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Project Cars 2 for Xbox One review: Can Slightly Mad Studios hope to take on Forza?

A real racing sim contender approaches the track.

The original Project Cars from Slightly Mad Studios didn't exactly set the world on fire, but provided Forza with some fair competition in the simulation racing market. Now Project Cars 2 is back with improved graphics and handling, robust weather effects, double the cars, and more tracks than any other racing game. But can it stack up to the Forza series in actual quality?

Career, controls, and difficulty

Project Cars 2 for Xbox One

When starting Project Cars 2, you'll name a driver and take him through an impressively robust career mode. The game lacks a true tutorial, which is a shame since sim racers like this tend to have a learning curve. You do get some tutorial text for menus at least, but it's ridiculously tiny and unreadable from couch distance.

Still, the career structure impresses. It's broken up into six tiers, each with multiple selectable motorsport series, for a total of 29 series. With nine total disciplines (karts, open wheels, GT, touring cars, rallycross, prototypes, and more), you get a lot of different kinds of races to choose from. Since you can jump around between tiers, you're not locked into a linear structure like most racing games.

Project Cars 2 for Xbox One

After choosing a series, you'll engage in multiple events before the final event and a shot at a trophy. Players have the choice of short or long versions of most series, with the short option cutting the number of races in half. A few races even allow the player to set the number of laps. That's good because many races have way too many laps for my taste. But you can't turn the laps down on everything, so you're still going to run into some endurance races.

Rally races are the worst offenders. In a rally event, you'll have to race a suffocating six times on a single track. I don't mean six laps, I mean six multi-lap races on the same track. I'm sure that's realistic, but it's dreadfully boring and players should have the option to turn down the number of races in a rally event.

Project Cars 2 for Xbox One

As you progress in the career, you'll unlock two additional types of races: manufacturer drives and invitational events. The former are manufacturer-specific races, and the latter are Project Cars 2's equivalent to the Showcase events in the Forza Motorsport series. They showcase specific cars and track conditions (some historical). You can jump between manufacturer, invitational, and regular career races at any time.

The original Project Cars was widely criticized for its poor gamepad controls, even on consoles. Project Cars 2 features much-improved controls. They're still a bit finickier than the Forza games, even with assists turned on. But after a couple of hours of playing, I've pretty much got a handle on them.

Even with improved controls, a lot of players will want to turn the AI difficulty way down. Project Cars 2 is a tough and uncompromising game. One little slip up can cost you a race. Whereas the Forza games offer a rewind option to help novice players like me keep up, you'll get no such assistance here. It just takes practice (or a lot of retries) to make it through tougher events.

Graphics and sound

Project Cars 2 for Xbox One

The first test of any AAA racing game is exactly how far it will knock your eyes out of their sockets – this genre tends to showcase incredibly lifelike visuals. Project Cars 2 won't disappoint in that area, though it will likely be bested by Microsoft's Forza Motorsport 7 later this year.

As you'd expect from a game with cars in the name, the cars all look terrific in Project Cars 2. Everything is modeled down to the slightest detail, including multiple realistic cockpit views with hands on the steering wheels.

Several camera angles feature a rear-view mirror as well (which can be turned off in settings). The mirror's visual quality is lower, with decreased draw distance. But it still proves extremely useful for keeping up with trailing opponents.

All drivers appear as helmeted males – Project Cars 2 is behind the latest few Forza games that allowed for female racers. But the driver models do look fantastic during kart races, a returning feature that Project Cars has over Forza.

Project Cars 2 for Xbox One

The actual tracks generally look just as sharp, with high-resolution textures helping to maintain immersion. Project Cars 2 features numerous graphical effects too, such as post-processing filters, lens flares, bloom, heat haze, and more. Like the cockpit mirrors, these can all be turned off – an unusual but welcome feature on consoles.

You might be tempted to toggle some of those visual effects because the frame rate sometimes dips noticeably on more complex tracks when playing on Xbox One. It's a shame the developers didn't opt to use dynamic resolution to maintain a rock-solid frame rate. Slightly Mad Studios has promised Xbox One X support, though, which should improve on the frame rate while bumping up the resolution and visual effects. We shall see!

