There’s been a number of polarizing debates in the racing game genre over the years. Gran Turismo vs. Forza. Graphics vs. physics. Paper vs. plastic! Okay, maybe that last one is a bad example….
But I can’t think of any that burned as deeply in people as Project CARS vs. the world. It was amazing watching the undying praise for the game on one side and the absolute dressing down of it on the other. I mean, it’s just a game.
But despite the naysayers – and those who just weren’t captivated by it, like myself – Project CARS went onto sell over a million copies in its first month of alone, which is a lot of copies for a “sim” racing game. So like any successful blockbuster hit, Project CARS 2 was announced shortly thereafter. Fast forward two years and it’s now time to see if lightning strikes twice.
Does the sequel deserve your time and money? Can it turn the most hardened Project CARS haters around? That’s what we’re here to find out with our review of Project CARS 2 on the PC.
F1GT Simulator Provided by Next Level Racing
PRO – MENUS & NAVIGATION
For Project CARS 2, Slightly Mad Studios has improved on the horizontal scroll layout of the original game by breaking it up into six sections that are easy to decipher thanks to the descriptive – and attractive – graphic design. As you dive deeper into the menus they become even more clear and concise, eliminating the muscle memory that other sims require you to have as you plow through pages and pages trying to find that one setting you want to change.
Thankfully, you can now make adjustments while at the track, such as mapping buttons, adjusting camera, audio levels and even some graphic options. This is the way it should be in every sim and is nice to see.
Also something that Project CARS 2 has that many other sims do not are explanations for every single option in the sim. One word, “halleluyah!”
And while we’re talking about menus, there’s a couple things we want to point out that might make life easier on you when you fire up Project CARS 2.
Under “Configuration” in “Controls” is “Brake Sensitivity.” For some reason, it’s set to 35% when you start up the game making it tough to stop if you already run a heavy pedal. As the excellent “Help” prompt explains, 50% gives you a 1:1 relationship between your physical input and in-game response. We suggest giving that a go.
By default, the car and world aren’t 100% in sync. When the track surface dips, the car only dips half the amount, giving this odd visual of the dash bouncing up and down. If you don’t care for this, head to “Options, Camera, Movement, World Movement” and set it to 100%. Now the dash won’t move up and down as you bound across the track.
And FYI, some of the footage in this review is shot at 50% World Movement and the rest is at 100% so you can see the difference. In the end I do prefer 100%.
PRO – CARS
With 180 cars at launch, Project CARS 2 about doubles its car count over the original. Is this a good thing? For the most part, yes.
Slightly Mad Studios has done a good job establishing 29 unique series, and filling them with like minded cars. Racing against different cars from different manufactures in your class really ups the immersion level.
In terms of car types, if you’re a sporstcar fan or road car fan – new or old – then you have very little to complain about with a good selection of cars. Rallycross makes its debut in Project CARS 2 and is also well represented.
If there is one hole in the car list, it’s the lack of modern open wheel cars. Besides the Formula Renault 3.5 and Indycar, the rest are fantasy, leaving a bit to be desired here. But outside of that, the list is good.
PRO – TRACKS
To be blunt, the tracks in Project CARS 1 weren’t very good. Thankfully, this isn’t the case in 2.
An impressive 60 tracks are featured in the second installment, with 20 of them being brand new and either laser scanned or droned scan. We don’t know which tracks are which, but based on our experience, we don’t really care.
Across the board, the new tracks feel right and are in-line with their laser-scanned brethren in other sim racing titles. From the baby smooth blacktop at COTA to the bumpy city streets of Long Beach, the new tracks have character in spades.
As for the tracks from Project CARS 1, they also appear to have received some work. Bathurst, which was WAY too flat in the first game, now feels like you are driving up and down an actual mountain.
But there are still a handful of corners that don’t feel quite right from the original list. The penultimate corner at Road America feels flat and not nearly as challenging as it is in real life. Also, the last two corners at Watkins Glen feel like they are lacking the camber that make them really enjoyable.
But with that said, they are still big improvements over their Project CARS 1 versions that left me skipping them out of frustration.
Speaking of frustration, there are some other track details that almost made me drop it from the PROS category.
There are multiple issues with pit road. On a number of tracks, just passing the entrance will trigger the pit road prompt, which is annoying. Also, the 37 mph speed limit at every track feels lazy. The speed limit should be dependent on the track and series.
I was also turned off by the foreign objects that pop up at some tracks. The concrete barrier that divides pitroad from the track at Daytona and Texas needs to go. I assume it’s there to prevent some sort of issue with the AI, but it’s not there in real life so a solution needs to be figured out so it can be removed.
