Project CARS 2 Review

By Andrew Ogley, 25 days ago
The first impression you might have on starting Project CARS 2, other than the massive explosion of manufacturer and circuit logos on the new loading screen, is that it is more of the same. This is a little harsh because after a very short time with the title, it's clear that it is not the same at all. This is a vastly improved title across nearly all fronts. Slightly Mad Studios has listened to all of the feedback from the original Project CARS and has used it to polish and refine the new game. From the menus, the settings, and the handling, through to the career, everything has been improved. Dropping back into the Project CARS franchise felt vaguely familiar, yet at the same time very, very new. If you buy into the game's philosophy, this could be the most immersive racing title currently on the console, but there's a catch.

Mercedes-AMG GT RMercedes-AMG GT R

Scrolling through the new look menus, it's clear that all of the game modes have returned; career, time trial, single race, practice, and online are back. Community events have returned also, and there is a whole new section dedicated to e-sports. Given the history of the previous title, however, most will head directly to the settings menu where a pleasant surprise awaits; it's all a lot simpler. Controller configuration is easier and for those using a wheel, you no longer need to study NASA level physics to understand the terms used — those too have been stripped back. In fact, out-of-the-box, there's little to change. You can start racing immediately and tweak a few things later to suit your own taste even as you drive. It's also possible to have one configuration for a controller and a separate configuration for a wheel if needed.

In fact, choosing where and how to start is the biggest challenge. There are over 170 licensed cars spread across different classes and across nine different motorsport disciplines. There are also 60 different venues with over 130 different layouts in total. Unlike the first title, this choice is especially difficult now with the likes of Porsche, Ferrari and Lamborghini all being included in the title right from the start. When you factor into that decision the classic open wheel cars from Lotus and other manufacturers, and the new rallycross cars, it's a daunting choice.

Naturally, the biggest concern was whether the playability and handling had been improved. Initially opting for the Porsche 918 Spyder, it didn't end well. Changing for a GT3 car with ABS and Traction Control, things began to rapidly fall into place, and after a few laps it was clear — the new handling is a major improvement. The handling is a little more nuanced than other current titles, but those more proficient in using controllers will have few problems. More importantly, regardless of wheel or controller, it is possible to push the cars slightly past their limits and still be able to pull off corrections, countersteering when needed, saving yourself from potential race-ending spins.

Rallycross makes its debut in the franchiseRallycross makes its debut in the franchise

SMS has stayed with their design philosophy of aiming to create the most authentic and immersive driving experience that they can. This then means that the physics model is a little more complex than found in other titles, with SMS still trying to bridge the gap between game and simulation. It can be tough but the driving experience is ultimately rewarding. The sights and sounds remain top-notch as ever with the cars looking and sounding stunning, and the tracks remaining some of the best realised in any title. Animated pit crews have been added and they even follow the correct procedures for changing tyres and refueling for whatever motorsport you're racing. The amazing day to night transitions are back. Although there are still only four weather slots for changing weather conditions, the number of weather types has been increased and includes both snow and icy conditions. The new ice-racing is particularly challenging.

The introduction of seasonal weather has been much touted since the announcement of the title and it really does make a difference to the racing experience. Whilst there are obvious visual cues, especially red autumn leaves on trees in the fall, or the lower lying sun in the sky in winter casting longer shadows over the tracks, there are some subtle differences that will impact your racing strategy. When racing at Indianapolis in the summer, the tyres were up to optimal temperature within two laps, while in winter they had bearly warmed after five. Colder tyres mean less grip, changing braking points, and slower laps. Drivers will need to take more care on those winter road surfaces and manage their tyres. This goes for racing in the rain too, with tyres remaining cooler for longer and causing an additional problem than just surface water on the track.

The combination of the weather and the new LiveTrack 3.0 engine is a game-changer. It changes everything. Even in optimal racing conditions, LiveTrack changes the way races need to be driven. Dirt and debris, or marbles from tyre rubber off the racing line will slow you down, depriving you of precious miles per hour. It pays to stick as closely as possible to the racing line. In the rain however, this is not always possible. Puddles start to form and spread across the track. At one corner at Brands Hatch, a puddle formed and started spreading from the apex. The AI took an increasingly wider line to avoid the pooling water. When the sun came back out, the water evaporated and the puddle receded, the AI drivers on each lap adapted their line, moving closer towards the apex and eventually clipping it again.

