Project CARS, you may not be completely shocked to learn, was a car racing game. The sequel is, too. But what sort of car racing game is it? It is, my friends, a simulation. I recently reviewed this year’s F1 game for Asiiya, and I thought ‘Crikey, this isn’t too friendly towards fans of casual racing’.
That was before I played Project CARS 2.
Some of you – probably not many – may have read about this game already rather than patiently wait for the Asiiya verdict. That’s okay, we forgive you. This miniscule minority will be able to tell the rest of you that a great many people love the game. With good reason, I can confidently say. It’s crammed full of licensed vehicles and tracks from all over the world, and a variety of classes and disciplines. There’s even dynamic weather, which can (and will) affect your driving down to the tiniest detail. Yet, even all this is but the beginning of Slightly Mad Studios’ quest for realism.
Each car doesn’t just look different; they all feel different, too. The acceleration, the inertia, the grip, the handling, the braking; the differences are often very subtle, but they are very much there. Needless to say (but, er, I’ll say it), you can tune your machine so that the petrolheads amongst you can get your car exactly to your liking. Just as well, because you also have to contend with things like aquaplaning, gear ratios, differentials, and – get this – even the effect on the track surface if somebody strays from the track and drags dirt & gravel on to the road. Now that’s attention to detail. The customisation can, quite frankly, be intimidating. An excellent addition is the ‘engineer’ option for tuning; choose an option to tell the game what you think the problem is (brakes not powerful enough, say), and it’ll suggest one or two fixes that you can apply with a simple click of a button.
It’s all extremely well done, and it’s clear that an inordinate amount of time and dedication went into this game. The graphics are jolly good too and, though they perhaps lack a little consistency, at their best moments they come close to being photorealistic. The overall package is one that aims for hyper-realism, an aim it generally achieves with style. But know ye this; as a result, even with all assists on and AI difficulty set to ‘baby in a walker’, this is not a game for those unfamiliar or uncomfortable with driving simulations. It’s ruthless and unforgiving in a way that console gamers especially likely aren’t used to.
If you’re a part of the target market, though, there’s plenty to sink your combustion-engine-lovin’ teeth into. You want structure? They got structure for ya. There is of course a career mode. As with the first game, you can start right at the bottom of the food chain with karts, and slowly work your way up to the sexier, more powerful beasts. Pleasingly, though, you can skip that here if you want, and play with the big kids straight away by starting off in one of the later classes. Best of all, you can have multiple career save files.
For some, the real attraction will lie in setting up their own races. You can customise the heck out of these; have damage on or off, penalties on or off, dictate which cars are allowed, what the weather will be (including, if you wish, how quickly time passes and an order of changing weather conditions), whether or not pit stops are a thing, and more. Combining all these variables with the tracks on offer results in a dizzying number of potential setups.
It sounds like an automobile groupie’s dream, and it is… to an extent. There are, sadly, problems which can not be easily ignored. The most egregious of these, especially considering the fact that it’s a racer we’re talking about, is frame rate dropping (and even lag). Disappointingly, I saw brief yet immediately noticeable blips in frame rate now and again long before I ventured online for the first time. Connecting to the interwebs, as you probably guessed, makes matters worse. Most definitely not bad enough to come close to ruining the game, but certainly a greater part of the experience than you would hope for from a AAA racer.
Frame rate suffers to a small yet unavoidable amount in every online race. The very worst moments, which I have experienced more than once, can subject the player to outright lag. Having the screen freeze for a split-second before your car seemingly teleports significantly closer to an approaching corner is disconcerting, let me tell you. Once – in a rare instance of my actually doing fairly well against human opponents – the race simply suddenly stopped, and everybody was kicked back to the lobby. Did the host disconnect? Was it a problem with the servers? The game made no attempt to explain what had happened or why, which made things all the more frustrating.
Also, there are a few bugs in there, including some questionable physics where one car can literally drive underneath another (see the first 30 seconds or so of the footage accompanying this review, if you fancy a laugh).
Issues such as bugs, an occasionally unstable frame rate, and poor netcode can be patched. Nonetheless, this is the game as I have played it, and this is the game as it was launched with an RRP of about fifty quid. Although miles from being bad enough to cripple the experience, these things are extremely disappointing in a racing game, especially one that works so hard to be as realistic and immersive as possible. Make no mistake, the positives outweigh the negatives; but Forza has no need to worry about Project CARS stealing its crown for now.
What’s the bottom line? A hugely impressive racing sim, but one that wobbles online and fails to accommodate more casual racing fans in the way that Forza and DriveClub do.
Review by the very talented Luke Kemp and huge thanks to Xbox for the review code!