In my review of the first Project Cars, I compared the game to the sort of high-end, aspirational automobile that eschews refinement and cuts corners in pursuit of doing one thing—speed—exceptionally well. The metaphor still holds true this time around, only developer Slightly Mad Studios has amped up both halves of the formula. If the original game was a daft supercar, Project Cars 2 is an awe-inspiring hypercar that might singlehandedly redefine driving if it didn’t burst into flames for no apparent reason every 45 minutes.
Let’s start with the positives, because I do want to make sure I give Slightly Mad credit where it’s due. The simulation, the meat of the experience, the tires-on-track bit, is quite impressive. It’s a vastly different beast from the first game, and a much more demanding one, but it works. I tend to be a little Potter Stewart when it comes to handling models in racing sims, but Project Cars 2 passes my test with flying colors. Once you put in the effort, the realism goes from daunting to liberating, especially, in my experience, with the new rallycross events, where you essentially need to flip off all the assists if you want to have any hope of success.
If I had to point to any single major shortcoming in this core gameplay, it would be inconsistency in translating the experience onto a controller. There’s no doubt that some vehicles just feel better than others, not necessarily because they’re “easier” but because they’re a better fit for how Slightly Mad has abstracted away the imprecisions of using an analog stick and triggers.
To wit, I can easily post clean laps with some cars the game lists as the most difficult to control, yet I sometimes struggle with those the game says are the easiest. Some are an absolute dream to push to the limit, or to push past the limit and throw around a corner sideways. Others feel like a constant struggle to find an impossible balance between force and finesse to succeed, like you’re trying to hammer in a nail with a Fabergé egg. I get the sense that even with a hundred more hours of practice under my belt I would still sometimes feel like the controller is a hindrance, not a tool.
If Project Cars 2‘s fundamental driving experience clicks for you, there’s an incredible amount you can do with it, too. The game offers a healthy selection of cars, a frankly ridiculous assortment of tracks, and a wide selection of racing disciplines. I found the extreme level of freedom in the first game to be somewhat paralyzing, but the approach works much better this time around, thanks in part to how many new toys and options have been added to the sandbox. You want to put IndyCars on an ice track? Go for it. You want to set up a 250-lap race that cycles between a blizzard, pouring rain, and sunshine the whole way? You can, and it’ll be an interesting experience thanks to the vast improvements to the game’s dynamic track conditions.
The other main reason the freedom of the game’s quick play races seems more fitting now is a beefed-up career mode that allows for a more traditional sense of progression. You still don’t need to fret at all about unlocking cars or tracks—the content is yours for the taking, from the moment you boot up the game—but once you lock yourself into a career you’re forced to make actual choices and build up experience season after season. You can no longer jump straight into a top tier motorsport, and even once you get to the highest level of competition there are now other disciplines to try out up there.
The races throughout career mode also feel more authored this time around, as well, with series that keep you on your toes by mixing up tracks and weather in a satisfying way. That’s equally true of the new one-off invitational events, which offer a focus on a particular vehicle, discipline, track type, or historical era. The manufacturer drives are a little less exciting—you basically just unlock these by racing in one make of car a handful of times, then get four races using that brand—but they’re still a welcome way to break up the pace of your career.
That’s not to say, however, that the career is enjoyable throughout. It’s not, and the reason why is also probably the game’s biggest single shortcoming: its AI. Like the first game, there’s an adjustable slider that lets you control how skilled your opponents are. Unlike the first game, it seems to have a completely random effect on the actual outcome of the race.
I played through all of Project Cars with the difficulty on the default setting, and always felt challenged without being overwhelmed. Suffice it to say, that’s not what happened in Project Cars 2. In one particularly painful instance, I spent four hours attempting to beat a single race—even after I lowered the difficulty setting to 0 out of a possible 120. The next race, difficulty still on 0, I lapped every other competitor twice. I handily won every race for the rest of the season, too, though not by such a wide margin.
When a second day one patch arrived a day later promising improvements to the AI, I went back to the same race, despite the fact that I wrote in my notes during the first go that “I would rather take a bunch of PCP and let a pack of wild dogs bite my genitals than ever do this again.” This time, with the difficulty set on the default of 60, I was able to win without much fuss, so I guess the patch helped somewhat. Then again, I proceeded to once more lap everyone on the following race, still on 60.