Project Cars 2's sound doesn't match up to its visuals, unfortunately. The sound effects are fine, of course. Music is the problem. The menus play a small rotating selection of stirring tracks, but there is no music during actual races. Given that racing sims tend to be very sterile experiences, some quality music would have helped keep things lively. As it stands, you might be tempted to listen to something else while playing.

Time and weather

Project Cars 2 for Xbox One

Further adding to Project Cars 2's visual and gameplay realism are time and weather effects. The game features a day-night cycle, seasonal weather for all four seasons, and dynamic weather. That means the time of day will change as you race (you can even set the time when creating custom races), and rain and snow might break out as well.

The rain looks very good for the most part, but the puddles and splashing effects are noticeably inferior to those of Forza 6. Still, these roads get absolutely soaked – the water impacted my ability to drive noticeably more than in Forza. All told, Project Cars 2 appears to have the most comprehensive day-night and weather effects of any AAA racing sim on the market right now.

Cars, livery, and tracks

Project Cars 2 for Xbox One

Project Cars 2 launches with 189 cars, more than double the original's 76-car lineup. While the garage here can't hold a candle to Forza 7's whopping 700-car lineup, 189 vehicles is still way more than most players will ever get around to driving. Nearly all of the major manufacturers are accounted for, though Hyundai and Subaru are disappointingly absent. Still, you get 11 Porches, which are probably more exciting than a few Asian cars.

One slight disappointment is the lack of visual customization options for cars. Unlike the Forza series, Project Car 2 has no livery editor. Not only that, the livery selections available are fairly limited. Forget about mixing and matching car colors and decals. Cars typically have about 20 livery options, and that's it.

Project Cars 2 for Xbox One

Tracks are where Project Cars 2 really shines. It features an amazing 63 track locations, far more than any other racing sim on the market. With multiple track layouts per location factored in, you get a total of 146 tracks to race on. That's just so many places and tracks to visit, which should help keep the game fresh for quite a while. Factor in the day-night and weather cycles and you get a lot more visual variety than anywhere else, which should make up somewhat for the anemic livery options.

Online multiplayer

Project Cars 2 for Xbox One

Project Cars 2 has 16-player online races on consoles. Rather than matchmaking, you join games via a PC-style server browser. I always like a good server browser because it lets you know just what you're getting into before joining a lobby, as well as get an idea of how many people are playing online. You can use filters to customize which games show up, too.

Hosts have a ton of options too, making it possible to create extremely specific multiplayer races and series. You can select from all 146 tracks and every car (no buying cars here), fully customize the weather, number of laps, realism and difficulty settings for all players, and much more.

Behavior can be an issue in online racing games, and developer Slightly Mad Studios has even taken that into account. In addition to rating players' overall skill level, each player has a reputation rating based on how aggressively they race. Thus lobbies can restrict anyone who likes to play bumper cars from entering, hopefully making for a more peaceful experience.

Overall impression

Project Cars 2 for Xbox One

Although the first Project Cars didn't quite capture the hearts of mainstream gamers, the sequel has a much better shot thanks to its polished career mode, wealth of motorsport types, and unparalleled track selection. The difficulty is still on the unapproachable side, but racing sim fans will likely stick it out anyway. I'll be surprised if Forza 7 doesn't top this one overall, but it's still great to have options – especially one that appears on both Xbox and PlayStation.

Pros:

  • A beautiful racing game that will look even better on Xbox One X.
  • The career mode offers plenty of player choice and motorsport disciplines.
  • An amazing 63 locations and 146 total track layouts will keep races fresh for a long time.
  • Day-night cycle and seasonal and dynamic effects add realism and challenge to races.

Cons:

  • The lack of music during races creates a sterile atmosphere.
  • The difficulty is probably too high for casual audiences, even when turned all the way down.
  • Tiny tutorial text is difficult to see even when sitting up close.
  • Cars have limited visual customization options.

Project Cars 2 arrives on Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and Steam on Thursday, September 21. It costs $59.99. Preorder to get the Japanese Cars Bonus Pack (which contains four cars) for free.