Sunsets and morning skies still look stunningSunsets and morning skies still look stunning

The AI is indeed smarter this time out. A new addition to the AI setting is the aggression level that can be set separately. Playing with both individually allows the player to set up the ideal offline opponents to their own level and driving style, something vitally important if you want to succeed in the newly expanded career mode that spans the various tiers and disciplines in motorsport. It's worth noting that despite improvements, the AI cars will still bunch up on tight first corners like La Source at Spa, or the Rettifilo chicane at Monza. Some even managed to crash into each other during the formation lap on the oval circuit at Indianapolis. However, once spread out they will provide a challenging race.

Indeed, racing in the career should be challenging. You're expected to work your way up through the tiers, building up an affinity with manufacturers and eventually unlocking special manufacturer based races or invitationals — the only part of the game that has to be unlocked. If you're not sure where to start, don't worry as you can have up to five different careers going at the same time. Factor in time-trials and community challenges, it is clear that there is a great deal of content to keep drivers busy.

SMS has also improved the online racing part of the title by introducing the Competitive Racing Licence. This will reward or penalise players for their racing behaviour. Those who want to cause chaos in the first corner, or anywhere else on the circuit, will find themselves being handed a lower rating. Hosts are able to filter using this rating and those with poorer ratings and lower ranked licences will find themselves being excluded from servers, races and competitions. It's a nice feature that will hopefully decrease the number of players less interested in clean racing — a well known problem to anyone who has tried to race online.

Liveries add to the realismLiveries add to the realism

Online races allow up to 16 players to race against each other. A PC-like server browser will allow players to pick a particular session based on track, car class, and their competitive racing licence. Hosts are able to configure all of those variables as well as the rest of the race weekend and the weather, but it's online where most of issues with the title appear. The graphics stutter and frames jump; for a racing title, such drops in frame rate or screen freeze can have fatal consequences for the racer. On one race, the screen froze right on the start line and half of the field ploughed into me from behind. That incident didn't do my racing licence any favours at all.

The performance issues seem mostly online and to occur when players join or leave a session, hence no effect on the single-player game. When it does work, it works as well as the single-player side of the title. Some players seem to be worse hit than others, so it's difficult to establish just how severe the issues are, but it makes playing online an unpredictable and patchy affair at this time.

There are 47 achievements in the title. As expected, there are a number dedicated to progression in the career mode. There are a few included to encourage players to complete specific challenges based on the new severe weather and there are a few included to show off the new rallycross and ice-racing features. However, there are a few pretty tough online achievements requiring players to reach certain licence grades.

Summary

Project CARS 2 really does feel like Project CARS version 2.0 with virtually all aspects of the title having been polished and improved. All of the minus points and complaints from the previous title have been addressed, including the all-important playability with a standard controller. In single-player mode, Project CARS 2 has much more to offer than nearly every other title in the genre but this is undermined by the patchy and unpredictable multiplayer at this time. The combination of weather and the new LiveTrack 3.0 engine is simply superb. Each track becomes so much more alive, shining most in less than optimal racing conditions, leaving other track implementations feeling horribly static. Those who only want to race two or three laps at a time will miss the amazing changing track conditions, so this is a title that is for racers, for those more interested in the details of motorsport in general and a much more immersive experience. The title continues to push the genre forward and continues where other titles stop.
4 / 5
Positives
  • Stunning Graphics
  • Seasonal Weather
  • Dynamic tracks through LiveTrack 3.0 engine
  • Improvements throughout the whole game, including playability
  • Miscellany of motorsport disciplines
Negatives
  • Online mode suffers performance issues
Ethics Statement
The reviewer spent around 25 hours battling the various seasonal weathers across tracks and disciplines whilst trying to forge a fledgling career in motorsports. 11 achievements were unlocked and the Xbox One download code was provided by the publisher for the purpose of review.
Andrew Ogley
Written by Andrew Ogley
Andrew has been writing for TA since 2011 covering news, reviews and the occasional editorials and features. One of the grumpy old men of the team, his mid-life crisis has currently manifested itself in the form of an addiction to sim-racing - not being able to afford the real life car of his dreams. When not spending hours burning simulated rubber, he still likes to run around, shoot stuff and blow things up - in the virtual world only of course.