Project Cars 2 is the second game of its name from Slightly Mad Studios, and is unique in offering such a wide variety of motorsports and vehicles across a host of different locations as an authentically simulated racing game. Car handling, tyre physics, engine and exhaust sounds, track conditions as affected by weather. All have been faithfully reproduced to give birth to a racing simulator that is as rewarding of driving excellence as it is punishing of a sloppy performance.
This strict simulation approach may give the casual racing fan pause for concern, yet will no doubt delight the most avid motorsport enthusiasts out there. This is not to say the casual racer won't find a satisfying experience here, as a myriad of customisable features leads to a vast and varied racing., But, at its heart Project Cars 2 is a car nerd's dream.
Where other racing games out there might allow you to transform a Mini Cooper from a sturdy performer to a 900 horsepower all wheel drive twin turbo beast, Project Cars 2’s customisation is strictly confined to the real world. An adjustment to the Mini’s radiator opening - measured as a percentage - will enhance or restrict engine airflow. The In-Car Management system allows for tyre compound and pressure changes individually or across all four wheels. Suspension and damping settings, downforce and gearing tweaks, are performed in the garage. Overall it will still be a powerful Mini, but not something fantastical and unlikely to, you know, exist.
In the first iteration of the series, using a controller to drive any vehicle other than a kart was akin to shaving your balls with a razor blade strapped to a lumpy camshaft. One slight twitch in the wrong direction and it was game over. Frustration, rage, and pain don’t begin to describe it. Thankfully the control scheme has been completely reworked for this this second installment, and while the game still demands fine motor control and coordination I can happily report it has been improved enormously over the first game.
The old game modes are back, including the straight up racing mode that gives you the ability to select any vehicle and take it for a spin on any of the numerous tracks on offer. Of course everything is customisable here too. From the time of day, to the season, number, and type of opponents (if any), it's now even possible to set the sequence of weather. Clear skies followed by light rain, a thunderstorm then blizzard, or any combination of up to 17 diverse weather settings. It's the perfect mode for honing your skills in any vehicle, on any track, in any type of condition, and something that I would recommend before choosing a class and car for a Championship series.
It’s also the place where you can just mess around, because who wouldn't want to try racing down 20km of California Highway in the nifty McLaren 720S during the dead of night with both a blizzard and the opponent AI set to maximum aggression to contend with.
Project Cars 2 is really all about racing, and with nine different motorsport disciplines including rallycross, indycar, endurance, karts open wheelers, touring, and trackday cars, there’s something for everyone. Especially when you factor in the 190 cars from 39 manufacturers and 53 race locations (each with multiple track variants) on offer. When designing a Custom Event it's possible to select a preset from these nine disciplines, allowing the game to populate the event with the requisite vehicles and tracks. From there you can then alter everything to fit your own desires, but be warned - nothing spells failure like trying to control a Ligier JS around a gravel rallycross circuit.
The pinnacle of racing in Project Cars 2 though is found in the Career mode. With six tiers that once again start with Karts before progressing to Lite Sportscars, Formula C and Clios, Porsche Caymans, Hypercars, and massive LMP endurance races. There are also Rallycross events, historic races, single car series, open wheeler action and plenty more. One thing to note is that even with all of this choice you’ll need to choose your series and vehicles carefully, and be sure to test them out in a Custom Event or Quick Race. Because there's no changing your car once a series begins without abandoning and restarting your career from scratch.
Now that may sound overly harsh, but perform well and you’ll be rewarded with accolades, invitations to special events, and manufacturer rewards.
Thankfully each event in your Career does begin with a practice session, one that can last up to an hour, giving you the opportunity tweak performance and get a feel for the track. Overall it’s quite a long and involved process that gives you the feeling of being part of real-world race day event. And once you factor in qualifying before the main event it’s no wonder that one of my practice sessions at Oulton Park started on slicks on a beautiful but rare sunny British day before the main race became an exercise in wet weather racing and poor visibility due to heavy rain.
Okay, so one of the reasons to play any racing game these days is hinted at in the title. Cars. And the cars in Project Cars 2 have naturally been digitally reproduced and rendered with gratifying detail, which also extends to the trackside environments and stunning weather effects. The true beauty though is in the attention to detail lavished on the physics and handling characteristics of each vehicle and its contact with the surface. You can feel the car react and slew slightly when plowing through standing pools of water following a rainstorm, the slippery transition from gravel to dirt on a Rallycross circuit, that nervous wiggle in the rear as you pour on a little too much power when exiting the Carousel at Nordschleife. Surface irregularities, potholes and ripple strips never fail to make their presence felt and forgiveness is not granted to those failing to respect the car and its relationship to the track.
Another thing about Project Cars 2 that stands out is the overall sound. It’s truly superb, with every engine and exhaust sounding as unique and realistic as possible. From the meaty thunk of the gearbox shifting as the supercharger spools up as you beast down Conrod Straight in the FG V8 supercar, to the merry burble of the Toyota GT-86 Rocket Bunny exhausts, and the sweet warble of the Porsche 935/80s turbo wastegate as it vents. It’s all incredibly satisfying and an aural fulfillment second to none. Such dedication to authenticity only serves to enhance Project Cars’ veracity as a true motorsport simulator.
But, not all paint jobs that glitter in the sun or glow after a fresh coat of wax are gold. Or, however that old saying goes. There are some disappointments to be found, and really my primary concern is not the overall difficulty that comes with the simple genre description ‘simulation’. But, instead with some of the driver assists that Project Cars 2 offers. With so many tracks that I've either never encountered before, or are only vaguely familiar with, I like to employing the driving line assist.. Unfortunately this staple feature of the modern racer seems to have been either neglected or added hastily, with a reliability rating that is suspect at best.
Common to many tracks raced on was the commencement of the driving line sometime after the first corner, occasionally after the second. Ofttimes it would simply vanish during a bend, only to resume some distance down the straight. When the driving line did overcome its shyness to make an appearance it was more of a suggestion as to the best line and speed to take, rather than something to be relied upon. So until this vague and mildly disconcerting feature is rectified I would advise using it sparingly, if at all. A secondary and almost subsidiary assist are the turn indicators, and they suffer the same fate as the driving line in their hesitancy to present themselves to announce upcoming corners.
Whilst there is the option to jump straight into a quick race for a fang around the paddock, Project Cars 2 won't hold the same level of appeal for the casual couch racer that might enjoy a relaxed race in Forza. A mistake resulting in understeering or oversteering in Forza can be easily corrected via the handy rewind button, but in Project Cars 2 a similar error will more likely conclude with the car spinning out of control. There's a reset function if you end up facing the wrong way deep in the kitty litter, but it too is strict. The car must be at rest and no other vehicles on the track close by before you can try and reset. The other option is to restart the entire race.
As a fan of all things racing if push came to running start I'd probably place myself firmly in the garage of an arcade racing fan. Ahem. But as with the first game in the series I found a great deal of enjoyment with Project Cars 2. The graphics and sound especially won me over. And whilst the struggles, trials, and tribulations of such a demanding simulator may have left me shaking with rage, the sheer exhilaration I felt after hitting a series of apexes so perfectly, culminating in a podium finish, was sweet recompense.
Online components not tested for review.