Two years down the line from the initial release of Project CARS and Slightly Mad Studios has given us a sequel, the aptly named Project CARS 2. When the initial game launched, it was met with almost equal parts negativity and acclaim. For those who lavished in the graphics and sound, there were others who had problems with the handling model and AI. Sequels are usually a chance to add more to a franchise, something that wouldn't fit within the bounds of a single DLC for the base game - but it's also a chance for the game to get a round of fixes and improvements.
Furthermore, the good news is that Slightly Mad Studios has brought us a bit of both. Having added new race types such as Rallycross into the mix along with new surface types such as snow and ice and the ability to race when, where and how you want. Their dynamic weather system gives you the freedom to make it as challenging as you dare whilst being able to maintain control of your vehicle. With all the new stuff, they've also brought in fixes to satiate many gamers that felt burned by Project CARS.
Before we dig into the good stuff, however, there are a few minor niggles that were raised during my time with the game. Most notably, this review is based on the Xbox One version of the game, and whilst fully prepared with a One X pre-order, the truth is that Project CARS 2 on the base Xbox One can't maintain a solid 60 FPS experience. It almost gets there in scenarios like time-trial, where it's just you and the track. But include a couple of cars and some weather effects, and the Xbox One's bottleneck starts to show.
Secondly, there didn't seem to be a "reset to default" for the controller button assignment anywhere, such that when some buttons were rebound to adjust the seat position of the driver, it became apparent that attention should be paid to the buttons that were overridden for resetting. If it is there, it may benefit from being more readily visible.
With those out of the way let's get into the good stuff, starting with the career mode. You're given the option to choose when and how you progress through the career - you can start right at the bottom of the ladder, racing in go-karts or Formula Rookie for example, or dive straight into the high powered LMP cars to blaze around Le Mans. As is the case with most racing games, jumping into lower tiered cars lets you get a feel for the handling of the game, such that it's a less frustrating experience than wondering why the backend of the car keeps stepping out due to inexperience.
In order to become competitive at racing, you need to be able to understand a bit about tuning a car to your driving style and the course you're on. For a lot of people that just want to hop in and have a blast driving, tuning aspects of racing games tend to fall by the wayside, and whilst those players may be competitive against AI, when placed against human players - either online or time trial - they may become frustrated with why they cannot post times like other drivers can. Project CARS 2 has a great take on helping players that don't understand the intricacies of tuning by giving you a race engineer, who will ask you questions about how the car is handling and give you suggestions on how to combat the problems you're facing. Of course, full car setup is also available, should you already know your flywheel from your gear ratios.
It's nice to see the addition of new modes of racing too, with Rallycross being a particular favourite. It's different from standard track based racing, not least because of the different surface types - you spend a lot more of your time going sideways. There's an immense sense of satisfaction when you start getting the drifting down for a perfect clean lap.
The AI were competitive in keeping pace throughout a race weekend, putting in a fast, yet fair challenge in terms of lap times when qualifying through to being plenty competent on race day, trying to capitalise on areas where mistakes were made but still being gracious enough to leave enough tarmac not to run you off the road when you have the inside line in a corner.
The game handles pretty well with a controller, but that's not the reason to buy a game like Project CARS, you really want to be playing this with a wheel as you're given much more control over the car, and can better feel how the car is reacting to different surfaces when the force feedback comes into play.
It's not just the gameplay that's received an overhaul either - the menu interface that takes you through to the races has also received a much needed clean up from the first game, now, it's a lot easier to find what you're looking for amongst the vast array of options available.
Overall Project CARS 2 is the racer that the first one either should have been - or become after launch. That said, credit goes to Slightly Mad Studios for taking on board the feedback from the first title and trying to make sure that they've delivered on all fronts. They're never going to please everyone, and there's going to be detractors for this title too, but for what it's worth, this is a more than competent sim-racer that ought to keep you busy for a while yet.
Project CARS 2 (Reviewed on Xbox One)
This game is great, with minimal or no negatives.
A proficient sim-racer that brings a lot to the table - both in content and playability. Would have been great to see the base Xbox One version maybe lose a bit of the graphical sparkle in exchange for a 60 FPS lock, but that's more commentary of the power of the Xbox, rather than the game.