A kinder, gentler sim.
Racing sims are notoriously unforgiving. They’re developed for a hardcore audience, the kind of people that discuss the merits of various engines and spend hundreds of dollars on racing wheels. I love cars. Always have, ever since I attended my first car show with my parents. I’m the kind of guy who reads Road and Track and Car and Driver with great interest, and enjoys driving almost as much as he does breathing air.
That said, my experience with racing games largely comes in three flavors: Need for Speed, Burnout, and Forza Motorsport, three games outside of the simulation category. But wait, you might, say, isn’t Forza a sim? Sure, but there’s sims and then there’s sims, and Project Cars is the latter. When I started the game, my mind flooded with questions: would my car knowledge carry over? Could I play this game with a controller? Would I even come close to winning a race?
"There’s so much feedback contained here that, even as a novice driver, you can tell when you’re about to lose control or go off the road before it happens. You’ll simply feel it."
I probably shouldn’t have worried so much. The first thing you’ll notice about Project Cars 2 is how easy it is to control, even on a gamepad. It feels like you’re driving. It’s the little things: the way the screen shakes as you go over certain sections of road, the squeal of the tires, the way the car tilts as you turn.
By far the most important, however, is the excellent use of the controller’s vibration feature. It helps you feel the road, and how the car is reacting to it. Rumble is often an overlooked feature in video games, but I can’t imagine Project Cars 2 without it. There’s so much feedback contained here that, even as a novice driver, you can tell when you’re about to lose control or go off the road before it happens. You’ll simply feel it. I didn’t even have to play with the controller customization to get here. It’s this good out of the gate. Of course, there are a number of options to play with, should you choose to, each one explained in detail by Ben Collins of Top Gear fame. This is still a racing game for diehards, make no mistake, but it doesn’t want to intimidate rookie drivers, either.
This level of detail also extends to tuning your car. Tuning can be daunting for a novice, so Slightly Mad Studios has provided an engineer to help you. All you have to do is state what you want – better handling, faster acceleration, etc – and the engineer will tell you exactly what to do in a way you can actually, y’know, understand. It will ease new players into the system without insulting veterans.
"Take a Jaguar F-Type or an Aston Martin DB11 or any number of other cars out onto a track and just listen. "
And then there’s the driving itself. Driving a car in this game is a dream. The feedback you’ll receive is straight up excellent, but there’s a lot of other details that go into selling the experience at play. The first, of course, is the visuals. Project Cars 2 is a pretty game. Detail is everywhere – gravel and dust from when a car leaves the track, in the tendrils of rain that hit your windshield, and the glow of the sun as it gleams off a car’s glossy paint.
The second is the sound design. It’s not just the stuff you expect – the normal thunks, whumps, squeals, and whines of a race. No, it’s the way water splashes on a wet track, or when your windshield wipers squeak against the first few drops of rain, or the sound of rocks chunking up from underneath your tires. And then there’s the cars themselves. They have what I like to call The Sound. It’s the sound you hear on a highway when an incredible car passes, and you turn your head just in time to see it. It’s what you hear when a car is redlining in 5th gear. It’s the rev of an engine off the line.
The sound in Project CARS 2 is so good that people will tell stories about it in the future. Don’t believe me? Boot up Project Cars 2 and take a Jaguar F-Type or an Aston Martin DB11 or any number of other cars out onto a track and just listen.
"Good drivers will probably jump into the online modes. Online mode supports its own championships and also has an eye towards e-sports with its own broadcaster and director functionality."
It’s good that the autos in Project Cars 2 drive so well, because this game is absolutely stacked with content. Career Mode is massive. Once you’ve created a driver, you’ll be allowed to choose the exact team you want to race for in a motorsport series. Earning affinity with a manufacturer opens up Manufacturer Drives, which allows you to serve as a factory driver for that carmaker. Once you pick a series, you’ll be locked into it until it ends, but the Manufacturer Drives and international events you can play should keep you from getting bored. Career mode allows you to start in any discipline, from go-karts to actual races, but you can’t just go straight to the most prestigious events. You have to earn them.
Me, I started my career by driving for Porsche. Sure, it probably would have been better to start off with go-karts, but who wants to do that with track toys like these at your fingertips? For some reason, the winningest automaker ever hired me, despite my total lack of experience, and I proceeded to get my ass kicked up and down the track. I’m not a good race car driver, but I had a lot of fun learning how to be an okay one. Good drivers will probably jump into the online modes. Online mode supports its own championships and also has an eye towards e-sports with its own broadcaster and director functionality.
Those looking for a little less stress will probably want to head over to the single-player custom races. Everything, including top tier cars and tracks, is unlocked for custom events, even if you haven’t yet unlocked them via Career Mode. Here you can build your own custom rules, save your favorite custom races, and switch between a ton of settings. You can even choose what kind of weather you want to race in.
"In all, there’s over 180 cars, 9 motorsport disciplines, 29 series, 60 venues, and over 130 track layouts."
And what a weather system it is. You can control not only the season, but the time of day and local weather, and all of it is in real time. If it’s raining, puddles form as you race. Ditto for banks of snow or the position of the sun at dusk. It’s an incredible amount of customization buoyed by the sheer amount of tracks on display and the ludicrous number of cars. In all, there’s over 180 cars, 9 motorsport disciplines, 29 series, 60 venues, and over 130 track layouts. That’s a lot of driving, and a lot of ways to do it.
Not everything is sunshine and roses. There’s a distinct lack of certain types of cars (muscle cars, for instance, are very underrepresented), and racing penalties can be handed out too liberally in some cases. Even with all of the available assists for newbies, this isn’t an easy game to learn, something that is compounded by the inconsistent racing line, which often encourages you to take some corners far faster than you should and disappears from others altogether. This can be frustrating, especially when you go off the track because you did what the line told you or it wasn’t available on that corner.
It feels wrong to complain too much about these things given the sheer amount of content available. This is an enormous game, offline or online, that will keep fans busy for years. Despite all it does to welcome new players, Project Cars 2 is a game that is, first and foremost, for serious auto enthusiasts or those who are ready to take the next step in car culture. That doesn’t mean that more casual players won’t find anything to like here, but they should go in with the right expectations. This is something that is going to take a while to learn and far longer to master.
This game was reviewed on the Xbox One.
Excellent driving mechanics that work great on a gamepad. A ton of cars, tracks, weather options, disciplines, and other options to choose from. Massive Career Mode. Lots of options to help new players learn. Visually stunning presentation. The cars have The Sound.
Inconsistent racing line. Certain types of cars are underrepresented. Penalties can be handed out too liberally. High learning curve for newbies.
Excellent mechanics, lots of options, stunning visuals, top-flight sound design and a emphasis on accessibility make Project Cars 2 a worthwhile sequel that will appeal to anyone who loves cars and isn't afraid of a challenge.