Xbox One review copy provided by the publisher.

Paul Acevedo is the Games Editor at Windows Central. A lifelong gamer, he has written about videogames for over 15 years and reviewed over 350 games for our site. Follow him on Twitter @PaulRAcevedo. Don’t hate. Appreciate!

33 Comments
  • Not easy to recommend this to casual race fans, but for the more serious guys out there this is a BLAST. And I love that it has Cadwell Park in it. My local circuit!
  • agreed.. not a causal game..  this is trying to be as raw as a simulation gets.. 
  • The cons list is hillarious 😂 music during races? have you ever heard of music in a real racecar? 
  • Xbox one does have background music capability , not sure why its a con...
  • That's not what he meant. Take Forza for example. It has a very subtle backing track during the races. Not like Horizon where it's a radio station, but it's there. Probably does more than you expect it does for the atmosphere.
  • Well, you're not exactly in a real race car. ;-)
  • well they're going for a simulation feel. I love music while driving too. but a sim is a sim. the atmosphere is intended. real racecars don't have music, or cool bodykits. I haven't played 2 but 1's minimum difficulty is waaaay too easy. the entire review sounds childish. seems like the reviewer doesn't know what a simulation is.
  • It seems more like you have trouble with opinions that differ from your own. We'll look forward to your extra-mature review of the game in the future, though.
  • Did you know that Indy cars have multiple body kits they can choose from in real life? The more you know.....
  • well in my opinion a simulation should be realistic. if you're gonna twist definitions and expect oranges from an apple tree.... well yeah you're free to have your opinions. I think I'll enjoy music when I'm playing need for speed or forza horizon. I won't ask for music in a sim like project cars or assetto corsa. the only thing the cons list is missing is "cars don't have nitro". but yeah you're free to have your opinion that sim racers should have music, big spoilers and maybe even nitro.
  • yeah, I hear you. This review is pretty bad. It is the perfect example of a website affiliated somehow to MS that tries to upsell a MS game over a 3rd party title. Just count how many times the word Forza pops up in this review. PCars 2 is a different game...it is meant to be a sim that according to other proper reviewers drives similart to Rfactor2, Assetto Corsa and iRacing. Music during races? really? it only shows the reviewer know nothing about racing games than Forza...If you want to have a more racing immersive experience PCars2 is the game for you, not Forza.
  • Same genre, and no game within a genre is immune from comparisons to other games in the genre. Sorry my very positive review wasn't as glowing an advertisement for the game as you wanted, but that is the nature of reviews. They are all opinions. You should read up on subjectivity and make peace with it.
  • Drummer, you did notice in the article title that the question was asked if this game could compete with Forza.  So yeah, I would expect Paul to mention Forza a few times.  A racing sim is still a video game, so a little bit of background music would have been nice.  I'm pretty sure you're playing with a controller anyway instead of a real racing wheel, so stop being a butthole.
  • I felt really annoyed by this review.
    Background music is a thing now in sim games? Also, I was trying to read a Project Cars 2 review, what I got overall from here is a comparation between Forza games.
    With all due respect, comparations are not a bad thing, but when you summon Forza MotorSport for more than 3 times in a text for a comparation, it don't get pretty to read. I know this is the windows central, and people here share a passion for all Microsoft related stuff, including the games, but still.
    This is too much guys :P
    Cheers.
  • The comparison is valid and one that most Xbox race fans will be making. Forza 7 is out in a couple of weeks and people want to know if they should buy this or wait for that.
  • As you said, this is an MS site. So, people are most likely to have played Forza games compared to the percentage that have played another sim racing game. Making the comparison just makes sense....
  • I don't get the PCars fanboys coming out and flipping out.  Sim or Arcade, it's a racing game.  Naturally, if a game is trying to be the best, it needs to be compared to the best.  Forza has dominated racers for years.  It's the best racing game series around.  The Horizon line is for those interested in a more Arcade experience, while the Motorsport line is their for sthe Sim crowd.
  • Would enjoy a racing game that is a bit of a challenge!    
  • Do I need to play the first game to understand the story? /s  Sounds really fun for more hardcore fans of the genre
