Redemption - Project CARS 2 Review
Former German president Richard von Weizsäcker once said:
In short, one needs to remember in order to achieve redemption.
The original Project CARS never was the most unanimously loved racing game. It was a good shot at the sim racing genre, but it had too many weird quirks, bugs and glitches to be considered a smash hit.
But now, two years after the release of the first game, Slightly Mad Studios is back with the sequel: Project CARS 2.
So: has Slightly Mad Studios remembered past flaws and achieved redemption? Or has the British studio not learnt from past mistakes? Let's find out.
One of the biggest guns in Project CARS 2's arsenal is the impressive roster of cars. While not as seemingly vast as Forza 7's supposed 700 cars (Project CARS 2 only features 182 cars), the depth and variation in the cars and different racing classes is really quite something to behold. There's Group C Prototypes, Group 5, GTO, GT1, GT3, GTE, LMP1, LMP2, LMP900, Vintage GT and Prototypes, Indycar and even World Rallycross.
The game also offers the freedom of combining these classes into multi-class races any way you wish. That means it is possible to have authentic, WEC like races with LMP1, LMP2 and GTE or return to the glorious era of forced induction and throw Group 4, Group 5, Group 6 and Group C together for a field full of fire-breathing monsters. Or if you feel like doing something crazy and lobbing a bunch of Formula Renaults in with Mad Mike Whiddett's Mazda MX-5 Radbul and 1000 hp hypercars: that's also possible.
The more modern racing classes are also surprisingly up-to-date. The GTE class featured nearly every car you'd expect, including the BMW M6 GTLM. The GT3 class has the latest challengers like the Acura NSX GT3, Ferrari 488 GT3, Lamborghini Huracan, Renault R.S. 01, BMW M6 and the new Audi R8 LMS. The same goes for LMP2 and LMP3, where the likes of Ginetta and Ligier are well represented.
The depth of this car list is thanks in large part to the addition of new manufacturers that were missing from the first game. Nissan, Porsche, Lamborghini and Ferrari are all new additions and are particularly welcome from a motorsports perspective, but add a good number of road cars too.
Of course, an expansive car list is only half the fun. A good car needs a good track, and Project CARS 2 has no shortage of great tracks to race on. There's 46 locations, containing a staggering 121 different layouts. This includes classic tracks like Le Mans, Monza, Imola, Nürburgring, Laguna Seca, Spa Francorchamps, Daytona, Indianapolis and Watkins Glen.
There's even some tracks in there that you might recognize, but under different names. Slighty Mad Studios presumably couldn't get hold of the license for Monaco and Suzuka, so put some slightly differing versions in, calling them 'Azure Circuit' and 'Sakitto' instead.
But along with world famous motorsport tracks, there's also an impressive number of lesser-known locations. Tracks like Czech Republic's Brno, England's Snetterton, Oulton, Cadwell and Knockhill, Belgium's Zolder, the Dubai Autodrome, New Zealand's Ruapuna Park and Sportsland Sugo in Japan are all in the game and provide a great alternative to motorsports' most well-known venues.
In fact, these lesser known tracks are a great addition to the game and really add to the experience, as it's something most other racing games don't offer. The same goes for the fair number of karting and rallycross tracks that are also included.
To be fair, there are some notable omissions like Sebring, Yas Marina or Road Atlanta, but on the whole Project CARS 2 has a large, varied and interesting tracks list.
Those cars and tracks are brought to life with an incredible level of detail. Tracks seems to change lap after lap, with more rubber left by cars and conditions changing thanks to Livetrack 3.0 - something we'll get to in just a bit.
But one of the best things about Project CARS 2 is just how realistic it is in terms of creating a believable, immersive motorsports experience. There's a spotter and a race engineer in your ear, telling you where the other cars are, what your laptimes are like and how high the level of damage to your car is.
The damage model is impressive too. Damage to the front of your car can and will legitimately damage the car's aero, which in turn will affect your handling and laptimes. Hit a wall hard one too many times and you will damage your suspension, which immediately affects handling in dramatic fashion. And one too many knocks to the car can even affect your engine, causing a loss in power and sometimes complete breakdowns as a result of overheating - something that has happened to me a number of times.
And in the ultimate attempt to create immersion, Project CARS 2 even has fully animated pitcrews. As far as I can tell, that's pretty unique in modern racing games. Forza Motorsport doesn't have it, Assetto Corsa has it to a certain extent, but it's not exactly a common thing. For a real motorsports experience, it's incredibly satisfying to call for new tires and fuel, come in at the end of the lap and actually see a team ready to fill up your car and bolt on a set of new rubbers. This, to me, honestly is one of Project CARS 2's strongest points.
Of course, your pitcrew can only clean up your on-track mess to a certain extent. To truly get ahead in racing, you need to finetune your setup to drag that one illusive second out of your car.
