There’s a sinful joy that comes with nestling into the driver’s seat of an outrageously expensive car. They may be odes to opulence, but these machines are built to entice. They beckon us to play with them, they cradle us in pristine comfort as we marvel at the deftness of their design and engineering. It’s that feeling that Project CARS 2 looks to capture, and during our review, we found it to succeed — mostly.
You start the game (and your career in it) by selecting which end of the car spectrum you’d like to try first. Whether you’re into buggies or sports cars, souped-up racers or classics, it doesn’t matter. Everything’s available. From there, you can tune just about every element of your car — gearing, suspension, chassis, etc. — to get the right feel. And then you race. You won’t need to mess around with inventory, in-game cash, or anything else as you do in other racers. You start up the game, pick your car, tune it if you want, and get moving.
To call the game “simple” would be somewhat misleading, though. Project CARS 2 would be best described as intuitive for players who already know what they’re doing, either because they love racing sims or know a lot about cars. That’s a small distinction, but an important one. There is some background knowledge required: Do you know, roughly, how cars are organized in performance tiers? If not, you’ll be plenty lost. For those that do, though, the experience is practically serene. What about the laypeople, though?
You find an equilibrium, a pattern that you want to settle into.
While it all takes place within the context of a race, unless you’re gunning for the top-end cars, the pace will be steady enough that they don’t feel like adrenaline-pumping, white-knuckle sprints, but more about even flow. You find an equilibrium, a pattern that you want to settle into.
Chasses gently shift on turns, as you read the car — following tire pressure, fuel usage, and wear on your machine — to make sure you can finish with a solid time. If you’re the type to stare down the horizon on long road trips, only stopping to check your gas and speed every few moments, then Project Cars 2 is probably for you.
A play session will consist of a few stages, something like practice, a qualifying round, and then the race proper. You can skip right to the main event, but doing so puts you in the back of the pack for the race itself, so it feels like a wrist-slap for skirting procedure. It’s a frustrating oversight, especially because the whole cycle combined can easily top 30 minutes or more.
It’s fitting then, that racing in Project CARS 2 is almost an act of fandom. Your career is gauged mostly by your familiarity or “affinity” for certain brands. It’s more a manifestation of affection or attraction to the machines you drive than most, where the focus is on how you’ve worked up to owning more and more expensive, flashy cars. While it opens up the field a bit more for you to experiment with different types of cars early on, it does also mean that your progress in the game is ultimately measured by brand loyalty.
Unintentional social commentary aside, it’s a delightful twist.
Unintentional social commentary aside, it’s a delightful twist on standard racing sim progression. New players get some tips too, like the race engineer mode, which will walk you in plain language through boosting performance with tuning. If you’re braking too slowly, it’ll help you adjust the pressure, for example.
While inviting in their own right, these concessions still don’t quite measure up to the phenomenal work the Forza franchise has managed over the past few years to democratize racing simulators. Project CARS 2 may let you give orders to a pit crew, but Forza comes with an ideal line to train you how to corner and to race like a professional. Racing cars is a lot different than daily driving, and while we may do okay-ish when we step into something like Burnout or Need for Speed, the increased precision of simulator-style games means that even small mistakes — like insufficient braking or oversteering — can become big problems.
The comparison may hardly be fair — Forza has Microsoft’s billions behind it, and the original Project CARS was conceived as a crowd-sourced and founded experience. Still, leaving behind innovations like Forza’s mid-race rewind (which takes away the crushing penalty of a mistake during super-long races) feels like stepping back almost a decade. Purists will balk, of course, but these additions are always optional.
The game’s signature feature — shifting weather that changes track conditions during a race — won’t quite please the accuracy-minded, however. The idea is that you may start with a dry track, but if some rain rolls in, you’ll need to be prepared, both with all-weather tires and for the shift in driving style you’ll need to make. It’s a neat system to be sure, and one that offers a unique style of play when you’re racing against other humans. Compete against computer players, however, as in the game’s career mode, and you’ll soon notice that your digital friends will post nearly impossible track times. They don’t seem to be affected by weather, and their AI is, confounding at best, and at worst a dirty cheater.
Project CARS 2 Compared To
That’s the problem with racing sims. It’s easier to overlook problems like these in games that don’t strive for accuracy or attention to detail quite so much. Here it comes off as doubly insulting.
Frustrating as it is, that doesn’t sully the essentials joys to be found in Project CARS 2. It’s definitely a game for a certain type of person. (You know who you are). If you like late-night driving just because you get to open up a bit more on the highways, if you love scenic mountain roads because they’re the most stimulating drive you’ll get in the real world, then Project CARS 2 is for you.
Is there a better alternative?
Yes. The Forza series has ironed out many of the problems in Project CARS 2, and the next entry in the series, Forza Motorsport 7, launches October 3. That said, Project CARS 2 feels more “authentic” at times. It ultimately depends on how far you want to take your simulation experience. If you’re the type with a racing wheel ready to hook up to your console of choice, you’ll love Project CARS 2.
How long will it last?
Quite a while. CARS‘ career mode can run dozens of hours, depending upon how you choose to play and which types of cars you’re interested in. It’s worth noting, however, Project CARS 2‘s signature addition — dynamic weather — will be prominently featured in Forza 7, plus with far more cars, tracks, and technical mastery.
Should you buy it?
You should definitely buy it if you’re a racing obsessive, most others will want to steer clear. This isn’t one for the faint of heart.