Wot I Think: Project Cars 2

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Project Cars 2 [official site] threw me into so many different racing disciplines that I needed copious amounts of tea to reflect and recover. I got a taste of the game a few weeks ago and found it satisfying, but now that I’ve spent some time with the full version, due for release this week, I’m fully on board, in spite of a few significant flaws. Containing so many options and disciplines risks making it a jack of all trades, but there’s enough quality in the fundamentals to make the whole thing worth your while.

Right from the start, Project Cars 2 is slick. From an intro as beautiful as it is unnecessarily dramatic, it’s straight into the crowd of modes, vehicles and tracks clamouring for your attention.. Unfortunately, racing school is not one of those options. Yes, a big part of the racing sim audience already understands at least the basics of tyre management, of weight transfer, and of traction circles, but there are also a lot of people out there who would love to learn some performance driving. Unfortunately, sims can provide a tougher learning curve than an actual race track.

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I would have loved to see Project Cars 2 break from the racing sim pack a bit here and provide some real training. People out there crave it and it’s one of the only ways the audience for these games is going to grow. It needn’t just be for newcomers either: the racing school section could provide a bit of analysis and then car geeks like me would keep going back to it for advice.

Luckily, I do know enough about what I’m doing to jump right in. The first thing I did was try out a Mercedes-AMG A45 at the Willow Springs Horse Thief Mile. When I played the pre-release version for our preview, I found that some of the road cars were excessively blunted. No, the A45 isn’t a race car in the real world, but it is a seriously sharp instrument, and I enjoyed the virtually identical CLA45 at the Horse Thief Mile a ton when I got a chance to play. But in the preview version of Project Cars 2 it understeered so badly that I was genuinely wondering if I had found a bug of some sort.

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Luckily, whatever was causing that particular trouble appears to have been fixed. It’s still a bit harder to set the front end of that particular car than I expect, but it’s well within a reasonable margin of error. It also must be said that while the A45 is a precision machine, it does suffer from some understeer as a result of AMG’s baffling decision to keep the all-wheel-drive system strongly front-biased.

From there I tried to get a feel for as many of the game’s play-spaces and toys as possible. Trying all of them would have taken far more time than I have, but I ran the gamut from the new (to Project Cars) World Rallycross cars in all kinds of weather to sports cars to GT3 cars to a not-quite-complete run at the Indy 500. Project Cars tops out at 32 cars on the track at one time, and tradition for the Indy 500 is that 33 cars always start. Sometimes this weird tradition gets some rookies in there that wouldn’t have otherwise had a shot, and they tend to either cock things up and take out a few friends or make a name for themselves over the course of a few hours on a hot and muggy day in middle-America.

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That brings me to one of the flaws present in the first Project Cars that hasn’t been addressed quite as well as I had hoped: the AI, while usually solid and predictable, still has these race-ending outbursts of raw aggression from time to time. They don’t come as often as they did in the first game, but you are going to get rear-ended (HARD) at some point when you’re really not expecting it, or nudged into the unforgiving concrete that is the Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s outer wall. I was having a nice, clean, enjoyable race – going flat-out into turn 1 – when some digital jerk in Marco Andretti’s car slammed me into the wall for no reason whatsoever. I couldn’t finish the race and a giant pile-up formed behind me. Even the instigator, Marco’s evil doppelgänger, lost a few places.

This behaviour seems much more at home in the rallycross races, but it can still be frustrating. Rallycross does feel solid, though it can be hard to get your wheels to really dig in to the gravel and get to the good stuff that lives an inch or two below the surface. If rallying is what you want, you’re better off with a dedicated rally sim (I enjoyed Dirt 4 quite a bit), but Rallycross is an effective and enjoyable diversion here.

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Eventually, I decided to jump into a career. Starting in karts is as close as you’re going to get to a racing school here, and it’s the logical place to start, so karts it was. As compared to the preview, they’re still just as twitchy as real karts but the slip happened a lot less suddenly. Even a really hardcore tyre gives a good amount of warning to someone who has been taught to pay attention, and that feeling is here. Yes, a kart or formula car is almost always on the verge of losing traction, but you get that utterly important moment of “wiggle-butt” to tell you that you’re pushing too hard… or just being stupid. That feedback is the difference between sliding around a corner in a sphincter-clenching drift or just crashing out, and it’s very much appreciated here.

From karts I moved into sports car racing, and I think this is where this game shines the most. The GT3 cars in particular just felt right. While I haven’t driven a GT3 car in the real world, I have been lucky enough to sit behind the wheels of some race cars of slightly lesser prestige, and I got a few lovely nostalgic flashbacks. The Aston Martin in particular clicked with me, and I think I’ll be coming back to it often.

