The original Project CARS was one of the finest racing simulations ever released. With a large variety of cars and racing styles, it offered up a near-perfect blend of racing action and simulation. Slightly Mad Studios took everything they learned on games like the Need For Speed: Shift series and dramatically improved what needed work while keeping what worked all along. With Shift 2, they brought a higher level of drama to a race thanks to dramatic camera shakes – which were kept in CARS. The original also used a much wider variety of vehicles than games like Gran Turismo and Forza Motorsport, with things like go karts as an option to help you learn the mechanics.
It was both beloved and reviled for being unforgiving at times, but unlike more sterile sim racers, races were always exciting and kept you on your A game at all times. Racing sims have to straddle a fine line to actually be fun, and CARS found a good in-between most of the game where you still had to race well, but could veer a bit into arcade-style racing from time to time to briefly get ahead. Being punished for nudging is never fun, and something that would cripple an online game in an instant, so it was good to be forgiving whenever possible.
The sequel includes full VR support alongside 12K resolution for PC users with beefy hardware. The original game was also known for being a bit finicky with controller support, and it did vary from pad to pad. Using a PS4 controller felt natural on that version, but using an Xbox One pad on either PC or the Xbox One felt a bit odd – which was strange. It’s usually a far better racing pad thanks to the triggers, but it didn’t quite work as well in execution. In playing every version without a wheel, the PS4 version came out ahead controller-wise although it’s great to know that Slightly Mad is optimizing the game for gamepads as well. The PC version worked fine, but definitely struggled when it came to finding just the right settings to make things feel comfortable.
Project CARS 2 is aiming to be more user-friendly and also more competitive. Project CARS, as many games have done, fell into a trap of ranking you against others within the game world – but with those rankings only existing in the game, they were in a vacuum and thus surface-level at best. CARS 2 brings a bit of e-sports into the fold with races now having stat tracking, and a more diverse ranking system for online play. Racing like a professional and not trying to cut corners will bump up your Racecraft ranking, which will give you an idea of who races fairly and who is more aggressive. Those who play aggressively can still do so – but only against those of a similar play style. This means that the days of getting matched against a slew of random people who want to play a racing sim like they would a Burnout game should be a thing of the past.
The game itself will actually be featured within the e-sports community, and will have livestreaming and broadcasting built into it. Beyond your Racecraft rating, you will also be ranked on you seniority and overall success. The former takes into account how much you have actively played the game, while success factors in your victories, the length of your races, number of opponents, and difficulty level. Those who test their mettle against higher-ranked opponents will see greater gains in success at a faster rate of speed, while facing lower-end rivals decreases your overall success. This aspect of the game is definitely going to be a risk versus reward affair, because playing it safe is natural, but you do stifle your own improvement only facing low-end foes.
The online setup as a whole is going to get a huge step up with these improvements, and the biggest one could be the new anti-cheating system. Slightly Mad has implemented a rulebook and payback system so that anyone who cheats and acts against the rules of the current motorsport will have to pay it back with either a time penalty or a loss in track position. In theory, this means that trying to cut a ton of corners or run folks off the road to get to a top spot will result in you paying the price. There won’t be a slow-down penalty applied, as they felt those usually led to more issues right away and they are aiming to make this a system that teaches proper behavior while also punishing bad behavior when it crops up. Online players ruining the fun has made playing racing games online more of a chore, so it will be interesting to see if this change-up works in the long-run.
Project CARS 2 follows up on the first game’s masterfully-crafted tracks with 20 new additions. This brings the lineup to 60 overall tracks with over 130 layouts possible across all of the different modes and motorsport styles. With nine kinds of racing possible, you’ll be able to speed along the legendary Laguna Seca or engage in some rallycross through the Lydden Hill. There are also a wide variety of weather options available, with all four seasons represented and things like day to night transitions, ice, snow, rain, wind and even misting possible. This makes the in-game world better replicate the real one and adds a sense that every race could very well be changed by mother nature just as it could in real life.
Project CARS 2 has all the makings of a perfect sequel. They are taking what worked before and keeping it, while fixing up areas that needed some improvement. The final game will be released on September 22 and has a variety of different versions available. You can pre-order the standard edition, which also nets you the Japanese Car Pack or the deluxe edition. That one is a bit pricier, but gets you an additional car pack right away alongside the season pass — so for dedicated fans who want the complete experience as soon as possible, this is the best bang for your buck. We loved the first game and look forward to seeing how the full game shapes up upon its release.