If you were a gamepad racer it was hard to like Project Cars. The handling was painful and it required a bit of tweaking if you wanted to get it anywhere near playable. However, in my opinion, just like an Alfa Romeo, on a good day when everything was dialled in, it was glorious. The changing weather was the best you’d find and the constantly changing community events were a great way to keep me coming back to do some more laps. So when Slightly Mad Studios announced a sequel was in development I looked on in interest as details slowly emerged about Project Cars 2. So what have they been up to for the past two years? Quite a lot it seems, and pretty much all of it for the better.
I suppose the best place to start is where Project Cars was weakest, the gamepad. I’m happy to report that handling using a gamepad is much, much better. No tweaking was required and while you’ll still need your wits about you to set clean and fast laps, it was playable from the get-go. I was able to hold slides and correct them and with appropriate throttle control reign my car back in and keep it going forward. This is in stark contrast to the original where, if you were on a pad, you were all but guaranteed to be spinning out with little to no chance of saving your car. I chose Formula Rookie as my starting tier and being able to flick these fun single seaters into the quick right-hander at Catalunya, hold the slide as I power out and thunder down the straight was, well, I was beaming from ear-to-ear. That said, however, there isn’t a lot of feel from the force feedback on the pad. Other racers use this a touch better to relay how the car is reacting to your inputs, especially in the triggers, where the feel wasn’t as good as it could be. Locking up under braking is far too easy, with very little trigger pressure required before your tyres scream for mercy.
Whilst changing biases and driving style negated this somewhat it’s surprising to see so little information relayed back to the player through the only tool they have to understand how the car is driving. Hopefully, this will be improved upon over time as overall Project Cars 2’s handling model is pretty damn good. Not best in class perhaps, but it’s close, and realistically it’s all about preference. Some will no doubt love it, others, not so much, but no matter which side of the fence you end up on its hard to deny Slightly Mad Studios a nod of respect here. They’ve clearly listened to their community and Project Cars 2 is far more welcoming for those of us who don’t yet own a racing wheel. This is obviously a good thing to hear and very important considering that, yet again, Project Cars 2 excels in the weather department. From bright sunshine to thunderstorms to blizzards and even fog, Project Cars 2 can simulate them all. I can assure you that nothing can quite prepare you for racing in a blizzard around Spain’s Catalunya circuit. Whilst such an occurrence may never occur in real life, Project Cars 2 gives you the tools to create the wildest and wacky race that your imagination could concoct. What’s more, you can even synchronise the season of your chosen location with the current date and time if you wish.
When this is combined with LiveTrack 3.0, the end result is a race unique and full of surprises. LiveTrack 3.0 is the modelling system used to dynamically generate and map track conditions. Those who follow racing know that racetracks are a living entity. At the start of a race weekend the track is green and lacking grip and as the weekend progresses and more rubber is put down the faster the track gets. If adverse weather conditions arrive these things change again. Grip disappears, standing water accumulates off the racing line and if the rain intensifies, well, mayhem ensues. I ran a fifteen lap race around Bathurst starting in a storm through to sunshine and the track development was just astonishing. By the time I was seven laps in, the final corner turned into one giant puddle and I pretty much aquaplaned every time there was so much standing water. Once the sun came out and the racing line started to appear, a line could now be taken. Stray off, however, and I was back in the wall.
What makes this system even more impressive is that there is a random seed built in. Effectively this means that no two races are the same. The puddles will accumulate differently as will the amount of rubbering in the track will see. In other races that simulate weather, the puddles are in the same places each time. You remember where they are, how to avoid or best take them and the challenge is negated. With Project Cars 2, if it rains, you know you’re in for an interesting race each and every time. For me, it’s a game changer. In my opinion, we’re finally getting true weather simulation in a racing game and one that will test even the best drivers in the community. Racing in the wet for me was an exhilarating experience and, despite the lack of feel I previously mentioned, it wasn’t insurmountable on a gamepad. It did, however, expose a minor weakness in the AI.