  • there's no real story
  • That was the point.  Hence the "/s" at the end...
  • Used to love sim racing back in the days GT1,2 & Forza 1,2,3,4 after all those years sim racing got stale, same track same cars. Started enjoying more of Arcade racing game Blur, Split/Second, PGR, NFS, FH1,2,3 & Grid 1,2. Sim racing really need something more to make it shine IMO, like even the up coming Forza 7 whats new other than better graphics ? maybe a new career mode stories with seasons? some manager mode to manage club? Ill give project cars 2 a try in future, as i have yet to try the 1st :P
  • Project cars 2 has seasons, dynamic weather, dynamic lighting and shadows. It also apparently will have advanced temperature and weather effects based upon "celestial bodies". Basically they are attempting to make the most realistic racing game ever. Forza is an exceptional game, but I would never call the racing in it realistic and for anyone who wants a true racing sim, it sounds like Project Cars 2 is the perfect thing for them.
  • ive been looking for a racing game that has real racing cars, nothing like need for speed for Forza. im looking for Indy, Stock or F1 racing type game, even the kart looks interesting. i think for review was fine and arguing music is a peference for sum ppl like me. regardless how this game is reviewed you still need to experience the game yourself, a review is a review which is that persons opinion of the game not no one elses.
  • I could look like a great proponent of Project Cars 2 because I love Pcars 1, and on the evaluation of the following negative points I can not let my opinion:
    1 - The lack of music during races creates a sterile atmosphere.
    The game was made to be a simulator as real as possible, real riders do not listen to music during the races, I always turned off the music during the races of all the games I played until today, because for those who really want to simulate the sound of the motor does a lot of difference and the music would get in the way. I understand that some people might like this, but it is not a problem of the game, it is a characteristic that has to know how to be evaluated. 2 - The difficulty is probably too high for casual audiences, even when turned all the way down.
    yes, the game is not for choro children, as stated above, the game has a target audience, who are lovers of simulators, but the game gives the option to make the AI ​​slower, much slower. Cars have limited visual customization options.
    Really the game was badly evaluated, the game is not forza.
    It would be the same as saying that cars do not throw bananas back like Mario Kart
  • Well said
  • I wish the dev had found a way to maintain 60fps consistently as Turn10 has with Forza. Looks like a great game otherwise.
  • Nice looking game. The only racers I ever get around to playing though usually involve banana peels and homing missiles and stuff.
  • Never been into super realistc racers, perfer Need fro Speed stuff
  • I think this review sums up my own experiences with project cars 1 and 2. Project cars is meant for the hardcore sim racers out there, looking for a simulation like experience on a console. while forza is a great sim experience they have also over the years tried and successfully tweaked the games in such a way that it caters to the casual fans. for one Forza was meant for the lovers of cars, Project cars was made us a full sim alternative. if you do remove all assists on both forza and project cars, there is few difference between the 2. i will still need time with this game with a wheel and shifter, but the little i have played has shown me that the career for project cars will be more engaging than forza but i gguarantee will have more fun in forza. as a console racer. i think the xbox is the platform of choice. we just have way too many great car sim games. 
  • Great review! I own both Project Cars and Forza 6, and I definitely prefer Forza. Their rewind feature is huge when you're in a white knuckle race and get a little too over zealous on a turn. I'll probably get this game too but I'll wait for the price to drop.
  • Music is a great part of any racing game.  It simply adds to the experience.  If it's really a big deal to the purists, then they could simply turn it off.  I also agree with a lot of the comments that Forza is the better game, for a lot of reasons, but it would be cool if they added karts.
  • I am not sure why no music while racing comments got down voted crazily. I own Forza 4, 6 and 7, yes I am playing Forza 7 now. Though I completely turned off any music on track and even in menu. I don't know how music is relavant to racing. I need a pure feeling of enjoying engine revving sound. And livery? I use cockpit view 100% I never bother to custom mine in Forza. All I care is good time on a track to beat the records with clean racing.