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The career is really the heart of Project Cars 2, and it dares you to put in the work to make it to the top in all of the game’s disciplines, encompassing World Rallycross, open wheel cars and several different formats of sports car racing. At the same time, there’s the realization that this is a game, and as a result your career is peppered with manufacturer drives, earned by kicking ass in a particular manufacturer’s car, and invitational events, earned by simply kicking ass. If you haven’t earned anything, there are regular community challenges where you can try to catch the ghost car of whoever is winning the challenge right now.

If that level of structured diversion isn’t doing it for you, the sheer amount of settings available on the custom, one-off events mean you can design whatever bizarre race you fancy. If you want to take Rallycross cars around the Monaco Grand Prix course, you can do that, and if you’d rather organize a race made up entirely of 32 gorgeous 1952 Mercedes-Benz 300SLs racing up the Pacific Coast Highway, you can do that too. Variety is the spice of life, and in real life nobody is willing to insure this sort of lunatics variety; so carpe diem!

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Project Cars 2 addresses most of the flaws of its predecessor while expanding its scope, and in doing so has carved out a new niche for the series. It’s not the absolute best sim for any given discipline – if you’re really into Rallycross, get Dirt 4, and if you’re really into open wheel cars, spring for iRacing (if it’s in the budget) – but if you just want to buy one game that allows you to keep coming back and mixing it up, the sheer variety of tracks, cars, race formats, and options means that this game will keep you happy. It might not be the absolute best in any of its classes, but if you want to race and have fun in a bunch of ways without buying a bunch of expensive games, this might be your golden ticket.

Project CARS 2 is out on September 22nd for Windows and is available via Steam for £44.99.

28 Comments

  1. J Arcane says:

    But in the preview version of Project Cars 2 it understeered so badly that I was genuinely wondering if I had found a bug of some sort.

    Honestly, this one quote could some up just about every PC sim racer I’ve tried. At times the word “sim” just seems to translate into “every car understeers so badly it might as well be a drag racer; prepare to spend your time careening off walls until you get angry and quit.” I don’t know who the hell is making these games, but honestly despite the developer, they all seem to drive exactly the same: like garbage.

    All I have ever wanted on PC is a decent competitor to the “sim-lite” games like Forza and Gran Turismo. I had hoped that Assetto Corsa would turn out to be that game, and early builds were promising, but then the sim fans got hold of it and later builds pretty much played like every other damn PC racer.

    To this day the only game that’s really scratched that itch for me is the original GRID, which was still punishing as hell, but at least the cars drove like cars and not metro trains. Shame what they did to the series from there. :(

    • vahnn says:

      Are you braking lightly while going into turns? You need to brake a tiny amount to transfer the weight to the front of the car, helping the wheels secure their grip and allow you to steer while also lightening the load on the rear tires, making it easier to enter a skid (if you want to).

      Sorry if you know that and I’m insulting you, but most times I hear that complaint, the complainer didn’t know that fact!

    • ColonelFlanders says:

      “At least the cars drove like cars”

      I must say I have never driven a car that drives like the cars in GRID. Not to say that it wasn’t a fun game, it was; but the handling model was about as realistic as rolling a matchbox car round your bedroom while shouting “vroooom!”.

      Also re the understeer problem, that is usually a setup issue. Most developers put pretty ‘flat’ setups on the cars in-game, which usually tends toward understeer, but that can so easily be changed with brake bias and suspension tweaks.

    • ResonanceCascade says:

      That’s because cars really understeer at triple digit speeds, sims just lack the sensation of speed so it doesn’t feel like you’re actually going that fast.

      • UncleLou says:

        I was just about to say that. Cars understeer when you’re too fast (and don’t have enough weight/grip on the frontwheels). What you want is probably not a sim, but a more arcadey game, like GRID. Which is a good game, but doesn’t feel a lot like driving a car.

        What you want is totally fine, but don’t blame the (wrong) game or genre.

        But anyway, since you mentioned Forza, Forza 7 is out in a few weeks (on PCs as well), but I think you’ll find cars understeer in Forza as well if you’re too fast.

        edit:
        Do give Forza Horizon a spin though – there’s a demo on the Windows store. You need Windows 10, but it could be just what you’re looking for.

    • LacSlyer says:

      As others have mentioned, it sounds like you actually want the exact opposite of what you’re requesting. The mechanics of games like AC, iRacing, PCars and numerous other sims is vastly superior to those of the more arcade type in terms of how realistic they are to actually driving a car at these speeds. So realistic in fact that it does matter how and when you brake, how much throttle you give it, and how you turn. The physics of the car matters, and driving cars at max speeds causes these physics to become more important, as any minor shift in weight can spin you out or get you through the corner a quarter second faster.

      If you’re not experienced enough in it then these games can feel extremely frustrating if you’re not willing to learn how to actually play them. It’s not simply a matter of pushing a button for throttle and another for braking and turning when needed. Racing is a fine art and it takes a ton of experience to be capable of driving a car at max speed around a track, in real life and these games. That’s not a knock on you, but just the reality of these games. If you want more arcade like racing games there are plenty of those available.

