Project CARS 2 Review: Podium Finish

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Released just over two and a half years ago, Slightly Mad Studios’ Project CARS turned out to be one of the best racing simulators available.

If you had a steering wheel and a whole lot of time, patience and skill, it was quite possibly one of the most rewarding experiences out there. If not, however, then it was just frustrating, and also quite possibly more than a little bit dull.

Trying to drive cars with a control pad was unintuitive and at times downright awful, its career was unrewarding and gruelling, there were plenty of bugs to contend with, and the A.I. of the opposition was overly aggressive. But with a steering wheel at hand, Project CARS‘ authenticity shone through, and most of its problems could be overlooked. Its recently released sequel provides a similar experience, though it is undoubtedly improved in every way.

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Project CARS 2′s career mode has been totally revamped, and as a result is now much more engaging. You’re still given some freedom as to which events you want to complete and when, but those at the top end are locked until you’ve at least completed the event just prior to it. The biggest change, however, is that with the absence of a calendar, invitational events are no longer interspersed between other events, instead unlocked for completing certain milestones and available to enter whenever you please. And then you have the new Manufacturer Drives; challenging events that are unlocked once you’ve reached affinity targets with a range of manufacturers. For those looking for some long-lasting racing thrills and spills that they can really get absorbed in, Project CARS 2 doesn’t fail to deliver.

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There’s more outside of the career too. Online multiplayer is great as long as you get a group of racers that drive respectfully, and you can also whittle your time away taking part in time trials or setting up your own bespoke races against the A.I. As much as the career has been improved, it’s here that I see myself spending most of my time in the future, creating my own events using the vast range of licensed cars and real world tracks available. It makes it all the more compelling that you can set your own weather forecasts too, allowing you to drive during thunderstorms or blizzards which makes the action all the more exciting.

It’s the authenticity of Project CARS 2′s racing that’s the real star though, although it is a double-edged sword. Completing practice and qualifying sessions in the career add to the sense of occasion, as well as enabling you attain a decent place on the starting grid. The handling of each and every one of the game’s vehicles is nuanced, forcing you to learn their intricacies to get the most out of them. And while there’s a slew of assist options and an A.I. difficulty setting, every single race is a challenge that’s not to be taken lightly.

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Project CARS 2 is a racing game that forces you to be a better driver, for better or worse. Some will no doubt buckle under the game’s demands and give up, while others will flourish and feel all the better for it. You need to learn the tracks, master the vehicles and have patience and determination to succeed. Project CARS 2 doesn’t have the accessibility of other heavy-hitters like Forza Motorsport and Gran Turismo, nor does it have the range of standard road-going vehicles that you can customise and upgrade; it’s a more hardcore and serious racing experience, and as such it won’t appeal to everybody.

Thanks to much-improved controller support and the revised career structure, Project CARS 2 is more user friendly than ever though. You can now race very comfortably with a pad in hand, which will no doubt please a legion of armchair racers. Additionally, outside of races the presentation of the game is very appealing too, with menus that are easy on the eye and simple to navigate. Playing on Xbox One to review, the actual in-game graphics leave a little to be desired however, with an abundance of jagged edges detracting from the great car and track design, and graphical glitches within the cars’ rear view mirrors frequently annoying.

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Other glitches and inconsistencies like to raise their head once in a while too. During one practice session I found my car driving itself straight through the pit lane during a stop, only to then warp back to the pit and render my controls unresponsive, forcing me to sit the rest of the session out in the hope of regaining control (I did). I also found the handling of the Renault Clio to be highly suspect, with its back-end being way too lively for a front-engine, front-wheel drive car. Strangely, in the rain its back-end behaved itself much better, and trying the car in the PC version of the game confirms that it’s just an Xbox One issue.

Such issues that are very likely to be patched only serve to take the sheen off Project CARS 2 though rather than put a real dent in it. You can tell that there’s been heart and soul poured into the game, and while it’s sometimes a little rough around the edges, the uncompromising racing action manages to pull it through. The initial frustration you feel when you first take on a new event in a car you’re unaccustomed to soon turns to a feeling of accomplishment when you achieve that hard-fought victory, and it’s a feeling that’s hard to find anywhere else. Project CARS 2 won’t please all racing game fans, but it’ll delight those who crave realism and a challenge; those who want to push themselves to be better. Is that you?

Project CARS 2 is available on PlayStation 4, Xbox One and PC. We reviewed the Xbox One version.