05th Oct2017

‘Project Cars 2′ Review (PS4)

by Matthew Smail

project-cars-ps4

Whilst I’m not intentionally going directly to the end of this review (without passing Go! or collecting two hundred pounds) I feel like I simply must start by saying something that I would usually reserve for my conclusion. That something is the exclamation that Project Cars 2 is an exceptional game that has the better of its predecessor in almost every conceivable way, yet somehow, it feels less impressive. Less impactful. Now I need to try and explain why.

I’ll begin by trying to explain what it is and what it does really well, because if you want a fairly formal, exceptionally well crafted and (dare I say it) mechanically accurate racing experience, then Project Cars 2 probably delivers that better than any other game I’ve played this year. Yes indeed, Slightly Mad Studios has retained its title as the creators of easily the most realistic (whilst still moderately approachable) driving simulator to grace the console market. PC gamers do have other, more hardcore options elsewhere, but among them I can’t name one that looks as good, includes such a broad range of racing disciplines and features such a compelling overall package as Project Cars 2.

What’s this about a broad range of racing disciplines? I hear you cry. Well, there’s a sense in which Slightly Mad Studios believed a bit too much of their own hype in the aftermath of the original Project Cars and like a kind of mad scientist hell-bent on destruction, they’ve included just about everything, including the kitchen sink. From the humble Ginetta Junior and Formula 2000 races that open up the career ladder to the legendary races like Le Mans that cap it off, Project Cars 2 has nearly thirty variants in all. There are full blown rally’s (yes, with trees and mud), invitational events, supercar events and God knows what else.

To give you a sense of scale, Project Cars 2 features almost two hundred cars and sixty real and imagined tracks, with variations that take the total number of places to race in to over one hundred and sixty. Of these, each track has dynamic weather that doesn’t just look fantastic – it creates genuine racing tension and demands respect and often, a complete change of racing strategy. What is perhaps most impressive about all this is that every car, every track and every weather variant feels completely unique. That’s before I even begin to talk about how much variation in difficulty level you can apply.

Drive one of the entry level Ginetta’s in your first race, for example, and after a few restarts, you’ll probably feel relatively comfortable. Whilst it is no slouch by road going standards, the Ginetta is rear wheel drive but not too powerful and the nose feels heavy enough that the game will afford you the occasional over-exuberant tug on the analogue stick of your PS4 or Xbox One pad. Steering wheel users needn’t worry about such trifling concerns. Switch to something lighter and more powerful in an invitational event, however and it’s a whole different ball game. A rear engine, rear drive 911 GT car for example will reach triple digits in a just a few seconds and any nervousness in turns will unsettle the car and send it spinning off the track.

The tracks themselves are equally heroic and I’ve never before seen such dramatically realised differences in elevation from one location to another. Early races in Donington Park, Snetterton and Knockhill all signpost this, but nothing could prepare me for the terror and thrill of driving the Green Hell – the Nurburgring – at speed. As someone who has driven the track on two separate occasions in two entirely different cars, I couldn’t believe how accurately represented the most infamous racetrack in the world is in Project Cars 2. Other games like Forza have come close before, but no game has ever come this close in my opinion.

Now, one thing to note is that to get there, I must have restarted a thousand races. Maybe more. Project Cars 2 features an incredible wealth of options for driving assists, opponent AI and much more when it comes to determining how hard the game is. I played much of Project Cars 2 with the training wheels on – which is to say, I use the driving line, ABS and Traction Control assists, but I like to inject a bit of life into a (generally) fairly soulless AI by upping their competency. Unfortunately, much like the Gran Turismo games, there isn’t much you can do to get this bunch to behave like real racing drivers, but you can at least give them the competency to drive in a slightly faster procession than normal.

Even with a few assists switched on, Project Cars 2 is still bloody hard when played with a pad (especially on PS4 where I find the left analogue stick too tall and the L2 and R2 triggers too sensitive) which I imagine is part of the appeal for simulation fans. That said, this level of challenge is not for everyone and perhaps the best and worst of it is indeed the difference between cars. An exceptional Project Cars 2 player will be able to jump from one car to another and appear immediately competitive, but a layman (among whom I consider myself a member) will need to run lap after lap in any given car to become familiar with it. Switching from road racing to rallying is a completely mind-blowing experience, even though I dare say that Project Cars 2 does a far better stab at rally racing than the much more blinkered WRC 7 that I reviewed last week.

So why did I start this review the way I did? Well, the reality is that Project Cars 2 delivers a wholly competent, exhaustive and exceptional looking package of racing experiences. It is so good, so complete, so well done that you probably won’t ever need another “proper” racing game as long as this console generation lasts. But, you know, the career mode is a bit sterile. There is none of the periphery (but fun) rubbish that even Formula 1 2017 has about rivalry with other drivers or chemistry with your team or whatever. Project Cars 2 is all business – it’s all about telemetry, picking the precise apex and shaving a few hundredths of a second of your lap time. The fun here is found in the serious business of racing in its purest form and Project Cars 2 leaves it all on the track, with little room for anything else. If that’s what you want then fine, but if you’re looking for something more accessible, Forza 7 will be along soon to save you.

Regardless, measured against what it aims to achieve (and what it succeeds at doing) Project Cars 2 is racing perfection.

***** 5/5

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