      • Anti-Skub says:

        On PC? Are there? We only just recently started getting Forza, and that’s pretty much the only good light-simulation game available.

        • J Arcane says:

          There really aren’t.

          Partly because every game that tries gets bombed with negative reviews from the sort of people who replied to my comment.

          There is a middle ground between “literal F1 trainer” and “Mario Kart”, but to hear PC racing “fans” talk about it, that doesn’t exist. Anything that doesn’t handle and play like a SimBin game is “arcadey” and you’re just a bad player for not enjoying it.

          This is why I wind up buying a console once every few years, so I can play a game for normal humans.

          • ResonanceCascade says:

            Dude, you’re conflating two different things. No one here is saying simcade games are bad. But to say that understeer = not driving like a real car is baloney.

            Anyway, just browsing through the simcade games on there (F1 2016, GRID, Dirt, etc.) all of them have good-to-excellent reviews, so I’m not sure what games are being review bombed by, er, us.

            Most people would like to have more expansive lite racers like PGR for the PC, but there are some options out there.

            Also, what it sounds like you really want is Project Cars with the assists left on. It’s not far off the games you listed.

    • KastaRules says:

      Wait. Wait. Wait.
      Sims just beg to be played with the proper peripherals, what are you playing AC with?
      You need a wheel and a good one to really get it to shine: I used to play it with a Logitech G25 and it was ok but now that I play with a Fanatec CS V2 + Pedals V3 it is an absolute blast.
      With a joypad… don’t even bother!

  2. vahnn says:

    “…if you’re really into Rallycross, get Dirt 4…”

    I was one of the biggest fans of Dirt 4, but I just went back to Dirt Rally for a few days, and then picked up WRC 7 on Friday… Don’t get Dirt 4. Get WRC 7 or Dirt Rally. (Speaking of, how about a WRC 7 review?!)

    Glad to hear the sports and GT3 cars are the crown of PC2, that’s what I was hoping. I don’t really have any interest in indy or rallycross. Still not sure if I’m going to pick this up, though. At least not right away. WRC 7 will be holding my attention for quite some time.

    • Faldrath says:

      So WRC7 is actually good? That’s a surprise, I’ll need to find a review or two.

      • caerphoto says:

        It’s not as good as Dirt Rally, imo, but it’s still good. The tracks look nice, and there’s a lot of them, but the road surfaces aren’t as detailed as Dirt Rally (or Dirt 4). Plus there’s only modern cars, whereas Dirt Rally/4 has RWD cars from the 70s and 80s that are loads of fun to drive. The FFB isn’t great, and it doesn’t work well with more than one peripheral.

        That said, if you’ve played Dirt Rally to death, WRC7 is a good one to scratch the rally itch – the stages are fun to drive and the handling is fine.

      • USER47 says:

        WRC 7 is another step in right direction. Main thing are really great stages, that completely wipe the floor with anything generated by DiRT 4. It could still use some polish in terms of performance, camera option etc, but the amount of content itself makes it worth the money – 13 locations with really nicely designed stages, monstrous 2017 WRC cars, decent sound and handling…

    • Cleave says:

      What’s the problem with Dirt 4? I wasn’t going to get it until they add VR support anyway but it would be good to know, I was quite looking forward to it.

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        Grizzly says:

        It’s not Dirt Rally 2. Or atleast, it’s not a straight upgrade over Dirt Rally in the same way that F1 2017 was a straight upgrade over F1 2016.

        I like Dirt 4, I love the procedurally generated stages, I love the broad selection of cars, I love the rallycross and Landrush. Lots of people have critiqued the handling for not being like Dirt Rally, and the stages are, due to their procedurally generated nature, hardly as iconic. Dirt 4 is the official FIA WRX game, yet only has 5 tracks, 3 of which were already in Dirt Rally. There are a lot of cool things in there, and I appreciate them – but for a lot of people they feel lacklustre, and the way some aspects of the game are currently don’t allow the good bits to shine. For instance, the damage and mechanical issue modelling of Dirt 4 is a lot more extensive then it was in Rally, but the repair system makes it too easy to get your car back in full working order so it’s rare that you get to experience those bits. It’s a bit lacklustre and anemic in that regard, the result of building an entirely new game upon an entirely new engine with all the caveats that come with that.

        It not having VR is a symptom of that, really. I *do* think it’s a massive improvement, engine wise, but racing sim fans are nothing if not conservative, and that has hurt Dirt 4’s reception. Had it been released in early access or as an addon to Dirt Rally it would have been far better recieved.

  3. Faldrath says:

    Thanks for another good review, even though I’ll steer clear of whatever SMS does (because of their questionable business practices and the way their community management works).

