Review: Projects Cars 2 raises the bar for racing games
Racing games may have just hit its peak
Platform: PC (reviewed), Xbox One, PlayStation 4
Developer: Slightly Mad Studios
Publisher: Bandai Namco Entertainment
When it comes to racing games on current hardware, it's becoming more and more difficult for developers to really differentiate themselves from one another, at least when it comes to visual fidelity. That statement rings even truer when referring to racing simulation games. Whether it's Gran Turismo, Forza Motorsport or in this case, Project Cars 2 (PC2), you can only make a car look so realistic. When talented studios all use the latest hardware and have to make a car like, say a Lamborghini Aventador look real, they are all held to the same standard, make a 1:1 replica. It doesn't leave a lot of room for style or interpretation. Those are things developers of other games, like Uncharted, Gears of War or Overwatch, can get away with while racing game developers are saddled with the expectations of realism.
So what can a racing game developer do to make their game stand out? Add the most cars? Have the largest selection of tracks? Improved weather effects? Sure, all of these things add up to making a good game, a great game. With Project Cars 2, developer Slightly Mad Studios took all the criticism and suggestions from their first game and gave racing fans the "Empire Strikes Back" of racing games.
Slightly Mad Studios have really set the bar with PC2 and with games like GT Sport and Forza Motorsport 7 on the way, they had no choice but to go all in and luckily for them, their hard work paid off. The developers have really paid attention to what fans wanted, so with PC2 they re-worked the handling mechanics, regardless if you prefer a racing wheel or a controller. Both have options to fine tune their performance, but it's the coding within the game that really is a big improvement. Anyone who played PC1 will remember the over-sensitive and twitchy controls, but those days are gone with PC2. My first test with the game was picking a Lamborghini, simply because I knew that car would be a lot more difficult to handle due to the massive amount of horsepower. Initially, when I blasted off the start line, I was a little worried, but as I settled in, I found myself controlling that beast like Daenerys Targaryen riding on the back of one of her dragons. Let me be clear for you readers who are familiar with games like Forza Horizon 3, Need for Speed or Dirt 4, this is not an arcade racer. You can't take corners at 98 MPH, pull your e-brake and then hit the nitrous to pass your competitors. In PC2, you'll need to utilize your brake ... the left trigger on your controller and the left peddle on your racing wheel setup. If you've played those arcade racers, it's the button (or peddle) you never touch, as in, this game is realistic. You need to play it that way. Essentially what that means is that you'll need to slow down and brake through turns, accelerating after the turn, overall, just be cautious or the car will get away from you.
I do have point out the amazing attention to detail when playing this game with a wheel and peddles. The handling is simply put, awesome. You feel everything, from the grip of the road as you burn through corners to those moments when you lose control and slide off the track. The dynamic tuning the team has done makes experience the closest I've ever played on a computer. For those players who prefer to play with a controller, you'll probably experience the most robust change from PC1. The team has made great efforts to tune the game to a controller, but even if their settings are not to your liking, you can adjust a myriad of options to give your car the right level of performance. Let me say this in a clearer way, you don't need to purchase an expensive racing wheel to enjoy PC2, while it's probably the best overall experience, you'll still enjoy PC2, and even thrive, with a controller.
Aside from the overhauled driving and handling mechanics, PC2 has a ton of new features, like the addition of e-Sports online racing. The online mode is great too, as there are championships that are all tracked to keep a tally of your performance against others all over the world. If you're more of a career mode player, then worry not, Slightly Mad has made a robust career mode that allows players to jump into any race class, at any time, with the exception of a few like the Supercar Rallycross and a few others, but for the most part, players can enjoy a wide array of races from the start.
Speaking of a wide array, PC2 features a massive amount of cars from manufacturers like Audi, Lamborghini, Ferrari, Toyota, Dodge and even Porsche. In total, there are over 180 cars, nine different car classes, 60 different race venues. As a former owner of a Subaru WRX STi, it was a little disappointing to not see Subaru as an added manufacturer.
