NOT MANY people would envy the developers racing to launch new motor racing games. Expectations are huge, not only in terms of graphics — near-photo realism is expected— but also with regard to immersion; that feeling that you’re really there, behind the wheel of a Le Mans prototype, classic GT or the latest touring car.
The competition is intense: Gran Turismo for Playstation or Forza for Xbox, to name the best-known console series, or iRacing and Assetto Corsa for the PC-based hard-core gamers.
But despite this, in 2015 a London-based studio launched Project Cars for both PC players and console racers (Playstation4 and XBox One). It had a unique selling point: it was a game designed for everyone, by everyone. Funding came in part through the purchase of tool packs that allowed independent coders to build their own piece of the game, which meant the team behind it wasn’t just a few hundred programmers locked in a dark building; it was 80,000 people dotted around the globe. Their reward was a share of the profits.
The game sold in decent numbers— 1.2m globally for PS4, which is more than a third of the sales of the last Sony-backed Gran Turismo game, which is impressive for a new name with no legacy, in such a competitive market. Even more so, given that Project Cars is arguably much harder to get to grips with; it turned out to be much more of a simulation than a pick-up-and-play arcade racer.
And now we have Project Cars 2, and let’s be open about it from the start: if you struggled to get to grips with the first game, you’re not going to find this one any easier. It’s tricky. So tricky. But boy does it look good and sound good, and it’s filled with more cars, more circuits, more detail and more racing driver involvement.
As is the custom, the game opens with an emotional introductory video, showing off the depth of vehicles at your thumb tips. Classic Le Mans and single-seater machinery, current supercars, oval racers and beasts from World Rallycross — the latter new for Project Cars 2.
Once in the menus, you’re guided at each stage by a helpful voiceover to the customary mix of career and single race modes. In career mode, you can choose to start “at the bottom” — karts, Formula Rookie or Ginetta Juniors — or jump straight in, higher up the ladder. There are six tiers of championship, with the lower four all accessible from the start, allowing access to the Renault Clio Cup, Formula Renault 3.5, Porsche Cayman Cup, Lamborghini Super Trofeo or LMP3 (Le Mans Prototype 3) series, for example.
We were useless at the game, but improved enough in each discipline to suggest there are real rewards for those who stick at it
Each discipline has sub-series, so for example you can start in Kart One and select either the UK championship or the Slightly Mad Series (named after the game developer), before progressing to the world championship. You then choose your livery, which determines which team you join and, after a cursory click, you sign a contract to start racing with them. The player menu then affords you views of the upcoming race, the race calendar, championship positions and an email screen — messages from the team, updating you on your progress, are de rigour in racing games now. A news ticker from Autosport emulates other such reality-mimicking devices in other games, such as DriveClub.
The meat of Project Cars 2 is the racing, of course. As with the first game, wherever they choose to start racing, and with whatever team, inexperienced e-racers will find themselves facing the wrong way on the circuit and bouncing off tyre barriers before they know it. Finishing a race, let alone mixing it with the artificially-intelligent competition, requires skill, time and patience. A lot of patience.
This is the result of tinkering from professional drivers, who have fine-tuned the physics across the board to cater, presumably, for the new generation of professional e-racers – virtual racing now being a big sport in its own right. Ben Collins, the former Top Gear Stig, is one of a number of real racers who have lent their professional services to the game, to help make the handling as realistic as possible. Collins also offers musings on racing and its heroes, heard over the epic Gladiator-meets-Bond orchestral menu music, which sounds corny but in fact improves atmosphere and emotional engagement.
And a word of caution: as with the first game, if you haven’t got a steering wheel and pedals, forget it: you cannot get good at this game with a joypad.
Having failed to impress anyone in karts, even with wheel and pedals, we tried out the other disciplines via the Custom Race menu. There’s a huge selection of vehicles to be found here from required manufacturers like Audi, BMW, Ford, Honda, Ferrari, McLaren, Mercedes, Renault and Toyota, but also some important small-fries, such as Caterham, KTM, Ginetta, BAC and Radical. The game throws in a few other obscure vehicles, such as an Agajanian Indycar, and even a couple of fictional outfits. There are 180 cars in total, covering nine disciplines and 29 motor sport series.
The number of tracks available is equally as impressive: we counted 53 locations (officially there are more than 60), with over 140 configurations — the largest track roster on any console racer— including the big-hitters such as Nurburgring Nordschleife, Le Mans, Monaco, Bathurst, Silverstone, Daytona, Indianapolis and Imola, but also other fun tracks such as Cadwell Park, Knockhill, and Rouen, which hosted five Formula One Grands Prix until Jo Schlesser’s death there in 1968.
We selected an Opel Astra touring car for a race at Silverstone, followed by a VW Polo Rallcross car at the Dirtfish track, then the Aston Martin Vantage GTE at Le Mans and finally the wonderful, classic Aston Martin DBR1 at historic Monza (laid out and dressed to look like it did in 1970). We were useless at all, but improved enough at each to suggest there are real rewards for those who stick at it.
We particularly enjoyed the DBR1, with its deep, throaty roar, slow gear-changes and loose, light, tail-happy handling. Changing from fourth to fifth gear emits a fluttering of the engine note, and managing to balance the throttle, and hold the car on the edge of adhesion through the famous Curva Parabolica, proved a rare pleasure. We suspect the historic elements of the game, which includes further time-warped circuits and classic vehicles, including a 1977 Porsche 935, early 1990s DTM cars, a handful of Group C cars and a number of the most famous Lotus F1 cars of all time, are the highlights of Project Cars 2.
Very tricky to master, which will put off the arcade racer crowd, but impressive attention to detail, realistic handling, speedy, atmospheric menus and a mouth-watering array of cars and tracks continue to make Project Cars one of the best racing games available. Its historic elements are the most satisfying, and remind us that this is a game by enthusiasts for enthusiasts.
Project Cars 2 is available for pre-order now on X-Box, PS4 and Steam OS ahead of release September 22, 2017. Visit ProjectCarsGame.com for more details.
Project Cars vs Project Cars 2: what’s new?
|FEATURE||PROJECT CARS||PROJECT CARS 2|
|TOTAL TRACK LAYOUTS||110||146|
|GAME MODES||CAREER, QUICK RACE, FREE PRACTICE, MULTIPLAYER, TIME TRIAL, COMMUNITY EVENTS||CAREER, QUICK RACE, MOTORSPORT PRESETS, FAVOURITES, FREE PRACTICE, MULTIPLAYER, ESPORTS, TIME TRIAL, REGION-SPECIFIC COMMUNITY EVENTS|
|12K TRIPLE SCREEN (PC)||YES||YES|
|PS4 PRO SUPPORT||NO||YES|
|XBOX ONE X SUPPORT||NO||YES|
|VR (OCULUS & VIVE)||YES||YES|
|LOOSE-SURFACE RACNG||NO||YES: RALLYCROSS + ICE RACING|
|DYNAMIC WEATHER||YES||YES: YES + LOCALISED & SEASONAL|
|SNOW & ICE||NO||YES|