Project CARS 2 Has the Edge Over Forza and Gran Turismo in a Few Ways [Hands-On Preview]

I’ve had to chance to play an early preview build of Project CARS 2 for the past few days. To the average person it might simply appear to be yet another racing game, but it’s much more than that. The original Project CARS has remained the most successful new racing IP in the past five years, with more than one million copies sold, an outstanding racing model, and unique characteristics that made it highly recommended among racing enthusiasts.

But that title was crowdfunded and built with limited resources. Despite being an achievement, it was considered a second option amongst most fans of the genre.

This time around things aren’t the same. Bandai Namco Entertainment has become the official publisher of the title, having seen the potential of the series, and looking to invest. Project CARS 2 is going bigger than before, and with an even greater emphasis of simulation.

Building upon the prior game, Project CARS 2 includes a fair number of career paths with an emphasis on European motorsport. Totaling at 9 disciplines with 29 series, the options are organized, identifying the more challenging, high horsepower disciplines on the right side. Toward the left you’ll find options like Go-Kart racing and Formula Rookie for the more inexperienced players. If you’re feeling confident, you’ll want to pick something farther to the right, such as Grand Touring or perhaps even LMR.

RaceDisciplinesProjectCars2

Upon making a selection, this time around there are video introductions to every racing series. You’ll watch cuts from a pre-recorded race that visualizes what you’re in for in cinematic fashion. The game’s new effects are put on full display during these sequences, so you may just want to avoid tapping that Skip button.

RaceIntroProjectCars2

You can then choose your team car from a selection of real-world and fantasy inspired designs. As with the new car roster, the selections are numerous and include most of the notable options you would hope for. In the case of the BMW M3 GT4, there are a formidable 20 options.

RaceTeamProjectCars2

You’ll then sign a contract confirming your team, and signaling the beginning of your journey.

ContractProjectCars2

At this point you can join your first race. Similar to the previous game, the composition is similar to real-life with practice, qualifying, and even formation laps being available. These aren’t required, but are welcomed among racing enthusiasts.

In regards to the main race, you’re able to define the length to make it more manageable if you aren’t into true simulation, or go for something more true-to-life.

RaceDurationProjectCars2

The last step before a race is tuning, a significant element of motorsport. In most cases this doesn’t translate well into video games as tuning numbers is something that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to the untrained player. Need for Speed has done the best in this regard over the years, but in most cases the emphasis is on parts rather than tuning, so it’s missing most of the equation.

Project CARS 2 has a neat solution. Although a full editor is available through Edit Setup, a Race Engineer mode allows you to quickly address any trouble areas you might notice during practice laps.

RaceEngineerProjectCars2

Are you having issues with downforce? Or maybe your suspension is giving you trouble? Simply pick a category.

TuningProjectCasr2

Once you pick a category, you’ll be asked a general question to help distill your path down to the next step.

RaceEngineer3ProjectCars2

Finally, you’ll be presented a final option that will alter your car’s mechanics. The description will help let you know if you’re making a good decision or not. Whether you move forward or not is up to you.

RaceEngineer4ProjectCars2

Once you join a race you’ll notice a few major improvements if you played Project CARS before. Audio design has been given some much-needed attention, not only by improving the quality of sound effects, but also providing greater variation of sounds. Each of the 180 cars have been hand-crafted to emulate their real-world inspiration.

As much as everything up to this point is worth, the real highlight of Project CARS 2 are the handling mechanics. Instead of aspiring to be an entertainment focused game like Gran Turismo, this is a title that desires the respect of the people who understand motorsports most, the people who know how much downforce you need to keep a Bugatti Veyron from taking flight at 250 mph, or how to perform a wheel alignment for maximum optimization.

ProjectCars2

In other words, Project CARS 2 is much more of an iRacing or Assetto Corsa competitor than anything else. If you try flying around a turn in an Aston Martin DB11 without slowing down and hitting the apex just right, you’re likely going to spin off into a wall and lose the race. This is a game that will challenge you to find a rhythm with your car, and understand the physics at play. Put simply, this isn’t the kind of game that will attract people who like to play bumper cars around every corner and lap opponents while listening to Snoop Dogg rap about Gran Turismo 3.

It’s a lot to handle, but extremely rewarding when you’re successful, especially when you’re able to tame the more technically challenging vehicles.

Because of this, Project CARS 2 won’t be for everyone, but it fits nicely into this Fall season’s line-up where Forza Motorsport 7 and Gran Turismo Sport are already competing for the attention of racing casuals. If you happen to meet someone who choses Project CARS 2 instead of these two high-budget titles, they’re probably the type of person you want to call for car maintenance advice, or for a quick drive to the airport when you’re in a hurry. And that’s exactly why I like it so much.

Project CARS 2 will release on September 22nd for PC, PS4, and Xbox One.