players will see "storm clouds gathering in the distance as rain gradually falls on the track", says The Sun, while grass patches lining the circuit will become saturated, heightening the risk of losing control if you stray from the track.
Better controller handling
Fans criticised the handling of cars in the first Project Cars instalment, says TechAdvisor, as many players found it hard to maintain control of the vehicle when driving it "on the limit".
It's an area that's received significant attention in Project Cars 2. The website says the developers enlisted the help of test drivers from real-world brands such as Ferrari and McLaren. These drivers were then asked to drive the cars in a "driving simulator" and confirm that they handle "as they would in real life."
Car magazine says the game is "more accessible to more gamers than before and it's easier to navigate the menu system", but fans of realistic racing titles will be happy to hear that it "hasn't lost its simulator edge".
PS4 Pro supported, but Xbox One X will look better
Performance specs for Project Cars 2 are expected to be revealed closer to its September launch date, but it appears that the upcoming Xbox One X will be the best console for graphics quality.
The game's director, Stephen Viljoen, told TrustedReviews that the Xbox One X version of the game will have "significant" and "noticeable" improvements compared to the game running on the PS4 Pro, as the former has "better hardware."
While Viljoen didn't say what performance the game achieves on either the PS4 Pro or Xbox One X, but both consoles are capable of 4K graphics and 60fps gameplay.
Project Cars 2 release on PS4, PS4 Pro, Xbox One, Xbox One X and PC on 22 September.
Rallycross gameplay heads to Project Cars 2
Project Cars moves into new territory with its launch at the end of the year - developer Slightly Mad Studios has confirmed rallycross gameplay is headed to the racing franchise.
While the original series of games revolved exclusively around tarmac-based driving, its sequel will include mixed surfaces with a host of licensed cars and circuits from the World Rallycross Championship.
Among the monstrous all-wheel drive cars in the game are the new Honda Civic Coupe and Volkswagen Polo RX, reports Alphr, while a Ford Escort RS1600 will be a notable addition for "vintage car enthusiasts".
The mixed-surface rallycross series is "quickly becoming one of motorsports fastest growing disciplines", the website adds, featuring numerous routes in one circuit and "changeable road conditions".
Additionally, Slightly Mad says it has partnered with real-world rallycross stars Mitchell DeJong and Oliver Eriksson to help develop and refine the characteristics of the virtual race cars.
Former Top Gear Stig Ben Collins and Lewis Hamilton's brother Nicolas also provide professional feedback on the racing simulator.
Along with rallycross, Project Cars 2 will include licensed vehicles from the open-wheel IndyCar series, which GameSpot says can be taken online to race against friends or other players in championships.
"A full 24-hour weather cycle will change atmospheric conditions as you race", adds the site, meaning tracks can transition from dry to wet in a matter of minutes.
Players on PlayStation 4, Xbox One and PC can expect to get their hands on the game in late 2017.