Project Cars 2 preview: Hands-on with the upcoming driving sim


Bandai Namco has called Project CARS 2 “the next evolution in the award-winning racing series” with the promise of featuring some of the most iconic cars and tracks from the world of motor racing to provide the “ultimate driver journey” experience. While it sounds exciting, has developer Slightly Mad Studio delivered on the bold claim?

We recently went hands-on with the upcoming Project CARS 2, and here’s what we thought of the latest driving sim. Bear in mind that we played a beta build of the game, and small details of what we experienced may change before the game is released in September.

If you can’t wait for the game to be released, you may want to take a look at our lists of the best PC games, best PS4 games and best Xbox One games to tide you over until then.

Project CARS 2: UK release date and pre-orders

Project CARS 2 is set to be released in the UK on 22 September 2017 for PS4, Xbox One and PC. Those interested in picking up a pre-order can do so now via Steam (£44.99), PlayStation Store (£49.99) and Microsoft Store (£49.99), along with physical game pre-orders from the likes of Amazon and GAME.

Project Cars 2 preview

Compared to the original Project CARS game that was released back in 2015, Project CARS 2 is a huge improvement in just about every way – and that’s an impressive feat considering just how detailed the first driving simulator was.

Project CARS 2 UI

But before we jump into the details of the gameplay and the variety of cars and tracks available, we need to address the UI: one of our biggest complaints about the original game. The UI in the first game was overly complicated for new users and it took a while to find the game type you were looking for.

That’s all gone in Project CARS 2 – while the UI has been stripped back on the surface, it doesn’t remove any of the customisation that made the first game so popular. It’s much simpler to jump straight into the game, while those that want to customise the track, layout, car performance or even the weather system, are still free to do so.

There’s even a handy help system that explains what the various options ‘do’ to the game in simple terms, allowing non-petrol heads to get more out of the driving sim without having to Google each term! It opens up the customisation from dedicated fans to just about anyone interested in cars and racing, and was badly needed in a game where the customisation is so deep and detailed.

Cars, tracks and graphics

Moving beyond the UI, the cars available in Project CARS 2 are stunning. The cars are incredibly detailed, from the individual (functioning) dials on the in-car dashboard to the pattern of the carbon fibre. Small details like way that sunlight shimmers off the body of supercars and the way rain is swept across the windscreen in Project CARS 2 really make the game feel more realistic, and help with immersion.

However, while the cars themselves are stunning, the same can’t be said for the tracks – another complaint we had with the original game. While the graphics are much better on PC than on PS4 or Xbox One (as with most games), even running the game on PC provided underwhelming environmental graphics. Blades of grass were pixelated and elements of the Brands Hatch circuit we played on looked noticeably blocky, even when driving at 100mph+.

Admittedly, the game is about racing rather than appreciating the detail of the world its set in as it’ll be a blur most of the time, but it’s worth pointing out nonetheless. We’ll be sure to ramp up the graphics settings on our PC once we get our hands on the final game and will let you know if it’s true of all tracks, or whether it’s a bit of an anomaly.  

Speaking of tracks, there are many available in Project CARS 2 – in fact, the developers have confirmed that there are 60+ tracks present in the latest game with a total of 139 layouts. That, coupled with the fact that there are over 170 cars available in the game, from go-karts to supercars and everything in between, there is enough variety to keep even the most dedicated petrol head occupied for quite a while.

Driving and handling

Each of the 170+ cars available were developed with the idea of being as close to the real thing as humanly possible, and Slightly Mad Studios worked with a range of car manufacturers to make sure that the digital copies were up to scratch.

In fact, they were so dedicated to the idea of making the cars as true-to-life as possible that they got test drivers from the likes of Ferrari to drive the cars in a driving simulator to confirm that they handle as they would in real life.

This means that the handling is vastly improved in Project CARS 2, especially the physics and handling when cars are “over the limit” – a big point of criticism from fans of the first game. It hasn’t dumbed down the controls though, as there’s still a learning curve when jumping into the game for the first time – especially when it comes to taking corners, something we’re particularly bad at!

One of the biggest improvement is be in the drifting department, as the developers have worked hard to make sure that cars can go ‘sideways’ in the new game, an especially important feature for those that want to get the most out of the new Rally-cross driving mode. While it’s still hard to control a drift in the new game (as it is in real life!), it’s much more realistic than it once was.

We also found Project CARS 2 easier to play using a controller, although it’s still more punishing than the experience you get when using a proper steering wheel setup.

Improved background systems

The systems used in Project CARS 2 are more advanced than ever, too. First up, there’s a more advanced AI system in use, providing more of a realistic challenge when going head-to-head with NPCs.

The developer has said that the AI system provides more natural gameplay for AI-powered drivers, meaning that the drivers may make human errors like not replacing worn down tires on a long race and occasionally taking a corner completely wrong. They’ll also act more human too, with AIs becoming more competitive (and even shunting the competition!) when they’re in a high position close to the finish line.  

There’s also a more detailed weather system that includes seasonal weather that’ll have different effects on different tracks – races set in autumn may feature rain that’ll make the track more slippery, etc.

The weather conditions can be manually selected in any custom race setup, with users even able to select a wide variety of different weather conditions. The system calculates how long each weather system should stay in play based on the race, and will dynamically transition between each weather condition throughout the race for a more realistic feel.  

That’s also possible in part thanks to the introduction of LiveTrack 3, which dynamically changes the quality of the track based on the environment. For example, if it’s rainy, it’ll have a different effect on control and traction compared to a dry track.

It goes deeper than that though, as the developer has even included things like dynamic drying lines on the track for extra authenticity. Wet areas on the track dry differently depending on light levels, driving conditions and even unevenness in the track – it’s all accurately simulated, and it’s incredibly impressive.

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