But for people who aren't the best when it comes to tuning, sim racing's in-depth tuning systems can leave a player howling in frustration.
But that's where Project CARS 2's Race Engineer comes in.
As seen above, the Race Engineer allows you to choose between four essential tuning categories: braking, downforce, suspension and gearing. Upon selecting a category, the in-game engineer asks you a question. For example, when selecting 'Braking', the engineer asks 'What is the issue with the braking on the car?' You can then choose between a number of answers to say the car slides under braking or stops too quickly or too late. The engineer then offers up a solution based on your input and if you agree, the car's setup will automatically be altered.
This is an absolutely brillant system for players aren't very experienced or don't have the time or understanding to get into every aspect of finetuning a car's setup. This is legitimately one of the best additions I have seen in a racing game in a very long time. By making tuning easy, the game makes it far easier for unexperienced players, thus making the game more accessible. Of course, those who are experienced at tuning will still find a daunting number of setup options, but the Race Engineer offers an open door for those with less know-how, while also offering a learning experience at the same time.
Now this is all well and good, but it's time to adress one of the biggest problems people had with the first game: handling and playability. The original Project CARS developed somewhat of a notoriety for having a difficult handling model. While it was tricky with a wheel, many believed the original was straight up unplayable on a gamepad.
I've been playing Project CARS 2 on both a gamepad and a wheel and I'm happy to be able to say playability has improved with both. The gamepad controls especially are like night and day compared to the previous title. And while I still prefer a wheel for the amount of control and finesse it offers, I'm confident enough to say it's possible to play Project CARS 2 with a gamepad and still have a lot of fun.
With the updated and improved controls, one might be mistaken for thinking Project CARS 2 is an easy game. You'd be wrong. Project CARS 2 is proper simulation racing. It is not an easy pick-up-and-play racer. It requires time, practice and patience to improve one's skill and laptimes.
The racing is also not easy. If you are not at the top of your game, you will find the races difficult affairs. Opponents will drive off and you won't be able to catch them for the rest of the race. And while this can be frustrating, especially for newer players, in time it will also become very rewarding. You'll be properly proud of a daring overtake, taking pole position or winning a race because you've actually put in the work to get there. It's not an easy game to get right, but when you get it right, it's incredible.
Finally, let's talk about the Livetrack 3.0 system. According to the developer, LiveTrack 3.0 powers dynamic surface conditions that affect vehicle performance and handling. It's the game's physics engine, which also takes care of dynamic weather and the day and night cycle. The dynamic weather system is particularly impressive. One has the opportunity to select up to four different weather slots before the start of the race. Choices include a sunny day, cloudy weather, rain, fog, thunderstorms and even snowfall and blizzards. These conditions will then change dynamically during the course of a race, forcing you to change your tactics, driving style and your tyre choices. There's also the option to select four completely random weather choices, so you'll have no idea what conditions to expect during the race.
To me, Livetrack 3.0 is a very impressive system and the way tracks change during a race really push the game to the next level. It really forces you to think about the race while you're driving it. Do I stay out on slicks, or do I come in for wets now? Is it dry enough to go straight to slicks again, or should I switch to intermediates first? It constantly keeps you thinking, making sure you are fully immersed and focused on the race at hand. To me, that's a sign you've created a good system.
So, are there any downsides? Yes. First and most importantly, the game is still quite rich on bugs and glitches after release. A good example of that is that pitcrews do not always appear when coming in for a pitstop. This means you'll sometimes find yourself coming into a completely empty pit box and sit there as your car magically gets hoisted into the air and has its tires replaced by nobody.
I've also had a fair few instances where race directors punish you for no apparent reason. At the start of quite a few races I would pass a good number of cars round the outside, only to run slightly wide and immediately be told I had 30 seconds to drop back from 11th to 20th because running wide seemingly made all of those overtakes illegal.
Another example of this is me running wide on a practice or qualifying lap and having the lap time be deleted as a fair result, only to see the next laptime also be deleted for no real reason.
The AI also aren't quite perfect yet. They seem to be suffering from what I like to call 'First Corner Syndrome'. This means that most, if not all races start with a massive pileup in turn one that usually severely damages many of the cars involved. The AI speed up and get competitive after that, but many take themselves out before that can happen.
So, to summarize: has Slighty Mad Studios learned from past mistakes? In my opinion: yes. They've improved what needed to improved and have produced a very good sequel to their original game.
With a stacked car and track roster, great attention to detail, a brilliant Race Engineer system, good playability on both wheel and pad, the ingenious Livetrack 3.0 and a properly challenging sim racing experience, Slightly Mad Studios have created a truly good racing game. There's still some oddities, bugs and glitches to be found, but once those have been patched out, there's nothing stopping Project CARS 2 to become one of sim racing's all-time greats.
In short: Slighty Mad Studios have well and truly redeemed themselves.