2017 seems to be the year of the racing game and Project Cars 2 is the first out of the gate, but does the sequel to the crowd funded original have enough to compete against the industry juggernauts?
As you start the game, you are given three options, start a career, jump into a race or jump into an online race and while the single races are fine, the career is where you will find a lot of value. Once you select it, you are then given the choice of choosing a starting league, sign a contact and then you are in, the barrier to get into the game is very small, however there is still a barrier. The game drops you in, without a lick of a tutorial or explanation about the game, meaning that if you are like me and don’t play a lot of realistic or sim racers, you will be at a loss. Even dropping the games settings to be the most hand holding, still requires that you understand the basics of races and how the cars need to warm up.
Once I was able to get a solid foundation behind me, I was able to start making progress and after a number of races in go-karts, I discovered that I could swap to a different series, without any issue or penalty. The career progress follows the basic outline of the first game, you will race and win and the more you win, the more you get noticed and as you gain attention, car makers will get you to drive one of their cars in a special event, which net you rewards. As you progress though the various series, you will unlock more challenging and yet more rewarding events, but it all compares to your driving, so you need to ensure that you are driving smart.
Of course, with any racing game, no matter how serious it takes itself, the handling is key, if driving the car feels like you are driving a tank, or worse, driving a bubble, then its not worth your time, thankfully, the game nails it. The game supports multiple input methods, keyboard, controller and wheel and using both keyboard and controller, driving felt great with both, though it was much more enjoyable with the controller. For those that want to change it around, the game will let you customise the dead zones and almost every other part of the games control inputs, to let you find the sweet spot for your way of playing.
Given the amount of content that the first game had, you might expect that the studio added only a few extra cars or tracks, but the number of cars has increased by a factor of three and the tracks have increased as well, with the total in game count double, thanks to multiple layouts. While the 180+ cars might seem like a lot, you need to remember that each of the cars is used in specific series, which means unless you choose a series, like the new Rally Cross, you may never see those cars yourself, let alone driving them. However, the tracks are a different story, each track has at least two layouts, which means there is a lot of variety in them and given that you can spend an hour before any race, learning the track and warming up the car, you are going to spend a lot of time on them. Players will be happy to see such locations like Knockhill, Fuji Speedway, and Long Beach, all make a showing and yes, for those who are V8 fans, Bathurst also makes a showing.
One of the elements that the first game was known for, was just how nice it looked, especially when you could customise the games visuals to suit your PC, the sequel kicks that up even further, the cars and tracks all look stunning, even with the visual details set to low, but where the game shines is with its weather settings, ensuring that with random weather, no two races will be the same. The best part of this is that parts of the track can be wet, while the rest dry, so not only do you need to ensure your car can adapt to both types, but also plan for how the weather might change. While that impacts gameplay, it also makes the game stunning, taking a tight corner, that has water along its edge and the resulting spray going everywhere, is something that I can never tire of seeing.
The level of details on the cars is also exceptional, from the classic cars to the modern supercars, each has been created here with as much attention as could be given and it shows. With the amount of camera positions available to you, you will be able to see a lot of the detail that has gone into each and with the sheer number of vehicles, that is impressive. The tracks though are a mixed bag, the amount detail between the track surface, and slightly past the barriers is insane, with people standing there cheering, signs, stands for tv cameras, it is all there, the problem is past a set point the detail just plummets. The crowds become static and stationary, grass or sand becomes a bland lifeless mess and the detail on any trees is non-existent, something that you will notice when driving on tracks around Europe or Japan.
Sound wise, the game sounds right, having never heard almost all the cars in person, I can’t state that they sound the same, but they do sound fine, what works the best though is when you grab a pair of headphones and enjoy the sounds of the cars as they pass alongside the barriers, under bridges, the echo of the car sounds great. Music wise, a lot of it was just in the menus, it was rare that I heard it while driving, but when I did, I usually ignored it, purely because it felt un-needed. As you enter menu screens for the first time, you get a commentator explaining the options, but only at an elevated level, but it is usually enough to give you the right direction to explore.
Project CARS 2 is a solid racing game, though it really is for people who are into cars and understand all the subtle elements of them. The amount of content on offer is quite staggering, however with the clunky menus, locating the right content is hard to do. Finally, the game is going big into online leagues but as it is early days, there were none of note at the time of the review.