Project CARS 2 will be different things to different people. For those acquainted with the original, this will simply be a sequel with more tracks and more cars. To those familiar with the racing genre, the unique approach to progression will either be refreshingly different, or confuddling. To those who don’t play racing games of any kind, Project CARS 2 may seem intimidating, but a further look under the hood (sorry) will reveal a game more friendly to beginners than it initially lets on.
I’m used to the money-grinding and JRPG-like progression of Gran Turismo, but there’s no wallet to fill, nor any vehicles to buy in this game. For all intents and purposes, you already have every car, you just need to play the corresponding series if you want to use a particular car in career mode. Unlike the cars however, not every series is available upon start-up (at least not until your first career’s over). While you can pick from a variety of racing disciplines from the get-go (karting, Formula 1, to anything in-between), if you want to drive their more feisty counterparts, you’ll have to advance to the upper tiers.
Each series you do during the career requires a contract, and the contract cannot be broken. So if you start a series you end up not enjoying, you’ll either have to learn how to enjoy something you previously didn’t, or weather your mistake until the series is through. It’s just one way Project CARS 2 tries to simulate not just the experience of driving, but being a professional racer.
There’s even a qualifying section before races to determine which order you start in (another feature you can choose to omit). Qualifiers become rather important in the latter stages of your career however, as getting ahead early and staying ahead is often the way to win. Catching up later is almost impossible, as Project CARS 2 doesn’t use rubber-banding like some racing games do.
I’m also accustomed to races getting harder as I progress. Even when a race was too difficult, the solution would be to grind until I had enough money to either upgrade my car or buy a better one. Project CARS 2 doesn’t work like that.
This game gets harder whenever you want it to. Project CARS 2 is all about customisation by way of settings, not turbo additions. You can’t build on the cars or change them in any way, rather you tune the settings to cater for your own skill level. If you’re not winning any races, simply turn down the AI. If you can’t control your car around corners, simply activate a few assists. Note there’s no penalty for doing any of this; it doesn’t have to be an intimidating racing sim if you don’t want it to be.
When you do want the game to reach its realistic potential, you’ll find a pureform racer. Without the luxury of any vehicular alterations, knowing every corner, knowing how to brake that corner, and knowing how to brake that corner with your specific variety of unwieldy beast is important. Folks looking for this brand of unadulterated racing are also the ones more likely to tune their cars. You can change anything from tyre pressure to steering ratio. Maybe personalise is a better word, because you’re not making the car better, so much as you are tuning it for your preference, or a track with particularly harsh weather.
That’s the super-simulation Project CARS 2 is ultimately made to be. While trying to appeal to racers who are a little more high maintenance, the game is almost as interested in people with less experience. It wants you to get better. The further I got through the career, the fewer assists I had on, and the harder I made the AI. Unfortunately if you don’t know how to calibrate an EPS conduit or plasma manifold, the game doesn’t teach that. So if you’d like to know how to tune your cars to better suit certain tracks, you’ll have to find someone who does, as the game doesn’t provide such education.
There is a race engineer you can run your problems past, and they’ll give you some suggestions and fixes as to what the problem might be, but you’re not really gonna learn how to independently tweak your cars this way.
And there are a lot more cars than there used to be. The original game had 74 – Project CARS 2 has more than twice that many, and nearly twice as many tracks for a total of 60. In terms of new disciplines there’s now RallyCross, IndyCar, and Oval. Evidently this is a sequel of more. So if you thought Project CARS needed more tracks and more cars, this will likely sate you.
It’s not something I really entertain in racing games, but you can also test yourself against live opponents. The multiplayer is about what it can be – you race other players in either timed or lapped competitions, and that’s about it. I wasn’t really expecting deathmatch, capture the flag and a bevy of modes. After all Project CARS 2 is about mastering the craft; perfecting the corners whilst controlling your own car. The online component can do little more than give you that same chance again but in a social context, and multiplayer lets you do as much with reasonable success.
The host player can choose many of the same options found in the rest of the game, so the multiplayer retains the same option-orientated philosophy. I did find the process of joining games rather finicky; often you’ll spend a fair amount of time waiting in the lobby for enough players to join. When you join a lobby, you can’t always tell if the race is in progress or not. If it is, you’ll end up merely spectating.
Project CARS 2 is not for everybody, yet at the same time, it also kind of is. Primarily it wants to be a racing simulator – a goal it certainly attains – while at the same time being approachable enough for the less enthusiastic. The game’s ambition as a serious racer, and it’s desire for you to meet that challenge, nevertheless come across stronger than its acceptance of low level players. You can play Project CARS 2 on the most lenient settings possible, yet you’d also be missing out on the more authentic driving experience the designers chiefly had in mind.
Ben received a digital copy of Project CARS 2 from Bandai Namco for review.