The tall marker cones at the apex of some corners also need to go. At the very least, an option should be added to remove them because they’re silly for anyone who is a seasoned sim racer. Besides, the AI likes to mow them down on lap one anyway, so they really aren’t doing much good.
Lastly – a long documented pet peeve of mine – the Project CARS 2 signs placed alongside the track. We know what game we’re playing, you don’t have to tell us, they look ridiculous – especially at a place like Indy – so stop.
But despite those complaints, Project CARS 2 gets the big things right when it comes to tracks, having a large selection of believable feeling tracks from all over the world.
PRO – PHYSICS
The physics in Project CARS 2 are a big improvement over the original game. In Project CARS 1, all the cars had a similar on-top-of-the-track feel. For 2, the cars better differentiate themselves thanks to a tire model with some sidewall give.
Are there some cars that show better than others? Yes.
The modern sportscars – both GT and prototypes – show well. The tire model on both cars allow you to catch them if you make a mistake, but you’ll have to have quicker hands with the prototype thanks to the “point-and-shoot” nature of a higher downforce car.
The road and track going cars also show well, with a good amount of pitch and catch allowed thanks to tire flex and some semblance of body roll when compared to the modern race cars.
Older sportscars, such as Group C, start to become more challenging as they feel more on-top of the track. The modern Indycar also feels a little more on top of the track then a car producing 6,800 lbs(!) of downforce should.
I also had a few, “hmmm…” moments with the braking physics. I could really slam onto the brakes of the BMW M6 GTE for a car that doesn’t have ABS. I could also really hustle the Nissan GTP ZX-Turbo into the corners for a car that’s as old as I am without carbon brakes and equipped with an h-pattern shifter.
But even with those critiques, the physics in Project CARS 2 are much more enjoyable than 1.
Now, do I prefer them over the latest and greatest cars from titles such as iRacing, Assetto Corsa and Automobilista? I wouldn’t go that far. But I wouldn’t put them too far behind those titles, which is still an enviable position to be in.
PRO – FORCE FEEDBACK
Project CARS 2 has very good force feedback. Not only is it an improvement over the original game, but it might be some of the best force feedback in sim racing today.
Thankfully, Slightly Mad Studios has narrowed the ridiculous list of force feedback options in Project CARS 1 down to three “Flavours” and five – manageable – settings. The Flavours – Immersive, Informative and Raw – allow you to focus more on road feel (Immersive and Informative) or getting all the force feedback strength you can (Raw).
From there you can further tune by adjusting “Gain, Volume, Tone and FX.”
I found myself bouncing between Informative and Raw depending on the car and then adjusting the Gain and Volume on the fly thanks to mapping them to my wheel. When I needed more wheel weight, I turn up Gain. When I wanted more surface detail, Volume went up.
Whichever way I ended up going, I always found the force feedback to be strong and very detailed. It’s a real joy driving over rough track surfaces and feeling all the car’s vertical motions being translated to the wheel.
PRO – TUNING
The Tuning menu – or garage – is executed well in Project CARS 2. The layout is sensical, and most important of all, you can feel the changes you make when you go back out and drive.
Also neat is the new Virtual Crew Chief which makes adjustments based off of your feedback on the car. The changes aren’t big – so if you’re way off I’m not sure how much it will help – but it does do a great job of explaining the reasoning behind the change and hopefully teaching you something new.
And speaking of explaining, every adjustment in the tuning menu comes with a detailed explanation, the way it should be. Can I get an, “Amen!”
The only issue we experienced with the tuning menu is it not having air pressure in psi even though we selected the game to use Imperial units.
PRO – WEATHER / DATE / TIME OF DAY
Being able to drive on any date, at any time, with – essentially – any type of weather you want is very impressive. With sims being locked into static environments for so long, it is nice to finally see a title blow the doors open.
Not only does the effect work well on track, but the setup of it is beautifully simple. Being able to dictate when the weather roles in based on number of slots used and time multiplier gives a good idea what you’ll get during your race.
Of course, if you want to play fast and loose you can with “Random” weather but be prepared for silliness such as flurries at Le Mans in June.
In terms of driving in weather, specifically rain, the effect feels believable. When it starts to rain you can stay out on slicks for a handful of laps and let the heat in the track and tires fend off the moisture. But before long, the car starts to slide and it’s time to get wets.
It’s also cool seeing the reverse effect, with the dynamic track drying as you run.
PRO – RALLYCROSS
Rallycross comes to Project CARS 2 and is pretty well done. While not being able to setup heat races is a con, everything else about it is positive. Having six cars and circuits automatically shoots it towards the top of titles that support rallycross in terms of sheer content. The AI races you pretty hard – harder than they do in other disciplines – making for a lot of rubbins racin’.
