Games Review: Project Cars 2 (PS4, 2017) revives the racing simulator to great effect

Project Cars 2 is an interesting experience. While it’s first outing presented players with stiff controls, a lack of car variety and overall depth, Project Cars 2 attempts to rectify these issues, while bringing back the racing simulator into the mainstream. But can it top the likes of Gran Turismo or Forza Motorsport? While the answer is not so black and white, this game comes pretty close.

Firstly, Project Cars 2 is a simulator. Forget what you know about Need for Speed, or Grand Theft Auto’s controls, you are in the seat of a real car, with real physics. Well, for the most part. The first thing that you may notice about Project Cars 2 is how differently it controls. Cars may feel stiff, spin out too easily, or not give you sudden handling when turning a corner at breakneck speed. But that’s where you may have missed the point, and this game is quite simply not for you. Project Cars 2 offers a vast array of challenges, modes, tracks, cars and most of all fun. I wouldn’t think I would ever say that about a simulator but there’s something about the experience that not only demands intense scrutiny and perfection, but the at first finicky controls become a learning curve of their own, which becomes easy enough to learn after a few hours, but incredibly hard to master.

The game controls quite well. While a steering wheel setup would be the ideal way to play this game, unfortunately I did not have access to one, so I’ll be referencing the game purely from the perspective of a controller. While you would think that’s a second rate alternative, that’s where you would be wrong. It’s clear that developer Slightly Mad Studios have put effort into refining the controls on all fronts, and controllers seem to have more relevance now. At first, you might get a shock, I know I did. Slamming the right trigger down to take off at full speed only to slam the left trigger for the brakes is just not an acceptable way to drive. Your car will spin out, lose traction, or even understeer, causing you to quite literally turn your car into a million dollar battering ram. But if that’s the way you want to drive, once again, this game may not be for you. Driving requires not only precise timing, but an agile finesse of the triggers and analogue sticks, applying the brakes in a smooth motion, to turn a corner and push the throttle not too hard, but just enough to keep traction and roar down that 300 metre straight. It’s thrilling stuff, especially when you get it right, making driving a steep yet satisfying learning curve.

As control lays the foundation for a great simulator, looks don’t go unnoticed. While Project Cars 2 may not be the absolute best looking game ever produced, it’s damn pretty. Cars look and feel the part, with great attention to detail on just about every model. And being able to choose from over 180 good looking cars has never been a bad thing. While the cars look good, the tracks follow suit and offer various terrains, but slightly pale in comparison when it comes to environmental details surrounding a track. You may not notice the bland textures of a tree or tyre barricade when hitting upwards of 250 kilometres, but when passing by a corner at slower speeds, there is a lack of vibrant looking environments. It’s not necessarily an important issue, but is noticeable in parts to say the least.

But when it comes to overall appearance, the whether is king. Project Cars 2 implements a fully dynamic weather system that changes constantly and on the fly. It’s a great mechanic, and as the weather influences how you drive, it brings on even more of a challenge and encourages you to push your skills that little bit further in that endless pursuit to master your craft. Rain doesn’t look as good on your windshield as something like Driveclub, but it still looks great, and seeing the mist spray off the back of an opponents car, hindering your vision ahead is a great mechanic when things get a little dicey. Overall, the weather dynamics are not original, but implemented well enough to make the game that much better, especially for the sake of variety.

When it comes to presentation, Project Cars 2 also sounds great. It’s cars sound throaty, especially when giving half of its potential only to slam the trigger down and hear the engine at full roar, it quite simply never gets old. While the music presented is not terrible by any means, it’s nothing special either, and doesn’t really have any room in the spotlight when the sounds of over 180 different cars have something to say about it.

Project Cars 2 manages to wrap all these aspects up in a few different modes. While you can whip up a quick race and try a few various cars on different tracks, there is a fully fledged career mode that starts you from the bottom ranks, or basically offers you the opportunity to start where you want and drive what you want. It leaves all this up the player because it assumes the player is a car enthusiast, and if they are, like I am, that feeling of experimentation and ability to tackle things my way is a much appreciated aspect, as the career allows you to succeed on your own terms, provided you’re winning races. An online competitive mode caps off the experience, but doesn’t present anything we haven’t seen before. However the most interesting aspect is being able to race various types of cars in the same race. You want rally cars to take on formula 3 cars and a Ford GT all at once? You got it. Want all these cars to race on a dirt, ice, road or racetrack? Well you can have that too.  It definitely makes for some interesting races.

Entering a race from the pits, only to be told you have to take the first lap easy in order to warm up your engine, brakes and tyres. Taking a corner with just the right timing and brake pressure to swiftly take a corner. These are things the Project Cars 2 will throw your way. While this is not an experience for everyone, and the controller may not be the primary way to experience the full potential of this game, it pulls no punches and still manages to deliver a solid experience, provided it’s what you’re looking for. Like fine wine or anchovies (ugh) Project Cars 2 is an acquired taste, and should you be lucky enough to be enticed into playing, it’s pretty hard to deny that as far as racing simulators go, at the moment, this is as good as it gets.

Score: 8.5 out of 10
Highlights: Amazing controls, car and track variety, dynamic weather system
Lowlights: Super steep learning curve, bland environments
Developer: Slightly Mad Studios
Publisher: Bandai Namco Entertainment
Platforms: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Windows PC
Available: Now

Reviewed on PlayStation 4