    More racing reviews, please! WRC7, as mentioned above, there’s also the new F1 game, and Automobilista should be “finished” in an update or two, so it would be nice to see a full review of that too.

  4. Vandelay says:

    May or may not be a question that the reviewer can answer, but how is the VR in this iteration?

    I picked up the first for the VR and it was pretty great, but the graphics were a bit average, particularly cars at distance that became very pixelated, but this might just be an issue with the tech in this generation.

    Does PC2 improve on it much or does it suffer the same issue?

  5. GomezTheChimp says:

    Rallycross in Dirt 4 suffers from the same problem as it does in Dirt, namely lack of content: not enough locations or cars to make it anything more than an enjoyable diversion. What a waste of a license.
    As for open-wheelers, I think iracing would be a very poor-and expensive-choice; as a multiplayer only game, it can be very intimidating for new players. Personally I`d go for Raceroom; they may not have any official licenses, but their homemade efforts are fantastic: FR Junior, FR 3, FR2, Taatus, FR US and a fantasy monster, FR X-17 which blends a V10 engine with a 2017 F1 chassis and is fast enough to lap the Nordschleife in less than 5 minutes (although sadly not by me). Combine these cars with the custom championships and you can have a cod career mode which works quite well.
    WRC7 would get my vote as favourite rally game if it supported separate wheels/pedals; unfortunately it doesn`t, and while it works quite well with a controller, the immersion`s lost and for me that means refund time.

  6. Orumo says:

    Good article! It would be great to have an updated review with the online part of the game once it is out.

    So interested if it is any good in this regard.

  7. HoboDragon says:

    So what’s different other than nicer graphics (presumably) and a different car line-up?
    I didn’t care for the AI and the handling of PC1 and it sounds as if PC2 doesn’t want to cater to casual players in this iteration either? Though that doesn’t seem to be fully true either since it doesn’t really have a separate niche with current line-up of racing games (incl. upcoming ones)?

  8. Aardvark892 says:

    As a strictly off-line player, Project Cars 2 seems to be doing the same thing to disappoint that the first edition did. You cannot specify exactly which cars you are racing against, other than “exact match”, “same class”, or “mixed class”. It’s the one thing that keeps driving me back to Assetto Corsa. In AC, I can specify exactly which cars I want to race against. Heck, in Custom Championships, I can even give the AI drivers the names of my friends and family. Sure, I know that to hardcore sim racers this is a non-issue, but I really enjoy (because I’m sooo bad at racing games) setting up a race between myself in a sports car and the Ai in a lesser car, so I can have at least a small chance of finishing the race without having to dumb down the AI skill and aggression levels. I also like setting up races between two cars from two different time periods to see how they would do against each other. I set the AI skill to 100, and I put myself in a slow or regular car in third place. Then I just watch the action from the replay. It’s like watching races on TV; races that the world never got to see.

    Sorry for rambling. That one issue, however, always drives me back to Assetto Corsa, no matter if I actually (yes actually) do like Project Cars 1 more. If Assetto Corsa 2 ever shows up with weather and time of day, I’ll probably go back to it and give up on PC and PC2 for good.

    • Aardvark892 says:

      Oops. Can’t edit if I leave and come back.

      I wanted to add that even so, I’ve got PC2 pre-purchased and sitting smiling at me like a crazy little monster in my Steam games list.

      Couldn’t help it. It just looks too good to pass up. Maybe someday someone will mod it or third party program it to let me select AI cars. We can always hope, right?

  9. TheSplund says:

    Ah, the AI issue is probably what is going to redirect my attention back to Assetto Corsa or RFactor2 (and keeping Dirt Rally for my off-roading), quick trials of both seem to show an AI that is less prone to ramming you for no apparent reason. I enjoyed PCars but the often careless AI seem to be able to withstand retaliatory shunts from me (in frustration from being spun off – something I’d not entertain of doing on-line) with little effect at all.

  10. Foosnark says:

    I kinda soured on Project Cars 1 after several runs where the AI just ignored the effects of rain with the wrong tires, combined with the frustration of having to restart some races 10 times because it started you in the back of the pack and every AI car managed to collide with every other car before the first turn, combined with being unable to forefeit/exit events that are just not fun.

    Dirt 4 has been fun, and in a lot of ways feels better to me than Dirt Rally. I really miss Col de Turini and Pikes Peak though, and I’m regretting uninstalling DR for the disk space.

  11. GomezTheChimp says:

    This is priceless:link to youtube.com
    Surely the award for “worst a.i. in a sim ever” goes to Pcars2?

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      edna says:

      To be fair, that is bloody funny. Thanks for the link.

      I always found that PCars has its problems, but being able to play whichever car/race I enjoy from the off, with a reasonable (but manageable) level of sim-ness, is invaluable. Forza drove me crazy immediately with all its intro scenes and progression. Just let me race!