Physics wise, the cars slide a lot more in Project CARS 2 than they do in other rallycross titles, making you re-adjust how hard you get into corners and put the power down. But once you do adjust, the partial throttle dance on the edge of adhesion becomes pretty entertaining.
NEUTRAL – GRAPHICS
The graphics in Project CARS 2 are all over the board. There are times when the car, track, time of day and weather condition come together to make the game look really good. Then there are other times when all of these conditions come together to make it look really bad. It’s very strange and I can’t recall another racing title with so much variance.
For example, I thought everything about racing the GT3 cars at COTA looked good. Cars, track, weather, lighting, all looked sharp. Then I race the Indycars at Indy and it’s a mess of fuzzy textures.
Across the board, car interiors look nice. The vibration effect of wipers and antennas are really cool. Weather conditions are also well done, and trackside cameras are well positioned for replays. But beyond that, it’s a crapshoot.
Shadows popping in and out are brutal. Draw distance – something that really isn’t an issue these days – becomes an issue again. Track surface texturing is just bland and a lot of tracks look like a copy and paste job instead of a recreation of the real world track.
Look at Daytona for example. The in-game track surface is way more gray than it is in real life, and the oval hasn’t been repaved since 2011 so it’s not like it’s changed since Slightly Mad Studios started worked on it.
The game’s color can also be washed out at times, leading us to suggest turning down the gamma to help battle this.
On the bright side, Project CARS 2 continues to offer some of the best VR support out there and now has triple screen support.
Unfortunately though, there are some negative caveats attached. For the life of me, I couldn’t get my three screens to align. The side screens were vertically off even though I was following the triple screen setup perfectly.
Also, like Project CARS 1, the game is tough on PC hardware. To run in both VR and triple screen support, my graphic settings had to be turned down to a level that didn’t look so hot. I know I don’t have an Nvidia GTX 1080ti but a GTX 1070 and AMD Ryzen 7 CPU should be sufficient enough to warrant at least “High” graphical settings. They are in other titles, thus allowing them to look much better while running at much higher frames per second (fps) than Project CARS 2.
The silverlining of the fps is that the game runs better at 60 fps then pretty much all other racing titles, and the massive drop in fps from weather that Project CARS 1 experienced is a thing of the past. On average I only saw about 5-10 fps drop in the rain which is pretty good.
In the end, the graphical pros and cons in Project CARS 2 average out, thus leaving it in the NEUTRAL category.
NEUTRAL – SOUNDS
We almost put sounds into the PROS category. The in-car engine notes in Project CARS 2 are really good. And while not every exterior engine note is amazing, there are a lot that are also very good.
But there are some sounds I can’t overlook.
The tire screeching sound is terrible. It’s too high pitch and electronic sounding.
Even worse is the crashing sound. While I appreciate the attempt to make crashes sound violent, I fail to comprehend why I’m hearing glass shattering when a glass-less Indycar crashes. If you want to use this sound with a road car, great, but please cater the crash sounds for different cars.
Also not great is the default audio mixing. External cameras make it sound like your car is five times louder than any of the AI cars. Plus, the building and fading of sound when a car goes by a static camera isn’t nearly severe enough. Last of all, our friend “crash sound” comes in loud and clear from the external cameras, way too loud and clear.
As for radio talk, the Engineer likes to repeat annoying lines and apparently the Spotter is a mute.
So despite having much better engine notes, unfortunately the other sounds in Project CARS 2 weigh them down. Hopefully these issues will be addressed in future patches.
NEUTRAL – GAME MODES
The game modes in Project CARS 2 are pretty straight forward. This time around, Career mode has a little more of a ladder system than the, “start in any car you want” approach of the first game, but it still lets you be pretty liberal. For example, I was able to start out in Group C cars which are far from beginner.
Pick a car route, race, win, move up, race in one off races along the way. That’s Career mode in a nutshell, which isn’t a bad thing.
Quick Race allows you to do as the name suggests and – lets be honest – will probably be the go-to mode for most folks.
I am little disappointed to not see a Custom Championship option. Considering the number of series and tracks in the game, some cool Custom Championships based off of the real world counterparts could be created
Lastly we have Multiplayer, and unfortunately, there isn’t much we can say at this time because there is no way to test it pre-release. This is too bad because Multiplayer could be one of the major selling points of the game but we’ll just have to see how it plays out with the rest of you upon release.