In the dry, they were sensible, almost courteous, at times. In the wet or the snow, many in the field could barely get around a corner without taking each other out. It wasn’t prolific but, on the lower AI difficulty settings, it made turn one of most wet races an interesting experience. This lack of ability in adverse conditions is a bit of a worry however you can alter their aggressiveness and level so with a bit of tweaking in this regard you can improve the overall believability of your artificial rivals. On the default settings, I found that they’d brake early for many corners but would still happily turn in on you or, even more annoyingly, they’d go for the occasional lunge from the deep. By raising their level a touch some of this was negated and overall the AI is mostly competent. I had plenty of battles when trying to fight my way through the field and this equated into lots and lots of fun.
This is an important aspect of any game especially so when you visit the career mode. You can pick your starting point but it’s worth starting at the bottom and working your way up to truly experience Project Cars 2. I neglected the career in Project Cars as I couldn’t find the motivation to lift my driver through the echelons to greatness. It all felt too much of a grind which was exacerbated by the added difficulty of racing on a pad. In Project Cars 2, however, it’s much more fun. With the more glitzy series locked until you earn a seat, things were much more fun to do makes getting to that level a much more entertaining experience. I found myself wanting to race, wanting to beat my AI rivals. I went into the last race of my first Formula Rookie series needing a bit of luck and win after a terrible race previously had ended in my retirement. In the end, after some fastest lap heroics, I nicked top spot by two points. I was elated and my heart had been in mouth all race as I kept a keen eye on where my rival was placed as that final race neared its completion. It’s a career mode that’s kept me racing, something that I can’t honestly say about most racing games I’ve played.
In the online sphere of things, community events make a return. These time-limited challenges were what kept me interested in Project Cars and it’s nice to see them return. I noticed that the race director was rather stingy, disqualifying plenty of my laps despite, in my opinion, not exceeding track limits however it’s nice to see a system that levels the playing feel somewhat. One of my biggest issues with virtual racing is that in many games you can get away with some corner cuts and if you don’t take them, there’s no way you’re setting a top time. It’s a shame that the leaderboards generally descend into rows upon rows of overpowered cars and times set by taking ever legal corner cut available. If my experience is anything to go by most if not all times set within Project Cars 2 leaderboards will be times set within the bounds of the track. There are always going to be cars that are more suited to tracks and others but at least I’ll know that they didn’t completely ignore corners like on other, more renowned racing franchises. As for the rest of multiplayer options, during my review there were no lobbies running so I will update this review once the game has gone live and I’ve had the chance to test out the racing license system.
With all the changes under the hood, one would think Slightly Mad Studios would have very little time left to do anything else but you’d be wrong. There are new tracks such as the Algarve International Circuit, Circuit of the Americas, Daytona International Speedway and Long Beach among others. Overall there are sixty locations with over a hundred and thirty individual layouts. Combined with a car roster that comes in at over one hundred and eighty vehicles there’s a plethora of content just waiting to be exploited. Even if you never touch the online component of Project Cars 2 such is the amount of content and variation there’s plenty of fun to be had. While you do so you can also look at the pretty vistas as visually Project Cars 2 is rather nice to look at. It may lack some of the pizazz of Forza Motorsport but it’s not ugly either. I did note some tearing when racing with many AI cars on the track. It wasn’t overly frequent however and rarely distracted me whilst racing. It’ll be interesting to see how things go once the XBox One X is released and the 4K assets are introduced to those on the console.
Project Cars 2 rights the wrongs of the original. It’s playable out of the box for those using a gamepad and with LiveTrack 3.0 introduces the world to truly dynamic racing. There are precious few negatives to pick away at with only the AI racers and lack of feel being the biggest issues on the board. Project Cars 2 is the racing equivalent of Pro Evolution Soccer, the one that true fans buy over the style and glamour of FIFA. Just like its soccer counterpart, it’s a game that requires time and effort to master but once you do it rewards you with an experience like no other. After some false starts with the original Project Cars and Assetto Corsa, to have another racing game that offers a true alternative to console racing fans is huge. I have been waiting for this moment for quite some time and am genuinely excited for the future of racing on console.