With all those venues and tracks, there are what Slightly Mad calls, "living tracks." Basically what that means is that you can apply all kinds of different weather effects to them, including the-the-time of day. You can even make situations that are totally unrealistic, liking making it snow in the desert. Regardless of your preferences, there are tons of ways to experience all the tracks within PC2, that the replayability is incredibly deep.
As I touched on briefly, there's only so much a developer can do nowadays when they're trying to replicate items in real life, as in cars, tracks, and locales. In that vein, we've hit sort of a plateau, what I mean is that so many racing games now all look great. So in order to set themselves apart, Slightly Mad, not only made one of the most gorgeous racing games to date, it made one that doesn't feature popup graphics. As you traverse the courses, even around turns, no buildings, trees or mountains will sudden just pop up in the background. On Nurburgring, the famous track in Germany, as I turned a corner for a long straight away, I could see a beautiful castle in the background that was there before I turned, it never materialized before my eyes, it was just already there for me to see.
It bears repeating that this game does look incredible, especially on PC with ultra settings. Everything is crisp and the game performs in 60fps, making for a smooth experience. I haven't played the game on PS4 or PS4 Pro or even Xbox One, so I can't attest to the pop-up factor in those games, but Slightly Mad has been very vocal about their game and how it will run on the Xbox One X, due out in November. The team says the One X version will be noticeably better on the One X over the PS4 Pro. Meaning true 4K visuals, HDR, and 60 fps, like the PC. I am curious to see how the One X version compares against the horsepower of my PC (GeForce GTX 1080 Ti, i7 7700K, 32GB of DDR4 MSI Motherboard). In any case, Forza 7 has some serious competition, while it does have the name recognition, Project Cars 2 has the goods.
This game sounds incredible, especially with headphones. With over 180 cars, it's incredible to think how much work went into this game to make every car sound different. The high pitch motor of a Ferrari revving its engine sounds completely different than the deep, roar of a Chevy Camaro SS. That being said, it's not just the noise of the engines that terrific, it's everything else around you too. From the sand kicking up under your car and into your wheel wells when you go off the road, to rain on the windshield and the sound of your tires as you brake hard when going too fast. All of the sounds come together like a symphony, immersing you in your race and the overall experience. If only I could have heard that throaty growl of my old Subaru WRX STi... what a sound that car makes.
My only main issue comes in the form of the occasional stutter. While the game mostly plays as smooth as butter, ever now again, usually occurring around hairpin turns, the game can suffer from a quick stutter, that goes away as quickly as it appeared. I get the feeling that is from having to quickly re-render the track from a 180 degrees turnaround. What worries me, is that this was present with my hardware. With the combination of 32GB of DDR4 and a GeForce GTX 1080 Ti, that should have never happened and if it did, I'm sure what I experienced as a quick stutter, may be worse for players with less beefy hardware. Hopefully, console player will have their game better optimized and won't see such an issue.
My only other issue and this is just a personal complaint, is again the lack of Subaru. But with the inclusion of Rallycross, not having Subaru cars is like making a ham and cheese sandwich without the ham. It just feels odd, but hopefully, this is something that the developers can fix later with DLC, it certainly would make me happy.
With a massive list of cars, hundreds of tracks and combinations of stunning, if not crazy, weather effects tons of modes, online and offline, and impressive sound, Slightly Mad Studios not only delivers a great sequel but a great racing game in general. It's rare to see a developer pull a 180 with a sequel, but Slightly Mad has done it with Project Cars 2. They've listened to fans and critics, they put in the time and as a result, have created the best racing simulation I've ever played. Period.
Regardless of your gaming platform (with the exception of the Nintendo Switch), Project Cars 2 is your best option for a simulated racing game. All I can say is Forza better do something amazing if it wants to knock off PC2, as for GT Sport, I think I can say already, it doesn't stand a chance.
For those of you who love to really immerse yourselves, Project Cars 2 supports up to three screens for a really in-depth experience and it also supports full VR, assuming you have a rig.