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Preview: Project CARS 2 (PC)By The Strat Man At 07.08.2017 16:38

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With Gran Turismo Sport and Forza Motorsport 7 both releasing in early October, it makes sense for Project CARS 2 to launch on September 22nd. The breathing room could be quite important for the series, since there's no doubt that petrol heads waiting on the other franchises may also check the competition in the meantime. Weaving through Laguna Sec in the rain in a touring car, mesmerised by the dynamic weather, which progressively affects conditions, then suddenly jumping into a random IndyCar event set up yourself, it's easy to see how players can be won over by it.

One of the key strengths of all these series is generating authenticity and detail. In other words, providing a strong visceral drive that keeps one on the edge, while also not demanding hundreds of hours of practice to maintain consistent driving performance. Why would you want to achieve this? Because there are so many varieties of racing experience available in such titles that it would be too restrictive, and not in keeping with the overall emphasis on sampling and surfing around different disciplines, if players needed to be that meticulously prepared.

Indeed, striking that balance between authenticity and hardcore simulative detail is harder than one thinks, which is why not many other series beyond Gran Turismo and Forza Motorsport can stand up and be counted in that regard. Project CARS 2, despite what some of the PR buzz surrounding this game might suggest, is not quite in the realm of hardcore racing simulators, despite a vastly improved physics engine compared to the original. Since they've openly spoken about rivalling Gran Turismo Sport and Forza Motorsport 7, rather than iRacing, rFactor 2 and Assetto Corsa, that much does seem self-evident, anyway, but it's always best to make that distinction clear early.

Additionally, considering this is another crowd-funded and partly community-built project, it's logical that the franchise wouldn't quite be able to match full blown driving sim physics, especially as that usually requires truly vast sums of money to engineer. However, as with most racing games, Project CARS 2 looks to appease racing fans from either side of the spectrum, namely those who want the experience to be as realistic and as true to life as possible, and those who'll accept the assists and the more forgiving handling if it enables them to digest the game at a more manageable rate. The good news is this sequel sports a much more capable physics engine for both approaches.

Overall, it certainly seems to handle the full variety of available racing disciplines very well, with realistic car behaviour working in conjunction with dynamic road, tyre and weather dynamics, giving a very authentic driving experience, definitely comparable to the likes of Gran Turismo and Forza Motorsport. Whether drivers choose to play with some assists, or switch everything off and play it like a real sim, Project CARS 2 certainly provides more of a challenge, since it captures the full range of racing complexities much more accurately than the previous edition.

With a wheel like the G29 used in testing, there's a much better sense of detail implied across the different terrains, with better and more realistic force feedback to wrestle with when the backend of a car like the Mazda MX5 kicks out. With a pad, there's also a nice sense of all the force being in play. The only drawback for pads is that things like tyre wear and reading the general track conditions will no doubt be more challenging to interpret on simulative settings, so some good luck is needed when catching a car spinning out at the end of a race playing this way. While it's possible with a controller, it's just much more of a thrill with a wheel, since that seems to be a drastically improved, more authentic experience this time round.

That's also true of the hugely improved single-player career mode of Project CARS 2. This provides players with a proper career experience, as opposed to a calendar of dull and disconnected races, as was the case with the original. This time, players can choose from an absolutely huge range of disciplines, all of which provide proper series and race weekends to compete in, featuring practice sessions and qualifiers where applicable, too. For those who want to take the game seriously, these aspects matter quite a bit, and, impressively, the AI does a quite decent job of simulating human drivers.

Whilst climbing through a pack, overtaking at will, players will notice some drivers reacting differently to pressure, with accidents occurring, and others slowing down due to technical issues. As the season racks up, the full range of hectic race day traumas and triumphs really do come and go. Despite this being a single-player component, when playing with suitably challenging AI difficulty, it's best to bring multiplayer standards of careful attention to the whole career experience. Otherwise, like in the real thing, not weighing up someone else's mistake could lead to it becoming your own, as well. In this regard, it's nice to see a racer properly framing the unpredictable nature of real racing in a single-player career setting. All too often the AI behaviour doesn't accurately (and hence authentically) represent the range of track personalities one would see in a real race.

In terms of graphics and visuals, Project CARS 2 really does make a valiant effort to pull away from its competitors. The PC version looks absolutely fantastic, with impressive track details, gorgeous-looking cars (inside and out), and a nice and convincing motion blur when picking up serious speed, which greatly adds to the intensity and sense of immersion. No matter what type of racing players decide to leap into, this really does look the part.

One aspect that really brings things together is the lighting, which is very impressive, especially in dynamic races that phase through night and day cycles, such as Le Mans. There's something about tempering a Toyota TS040 Hybrid LMP1 through evening into darkness that will never get old, especially when playing in VR, or perhaps with triple monitors, both of which Project CARS 2 will support from the off. It is impressive how versatile the title is in this respect, allowing gamers with a variety of different driving set-ups to get the best out of the game from day one.

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