Can Project Cars 2 grab and keep a hold of many of those that were won over by the first game when it releases at the end of this week? Between Forza Motorsport 7 and Gran Turismo Sport launching in October and the continued support seen by Assetto Corsa, Slightly Mad Studios certainly have a lot more competition than when the first game released in 2015, but they’ve also worked hard to make this look and feel like a true sequel. There’s tons more cars, more tracks, a more considered career, and further refinement of everything that worked well in the original game.
A variety of circumstances contrived to keep me away from my racing wheel this weekend, meaning that I’m racing in earnest with a gamepad for the first time in a long time. Ever since getting a Driving Force GT alongside Gran Turismo 5 – and what an excellent purchase that was! – racing with a wheel has been my go-to control method of choice. It’s more natural for me, even if I’m maybe not as accomplished as some other racers out there (I like to think I can sometimes hold my own, though).
Even though I’ve played many a racing game, getting up to speed in Project Cars 2 can take a while. The game defaults to the authentic assists level, only giving you ABS, traction control and stability control when a particular car in real life actually features them. That can backfire when the lowest tiers of the career feature cars without them, and it came back to bite me when I chose to dive into Formula Rookie. While I quickly managed to get to grips with this with a steering wheel in hand, it took me much, much longer with a gamepad, and a number of the fast turns and braking zones around Knockhill would regularly see me spinning out. I resorted to turning up the assists, adding ABS and TC, as well as using the game’s race engineer system to take a symptom and try to solve it for you, both of which worked relatively well, but I still felt stuck. I wasn’t able to finish a race without spinning out, and so I resolved to improve while racing with Project Cars 2’s default settings.
I did eventually get to a point that I felt I could race, by way of a diversion to the weightier Ginetta Juniors, having warmed up tyres at the start of a race, and by the grace of some wet weather helping me out – the AI at middling settings are happy to trundle along in the wet. Even then, where I was winning with a wheel, I was qualifying lower down the order with a controller and only managing to bring it home in 2nd or 3rd after a few attempts. Perhaps I’m simply out of practice with a controller, but if I’m struggling and feeling like I’m barely hanging on, then I can only imagine that this will be a nightmare for other, less experienced racers.
Strangely enough, racing with a controller does actually feel a bit more authentic to the game’s sim racing, it’s just that it’s particularly raw. It doesn’t try to help you out much, if at all, but the cars react quickly to your inputs and you have to learn when and where to apply the throttle, when to feather the controls, and how to hold a line through a corner almost on a car-by-car basis. Stepping up to faster cars with more downforce and mechanical grip definitely helps, letting you push harder, but there are still limits that I feel you can all too easily go beyond. GT3 cars that I’m fond of in other games for being effectively glued to the track can feel more skittish here, for example.
One thing that even a brief glance at the career structure shows you is that this is one of the most authentic overall career modes in racing games, and certainly of the three sim-racers coming out this year. You start where you want in the pecking order, whether that’s coming into Formula Rookie or picking something a little higher, such as Rallycross. You then work your way up through different tiers of this form of racing or flitting from open wheel to tin tops and on Le Mans Prototypes. It’s more than skin deep, with many racing categories letting you pick from different championships to compete in, such as an Asian, UK and American series, leading to a worldwide championship.
It is, to a certain extent, an approximation of each championship, and so your first season in the game might only take you through five races. Beyond that, it’s up to you to decide how long you want each race to be, whether you want to have a practice session, if you feel like skipping past qualifying, and so on. There’s a great degree of customisation here from a single race through to your career goals. Do you aim to become a Factory Driver, or look to win the Triple Crown of Monaco, Le Mans and the Indy 500? The choice is yours.
LiveTrack 3.0 might not be as visually stunning as the weather effects that will feature in Forza 7, but it definitely has its moments and offers up a deep and nuanced rendition of a track’s evolution, even in a short three or five lap race. Naturally, it will have been compressed so that there is a chance of meaningful change between the first and third lap, but the way that the conditions on each little patch of track are emulated is great to see. Sweeping down the hill at Donnington in the rain of the first lap saw the spray that the tyres kicked up thicken significantly, but then elsewhere on track, you’ll see only brief spurts of water as the cars run through patches of wet and kick it up into the air, and you soon learn that running through a puddle is a terrible idea, as it drags on that side of the car and destabilises it.
Simply put, I’m looking forward to getting back behind the wheel, because while Slightly Mad have aimed to create a more authentic and simulation experience for those racing with a gamepad, it’s also one that reduces the game’s accessibility to casual players. Funnily enough, it’s a similar complaint to that which I had of the original game. That’s a shame, because Project Cars 2 gets a lot right, from car and track selection to the career structure and LiveTrack 3.0.
We’ll be bringing you our full review later this week.