I’m not sure if we should settle for “less broken” when it comes to something so fundamental to the gameplay experience. Thanks to the AI, the whole career can feel like a total crapshoot of races that are far too difficult or far too easy. If you’re anything like me, you’ll spend so much time turning assists on and off to handicap yourself and adjusting the AI difficulty to handicap your opponents that it’ll start feeling less like you’re playing the game and more like you’re designing it.
My other big gripe, which I fully realize will only apply to a subset of players, is that the driving line assist is a mess. For those of you too legit to be acquainted with the feature, it projects arrows displaying the ideal racing line onto the track, with colors that change based on when and where you should be braking. Trouble is, it’s completely broken in Project Cars 2. It’s not just that the line no longer appears on straights and gentle curves the way it did in the first game. As an added bonus, it frequently blinks in and out of existence on a whim midway through a turn, taking away the information you’ve been relying on to learn the course. It’s infuriating, and it happens with enough regularity to be a significant detriment to anyone who relies on the feature.
Am I using the driving line as a crutch because I’m too lazy to put in the practice laps to learn the tracks without it? Absolutely, I’ll cop to that. At the same time, if you offer me a crutch and then rip it away from me while I’m using it, that’s pretty much entirely your fault.
And now we come to the smaller sins, of which there are plenty. Project Cars 2is quite possibly the buggiest game I’ve ever reviewed, with the exception of Ride to Hell: Retribution. Yes, some of these glitches had no meaningful effect on gameplay, but enough of them did to make a difference during my playthrough.
I don’t want to belabor my point, but I know that if I’m making a claim like this, on the internet, I need to have what the kids these days call “receipts.” So here are a few of the lowlights of what I experienced playing Project Cars 2.
For this first one, watch the standings in the top left corner to see me magically teleport a lap behind everyone else right as the race begins. This was not a one-time occurrence.
During races, I often felt like the collision detection was ever-so-slightly off, causing me to clip things I should have (just barely) cleared. As you can see below, on at least one occasion I wasn’t just imagining things.
In one of the few online races I was able to complete without being disconnected, I managed to be in both first and second place at the same time.
Sadly, I never actually got a chance to compete in _INVITATIONAL_NAME_.
When you restart a race, any cosmetic damage to your vehicle won’t be reset. The same goes for any physics objects you dislodge on the track, so you’ll often see debris floating in midair, or drive into empty space to discover that, no, there was really an invisible cone there all along. I also discovered, by accident, a foolproof way to extend the effect to, uh, less optional parts of the vehicles.
I’m no expert, but I don’t believe this is proper protocol for exiting the pit.
This next one, I think, needs no introduction.
That happened on Imola, though, so maybe it was just the spirit of Ayrton Senna watching over me.
I could go on, but I won’t. This is already starting to feel cruel, even to me.
Now, I’m fully willing to accept that I might have exceptionally bad luck, and that your average player won’t encounter nearly as many of these issues as I did. But I can only relay my own experience with the game, and bugs like these proved so frequent over the 29 hours I spent with Project Cars 2 that they became impossible to ignore. I actually felt compelled to start documenting them, which is not really my M.O.
Yes, Project Cars 2 has the bones of an exceptional racing game. It makes a spectacular first impression, and even when I was navigating the minefield of problems I encountered I still routinely found myself having a great deal of fun. With some love and care from Slightly Mad, the game may one day live up to its ambitions.
But when you buy into the idea of a driving experience that’s newer, better, and top-of-the-line in every respect, it’s jarring to discover, a few hundred miles in, that what you’ve really got on your hands is a fixer-upper—a project car, if you will.
Project Cars 2 may do a great many things exceptionally well, but it’s hard to look past the mountain of gaffes that quickly pile up on and off the track. Racing, after all, is about results, not potential.
Slightly Mad Studios
E - Everyone
|Project Cars 2 is available on Xbox One, PlayStation 4, PC. Primary version reviewed was for PS4. Review code was provided by Bandai Namco for the benefit of this review. EGM reviews games on a scale of one to five stars.|