NEUTRAL – LIVE TRACK 3.0
I want to quickly talk about Live Track 3.0. In fairness, I don’t think I had the proper amount of time to entirely vet the system since I was only able to run a couple 2-hour plus long races, but from what I experienced, it does seem like the car gains grip as the track darkened up from the rubber being put down, which is cool.
I am surprised that there isn’t an option to speed up the track change like you can do with weather. But again, this is something that will have to be investigated more, which is why it isn’t listed as a PRO, but for now I wanted to at the very least note it.
NEUTRAL – DAMAGE MODEL
Oh the damage model. At times, really well done. Other times, extremely frustrating.
On the pros side, it’s cool to see body parts being shed. It’s cool to see suspension damage if the contact is on the wheel. I like how bumpers can come unhinged and bounce around, especially in rallycross.
On the cons side, sometimes cars just magically fix themselves. Contact that should absolutely result in race ending damage doesn’t. AI that have front wings missing are still out there running like nothing is wrong at times. And what the hell is up with the shattered windshields on race cars?!
Developers, racing windshields are plastic. They do not shatter like glass, they deform. Hell, road going car windshields don’t shatter like that, they are designed to fail in small pieces!
In the end, the damage model is hit and miss. Sometimes it’s well done. Other times, not as much.
CON – AI
At best, the AI is a non-issue. They never race you spectacularly, but at least they don’t cause a mess. At worst, they’re a shit show.
Many old problems still exist in Project CARS 2. The AI difficulty level varies greatly between cars, so be prepared to spend a lot of searching around for the right balance. They all seem to move with one another, even if you’re in the way. If there’s a wreck, count them to pile in! And if a car is slow from damage, then the best course of action is to slow down and just follow them of course (/sarcasm).
I also have mix feelings about Manual Rolling Starts. Instead of packing up two-by-two for the start, the race begins with the field completely strung out. On one hand, it eliminates many of the first turn dramas I experienced without it, but c’mon, the amount of stretching of the field is ridiculous.
For as much as AI was said to be improved for this game, I’m not seeing it. Sure, there are times and races when things go fine. But way too many times it wasn’t okay, and it really turned me off from the game, despite all the parts I like.
CON – OVAL RACING
In its current state, oval racing is a waste of time in Project CARS 2. Springboarding off our previous topic, if you want to see AI at it’s best, go race on an oval. In the Indycar at Indianapolis the AI can’t even start the race before shedding bodywork.
And wouldn’t you think all that debris would trigger a full course caution? Well, no, because they’re aren’t full course cautions.
Not having full course cautions on ovals is a deal breaker. Without them, the field gets strung out, followed by the AI being tripped up by damaged cars, rinse, repeat. Plus, multiplayer races aren’t going to be much fun either because crashes will cause the field to get strung out there as well.
Outside of those issues, the driving experience doesn’t get off on the best foot. The base setup for the Indycar at Indianapolis is horrific. Car swaps ends the second you put wheel into it. Why not create a stable setup with a bunch of downforce in it like they do in real life to start off with?
Texas in the Indycar starts better and I had the car driving pretty well with some changes. But the stock car at Texas was a different story. The car wouldn’t even dare go left into turn 1 even at greatly reduced speeds, and even with some tweaking, I was struggling to get it feeling very good.
But even if we ignore these issues, why is oval racing even in Project CARS 2? The rest of the game does such a good job of bundling cars and tracks together to create a cohesive experience. Then you get to oval racing and you get three tracks. Whoopty-do.
Maybe you could argue that it works with the Indycar because they run two of the ovals and five of the road courses in game? But without Custom Championships, that argument falls apart pretty quickly.
Bottom line. Despite three well modeled tracks, oval racing was designed to fail in Project CARS 2, and it does for that reason and many more on top of that.
At this point, Project CARS 2 leaves me a bit on the fence. While the cars, tracks, physics and force feedback are all good, I think all the races I’ve done against subpar AI – and a few other issues we’ve highlighted – have kind of worn me out at this point. And while I don’t mind going out there and banging out laps, I want Project CARS 2 to be a racing simulator, not a hot lap simulator. I already have other sims that do a better job of that.
But, and this is a big one, multiplayer is still out there. Does it sound like it could be very good? Yes. Were we also told that AI would be much improved? Yes. So could it be bad? Yes.
But despite the way multiplayer goes, I do think a lot of people will enjoy Project CARS 2. It’s a much better game than Project CARS 1. Plus if you are a sportscar fan, you’re not going to find a better car or track list for you out there. The same thing could even be said for rallycross despite it being a fraction of the size.
So if the pros of Project CARS 2 give you a warm fuzzy feeling, go ahead and pick it up right away. If you want to wait and see how things pan out with updates and multiplayer, then I’ll be waiting right there with you.