There is a reason why there are two distinct types of driving games: there are also two distinct types of driving gamers. Some want an arcade-style experience which gives a sense of the thrill of driving fast, without worrying about whether it actually resembles what happens on real-life roads or tracks. Others – typically with dreams about becoming a real racing driver – crave simulation-style realism.
Only a brave game would try to straddle both those areas. But that's exactly what the former London-based Slightly Mad Studios attempted with 2015's surprise smash-hit Project Cars. That game certainly leaned more towards the simulation end of the genre, but it was by no means intimidating for more casual gamers.
For the sequel it's a similar tale, so long as you're interested in cars and their workings. For Project Cars 2 has a pretty clear barrier to entry: regardless of driving talent, you'll want a basic knowledge of principles like racing lines and weight transfer if you're going to enjoy playing it. Does it make for a vast improvement over the original?
Project Cars 2 review: Tinker, tailor...
It's not all racing action in Project Cars 2. You will also have to tinker around with car setup in order to progress through the Career mode, although at least a virtual Race Engineer will respond to your feedback and make changes accordingly. Project Cars 2 doesn't indulge in hand-holding like, say, Gran Turismo's racing licence element, which effectively teaches the basics of track-driving.
If that sounds acceptable, you're in for a treat: Project Cars 2 comprehensively plugs the first game's glaring gaps – many of which were functions of it being a crowd-funded effort from an indie studio – and builds on its strengths. The result is the most authentic and wide-ranging facsimile of the wide world of motorsports we have yet encountered.
Whereas Project Cars' roster of cars was pretty threadbare – missing many of the biggest motor-racing marques – and its collection of classic circuits somewhat patchy, Project Cars 2 impresses on both counts. It has added new types of motorsports: most notably a fully licensed evocation of IndyCar, plus rallycross and ice-racing (which are fun but, ultimately, a tad gimmicky).
The vast majority of the world's most iconic circuits are present and insanely detailed – often in various configurations – as is a mouth-watering collection of classic racing cars from yesteryear. Thus, for example, we were able to race around a 1960s configuration of Silverstone in a 1967 Lotus 49c.
Project Cars 2 review: Make a Career of it
Project Cars 2's Career mode is an absolute dream for those who might once have entertained thoughts of pursuing a motorsports career before life got in the way. While it plausibly mirrors real-life racing, it also offers plenty of flexibility.
Initially, you pick your country and are given a choice of starter formulae – in the UK you can begin your journey in karts, Ginetta Juniors or Formula Rookie single-seaters.
Whenever you finish in the top three of a championship, you can progress to the next tier up the motorsports ladder – at which point you can make radical leaps from, say, Ginetta G40s to single-seaters.
Keep progressing and you will be invited to race in European series, before reaching pinnacles such as the World GT Championship or IndyCar (the game includes IndyCar tracks with corners as well as ovals).
Along the way, you can impress particular car manufacturers, who offer you trials that can lead to works drives. And there are plenty of invitational events where the likes of ice-driving and rallycross come into play.
Project Cars 2 is also very good when it comes to letting you setup fantasy race weekends at particular tracks, in which you can, for example, allow multiple car-classes to compete. That came in pretty handy when Ginetta invited us to compete in a GT4 car at Cadwell Park.
Online, Project Cars 2 is mainly geared towards the hardcore with e-sports ambitions (indeed, there's a whole section for those looking to make the leap from virtual cars to real ones), and the chances are that online you'll be competing against someone with an expensive wheel-and-pedals rig.
But it does make more concessions to the less hardcore among us than its predecessor: a reputation slider in the lobby lets you seek opponents who crave a bit of fun more than an e-sports career. But there's little to stop the hardcore entering such races, so the online side of Project Cars 2 can be a touch intimidating. To be fair, it's easy to setup private races or seasons with mates of similar ability to you.
Project Cars 2 review: Ultra realism
Technologically, Project Cars 2 is fantastic. Slightly Mad Studios has long punched above its weight in that regard, and it has pulled out the stops for its latest game.
After the first title, it revisited its tyre model based on feedback from real-life drivers in various formulae, and it has comprehensively rectified a glaring problem from the first game which meant that once you passed the limits of adhesion, the cars were inordinately tricky to regain control.
Weather looms large, too, meshing with the LiveTrack 3.0 system to provide the sorts of experiences you would encounter in real life, which end up teaching you a lot about track driving. We even found ourselves racing around a foggy Brands Hatch, and managed to win a Silverstone round of the Ginetta Juniors which started off dry before the heavens opened after a couple of laps, leaving us aquaplaning like mad on slicks at the end of the race.
If you like your racing games full of ephemera like podium ceremonies and meetings with sponsors or agents, you won't find them in Project Cars 2. It eschews such bells and whistles in order to concentrate on the racing which, depending on your outlook, could be good or bad. But it's so authentic that, even in the junior formulae, you will learn things about yourself.
The sheer amount of feel you get from the cars is astonishing. In that respect, Project Cars 2 absolutely rules.
If you're a committed motor-racing enthusiast with an interest in aspects like car setup and a basic working knowledge of the principles of racing, Project Cars 2 is a must-buy.
It's so good that it will comprehensively teach you just how much innate driving talent you possess – and it won't exclude you if you ultimately fall short on that front.
If what you seek is a purely arcade-style driving experience, you'll probably find it a bit much, though. But you'd also be missing out big-time, as it's undoubtedly one of the finest racing games you can buy.
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