There was a huge amount of excitement around the original Project CARS game. Much of this came from the fact that it was mostly crowdfunded (to the tune of a hefty $3million), instead of being backed by one of the big publishers, which in turn led developers Slightly Mad Studios to drip-feed tidbits and updates to their backers and those who had purchased preorders. This, combined with an aggressive marketing campaign and plenty of media coverage, allowed the hype to build to unrealistic levels by the time of relief.
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Which is certainly not to say that the first Project CARS was a bad game when it was finally released. In fact, it was a very good one. It was a worthy challenger to the racing sim kings like Gran Turismo and Forza, which is an amazing achievement in itself for a developer which had only created more casual racing games before (such as Need for Speed: Shift). It’s high praise indeed, then, to declare that Project CARS 2 is an improvement on the original in almost every way.
With a racing game that’s geared towards realism, the number one priority is, of course, the handling. Fortunately, Project CARS 2 positively excels in this respect. The first game’s handling was challenging… but often in a bad way, mostly thanks to baffling inconsistencies which broke the illusion of realism.
Achieving competitive times in Project CARS 2 can still be hard as nails – particularly when you ramp up the difficulty to more lifelike settings – but it never feels unfair. Instead, it simply feels right. When you mess up (and you will do early on, a lot!), it’s definitely your fault, which makes it feel even more satisfying when you do put together a dream lap. More casual driving game fans can simply leave the vast array of settings for each car alone, but true sim aficionados will lose happy hours tinkering with the suspension, the gear ratios, the anti-roll bar, and so on, all of which have noticeable effects on how each car handles.
Let’s zoom out for a moment, however, because whilst it’s undoubtedly crucial that Slightly Mad Studios nailed the under-the-hood aspects, there’s a lot to like on the surface too. The first Project CARS was a fine-looking game, but its sequel is drop-dead gorgeous.
The most notable improvements is the weather system, which whilst present in the first game, is far better here. Whether you want to nervously wind your way around a twisting mountain rode in frozen conditions, or power around a circuit in a full-on thunderstorm, Project CARS 2 has you covered, and it feels impressively – sometimes terrifyingly – realistic. The dynamic weather effects have also been improved upon: if your race goes long enough, you might begin in dry conditions, suffer through an intense rain shower, then see the puddles on the track dry up as the sun emerges once more. The level of immersion here is genuinely impressive.
Project CARS 2 isn’t lacking in terms of actual content either; in fact, it’s absolutely packed. There are over 180 cars to try out, including a bolstered selection of Lamborghinis and Ferraris. You can race across a variety of disciplines, from karting, to touring, to formula 1. There are a whopping 60 venues to race around, from favourites like the Nürburgring to more creative efforts like the California Highway.
In short, you won’t run out of things to do in Project CARS 2 anytime soon! This massive chunk of content is nicely curated into a career mode which has also seen significant improvements on its predecessor. That version could feel a little too open-ended, whereas this career mode has much more structure to it. You’re still free to begin in whichever discipline you like, but there’s more of a prescribed career path which makes reaching the top feel all the more satisfying.
The only possible criticism we can level at Project CARS 2 is the AI, which is the one area which hasn’t quite been improved upon enough since the first game. That being said, for one reason or another this is something which the vast majority of sim racing games have struggled with, so we can’t exactly single out Project CARS 2 in that respect.
Project CARS 2 is a beautiful game, stuffed with engaging content, which improves upon its predecessor in almost every meaningful way. In a year in which we’re getting new entries into both the Forza and Gran Turismo series, it’s testament to Slightly Mad Studios’ skill that we’re genuinely struggling to see how those industry titans can top this effort. For fans of simulation-focused racing games, Project CARS 2 is an absolute must-buy.
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