Project Cars 2 puts the driver in the foreground for a fun and enriching racing experience. It’s a mostly successful sequel on many fronts, but the intensely authentic gameplay may be off-putting for some.
Project Cars 2
Slightly Mad Studios
Platforms: PS4 (reviewed), Xbox One, PC
MonsterVine was provided with a code for review.
One of the key lessons Slightly Mad Studios tries to convey in Project Cars 2, the follow-up to their 2015 racing simulator, is to learn from experience. The lessons you gain from spinning out in a tight turn can help you build upon your skillset as a racer. Not everything is perfect, but through patience and repetition, you can fine tune your talents to help you reach the podium. My biggest takeaway from Project Cars 2 is that Slightly Mad took that key lesson to heart. The game builds upon its foundation with features that help maintain Project Cars’ focus on the racecar driver experience.
Project Cars 2 delivers an authentic racing experience on console often found in games like Gran Turismo or Forza. But what sets this series apart from its predecessors is its focus on the driver. Cars almost take a backseat to the lessons the game tries to instill into players. Don’t worry, there’s still a lot of care given to the 189 vehicles in Project Cars 2. But Slightly Mad wants you to learn how to master the track not through the car but through your due diligence as a racer.
Every mode and feature in Project Cars 2 is built around improving your skills as a driver. That’s important because racing is difficult in this game. Career mode is a good place to start the improvement process. It offers players a chance to enter in different motorsport disciplines across multiple seasons. You can slide around the gravel in various rallycross races, hit high-speeds in Indy Car events, or take on tight corners in a touring car.
The tracks are curated in career mode to test your skills. One race will feature long straightaways where top speed is a constant concern. Then, the next race will be set on a more technical course where passing an opponent in a tight corner means the difference between winning and losing. There are 63 locations and 146 track layouts in Project Cars but I did run across the same courses multiple times. However, I felt determined to see how my skills had grown on courses I spent hours on so I didn’t mind the repeats.
Career mode is good for learning the vehicles and tracks in Project Cars 2, but there’s not much to it in terms of (virtual) tangible awards. The only thing you’ll unlock in the career mode are special, one-off events, but they serve as more chances to drive vehicles you may have otherwise missed in the career mode or overlooked elsewhere in the game. The lack of rewards and unlocks leaves the career mode feeling hollow.
There are two options for tuning your car and no matter which one you pick, you’ll be able to save those changes as a preset to be loaded up on your next race. There’s a manual tuning option where a hefty description for each part you select pops up on screen. What was far more helpful for me, however, was the Race Engineer option, one of the new additions to Project Cars.
Race Engineer allows you to select among four general options such as braking, down force, suspension and gearing. It will then ask you which problem you’re experiencing with the car. You can be asked if you’re having trouble turning in corners, and Race Engineer will further break down the problem by asking if it occurs through the turn or coming out of the turn. That’s when it will recommend what you should do to rectify the issue and give you a short description as to what the fix will do. I’m not that much of a car person but having this feature made me feel like I was understanding my vehicle on the track the more I drove it. This is a beneficial tool to give players a more ‘racecar driver’ experience where knowing the problems in your vehicle can determine where you finish in the race.
The Race Engineer is helpful but I wish the game taught players more about racing. Project Cars can benefit from teaching players how to brake into turns and accelerate out of them. It can take cues from other sports games where you learn how to beat your opponent. Simply going faster than the car next to you won’t always mean you’ll win. Project Cars gets close to giving players the knowledge it takes for winning races, but that dialogue on how to perform well is missing.
The addition of Live Track 3.0 system really tested my understanding of the car and roads in Project Cars. Live Track 3.0 allows Slightly Mad to introduce road surface transitions that affect grip and handling on the fly. Puddles will build up on a track during rainstorms which makes even driving on a straight path harrowing as the car will jerk left and right. The game warns that even dirt kicked onto the course will affect your handling as well, but I didn’t see that in my play through of the game. Regardless, Live Track makes the courses feel alive which can throw you for a spin on tracks you’re the most comfortable with.
Outside of career mode players can create custom events using motorsport presets for offline and online single races. I liked the presets because it allowed me to get better with race types I struggled with in career mode. Like the rest of the game, however, you can heavily customize the events to whatever rules you want.
There’s also Community Events where you can participate in time-trial events and esport competitions that use specific cars and tracks. There’s even an esport menu but that just kicked me into the PlayStation 4’s browser. It’s disappointing that Slightly Mad didn’t build any in-game features because I much rather avoid the browser on my console.
With so many options to help me improve my racing skills, it’s a shame Project Cars 2 will sometimes slog through the menus. This happened after booting up the game or after exiting a race. The worst of it happened while creating a custom event. I had to wait half a minute to interact with the menu after changing a preset. Problems like that tested my patience when I really wanted to jump back onto the racecourse as quickly as I could. Even with a patch downloaded before release, I encountered these issues.
Project Cars 2 offers plenty of driver assists to make the experience easier. But there’s still a large wall to climb over for players looking for a more arcade like racer. Unfortunately that means it’s hard for me to see a game like this be appealing to a large audience. There’s a steep learning curve for simulation racing games and that can be off-putting. At times I even felt the authenticity in Project Cars was too much.
The Final Word
Project Cars 2 is a welcome addition to the racing simulator sub-genre. I had fun seeing my driving skills progress as each new race added layers to my experience. While the game has plenty of options to make car handling easier, it ultimately falls more on the side of simulation than arcade. For that reason, the game’s steep learning curve may not be appealing for some players. But Project Cars 2 at least showcases Slightly Mad’s technical experience and passion to see the Project Cars series flourish.
– MonsterVine Rating: 4 out of 5 – Good