Billed as an authentic driving simulation, Project Cars 2 delivers detail and content by the truckload. Trouble is, I really need more help to unload it all.
I don’t drive. Bear that in mind as I express my disappointment with Project Cars 2. While many people seem to view the franchise with a kind of qualified reverence (it has its issues but there is nothing else quite so complete; those sorts of sentiments), I don’t know if I have the experience to understand what is supposed to be so good about it. Is real driving this difficult and serious?
I suppose I was expecting it to be something like Forza (the seventh iteration of which launches alongside this). There’s a franchise which favours accessibility. Project Cars 2 pointedly does not. By comparison, Project Cars 2 assumes a level of knowledge and dedication that will surely scare off arcade racing fans who are used to a safety net of generous driving assists, rewind features and racing line indicators.
Instead of allowing the player to roll back these assists in line with increasing competence, they are turned off by default or simple not present at all. My first races in the game’s career mode were not so much a tutorial as a ritual humiliation. Simple accelerating and braking became stuffily precise affairs to the point that overly sensible driving was the only choice. Unerring opponents left me literally out of sight as I patiently navigated bends through dull perseverance.
After a run of aborted attempts in that first race, I gave in, turning on assists that I thought might give me a competitive leg up. Even then, the volatility of the handling was excruciating. I began to feel that, rather than me getting enjoyment from it, the game itself was having fun at my expense. I struggled to place higher than mid field throughout the opening series. This would be fine if it wasn’t so punitive that I needed to win to progress. If Peter Dibden the driving instructor was a videogame, he would be Project Cars 2.
That sensible driving is matched by surprisingly austere graphics. This is surely an artefact of a lacklustre Xbox port, as the game is reportedly of visual note on other platforms. Either that or it just compares unfavourably with – I’m going to say it – Forza. If a driving game is going to be as serious as this, I would expect it to look the part and offer a more cutting edge aesthetic.
At the very least, I would also expect it to be reliably functional; when I was unlucky enough to bump other vehicles, too frequently they would bounce and fly with preposterous physics modelling. Either that or my wheels would lock with theirs, completely destroying any chance of getting back into the race. On one occasion my car actually fell through the track, and while playing online there were frequent and severe frame drops that sabotaged every race I participated in. The game has real problems.
The shame of it is that, underneath the hood, Project Cars 2 is probably as good as other people are saying. You just need to dedicate a lot of time to unlearning the habits of more forgiving driving games, and you have to forgive it its technical issues. That steep learning curve is going to be a deal breaker for many, and I’m not sure why anyone would put themselves through it when its main competitor in Forza is much more accommodating, with – if you want it – plenty of seriousness of its own.
You might read this review and think I’m being unfair. I’m not very good at the game, therefore the game itself isn’t very good. To be frank, that is pretty much my position on Project Cars 2. It isn’t an attitude I extend to all hard games though: often, I see a route to getting better, and thus I’m able to invest and find reward in doing so. Project Cars 2 just sneers through its driver-side window and tells me I’m not good enough. As the window rolls up and it speeds off, all I can do is wonder why it never even opened the passenger door.
Project Cars 2 was provided to us by Xbox/Bandai Namco via a download code for Xbox One.