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Project CARS 2

Score: 80%
ESRB: Everyone
Publisher: BANDAI NAMCO Games America, Inc.
Developer: Slightly Mad Studios
Media: Download/1
Players: 1; 2 - 16 (Online)
Genre: Racing (Simulation)/ Online

Graphics & Sound:

Project CARS 2 is not for me. A weird way to open a review, given the vaguely positive score you've no doubt already seen. But here's the catch; I consider that first statement an issue of preference, something I cannot and should not blame on the game. I wish for this review to be taken with a grain of salt, as I am not a member of its target audience, and I don't presume to speak for it. Yes, there are things about Project CARS 2 that I like, and there are things about it that I don't like. There are a handful of objective criteria I feel can be applied, despite my general disinterest in the experience it seeks to provide. So moving forward, consider this review more of an evaluation of the development craft employed, rather than a series of personal anecdotes and opinions. Hopefully, by the end, you will know whether or not it is the right game for you.

Austerity gives way to beauty over the first few hours with Project CARS 2. As it should; realism is key in this genre. Any divergence from that is a risk that cannot pay off, given the attention to detail that genre fans are known for. Project CARS 2 chooses not to romanticize its game world through its visuals, and as a result, it feels all the more respectful towards it. Don't get me wrong; its track layouts, texture work, and animation design are all fantastic, but in a humble, unassuming sense. There's an elegance to the interface that both cleanly distinguishes between gameplay offerings and acts as a tribute to everyone involved in the motorsport industry.

Project CARS 2's soundtrack is a bit pretentious. There's lots of orchestral synth with dark, epic melodies set to pounding, driving beats. Perhaps it's perfectly congruous for some, but not for me. Sure, there's an element of danger to motorsport, but most of what I heard wouldn't be out of place in a modern military shooter. Of course, this may very well serve to illustrate my original point -- that this game wasn't made with me in mind. But once you get out onto the track, you'll find that Project CARS 2 has a good ear for all the sonic intricacies of the internal combustion engine -- in all its various and sundry forms.


Gameplay:

Project CARS 2 aspires to offer a comprehensive driving simulator that appeals to the tuner geek in all of us (if, in fact, it exists), and based on the diverse offerings in terms of both car class/ type and gameplay, it succeeds in principle. However, what will prove to be the most contentious subject of discussion is how well it succeeds at each individual one. Nailing it across the board is difficult for any game of this type, much less one as ambitious as Project CARS 2.

All of the game's offerings are neatly contained in a system of interfaces (dubbed "Dashboards") that wouldn't look out of place in any other modern sports sim. A series of tabs keeps everything organized and impossible to confuse with anything else. It's a good thing this exists, because there's a lot of game here, and it's diverse enough to justify its development.

Drivers who fancy themselves aspiring professionals of the discipline of their choosing will gravitate towards the robust and varied Career, in which you take a driver from a nobody to a legend. Events, alliances, sponsorships, all that jazz awaits. It's an interdisciplinarian's dream, though the kitchen sink approach might prove distracted and unfocused for players who like to stick to one particular gameplay variant. By competing and emerging victorious in various events, you'll gain affinity with manufacturers and build up a sterling reputation for yourself. The progression is steady and gratifying, particularly so for players who are willing to make the necessary investment.

Of course, there are options for players who simply want to jump into anything available without all that minutiae, and they can all be found in Quick Play. Here, you can design events of your own, on both the single player and multiplayer front. Or you can jump into the game's smartly-designed server browser, find someone who's already put in the necessary legwork, and join up with them instead. It works pretty well.

The above two paragraphs detail the main bodies of content in Project CARS 2, but there's a wealth of other options, some of which will depend entirely on the strength of the community it builds for itself. From self-taken snapshot and video production to eSports, the game's efforts at building a significant social media presence are admirable.


Difficulty:

I have a strong feeling that Project CARS 2's difficulty level will vary tremendously among players, depending on how much experience and history each one has with this particular subgenre. Simulation racing is designed to deliver an authentic, realistic interpretation of professional motorsports. Considering that professional motorsports are only for the best of the best, it should only follow that Project CARS 2 lacks mercy. And it does.

There's a reason most racing games forgo realism and choose to play it fast and loose with the laws of physics: those laws are restrictive and punishing. But there's an intrinsic satisfaction to successfully learning how to exploit those laws for your own benefit, and that satisfaction is often proportionate to the level of challenge presented. The one offered by Project CARS 2 is substantial, if you have the patience and temperament for all the roadblocks and obstacles that entail.


Game Mechanics:

Inertia. Friction. Damage. If you're not used to those three concepts playing an integral role in your racing games, you will need to approach Project CARS 2 with a different frame of mind. This is not the kind of racer that rewards a driver who has a less-than-perfect relationship with their brake systems, suspension, and tires. Yes, there's ample opportunity to get your machine red-lining on straightaways, but this is a test of what's behind the wheel, not of what's in front of it. While you can turn on a handful of assists ranging from steering to braking to even fuel consumption, the default settings are set to deliver the closest possible experience to "the real thing."

Project CARS 2, like its contemporaries, will live or die on its handling model. And not having partaken of those contemporaries, I'm not the one to ask how it compares. I can explain to you time and again how terrible I am at this game, and it still wouldn't give you the right idea of what to expect. But here's what I can say: it doesn't feel optimized for a controller. There's a tangible delay and stiffness to every in-motion adjustment you make, and that's not good for a game in which tenths and even hundredths of a second can make the difference between victory and defeat. But whether or not this is an anomaly exclusive to the game itself or to the Xbox One controller is unfortunately something I can't say with any degree of confidence.

The tricky thing about Project CARS 2 is that it inhabits a genre occupied by two giants, namely Forza Motorsport and Gran Turismo. Further complicating the matter is the fact that it has decided to throw its hat into the ring despite the imminent arrival of the seventh core entry of both of those. The question that prospective buyers need to ask themselves is "Is Project CARS 2 good enough?" I'm sorry, but I just don't have that answer.


-FenixDown, GameVortex Communications
AKA Jon Carlos

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