If you want to buy a racing game right now, you have two major, very new titles to choose from: Project Cars 2, and Forza Motorsport 7. Both let you get behind the virtual wheel of a vast array of road and race cars, compete in diverse racing disciplines, and drive on tracks around the world in different conditions.
But, they go about all that in slightly different ways, and with very different outcomes. Here’s how they compare after the first few hours of gameplay on the Xbox One.
I was expecting to be impressed by Project Cars 2’s graphics, but came away a little disappointed. In certain light and weather conditions it can be very pretty, but on a dry, bright track everything looks a little washed out, and a little low rent.
Forza 7 verges on hyper-realism with its vibrant, contrast-heavy visuals, but overall it’s stunning, even away from the 4K resolution it’s capable of on the Xbox One X. The impression of speed is also much more successfully related than on Project Cars 2.
Winner: Forza Motorsport 7
Forza Motorsport games have always been good at giving you some control over your car’s setup, and 7 is no different. You can adjust things like ride height, damping stiffness, and even how your upgraded differential operates.
But compared to Project Cars 2, FM7 barely scratches the surface. In fact there are probably more options available for adjusting the dampers alone than Forza has for the entire car. The detail here is mind blowing, and if you don’t have a clue what toe-in angle is and how it will effect your car, it’s explained in detail.
You can also pick from a variety of questions to ask like “I keep sliding when I am braking,” with answers given by your ‘race engineer’ to help you set the car up.
Winner: Project Cars 2
Having grown up with the disappointing, hoover-like engine noises found in Gran Turismo titles, this is a big deal for me now. If a game can’t nail the mechanical melodies correctly, I get irked. Unfortunately, both of these games are hit and miss - it depends entirely upon the car.
The McLaren 720S in PC2 sounds weak, but then the BMW M1 Procar belts out an incredible noise, while the Audi R8 is there or thereabouts, even though each gear change sounds like a moody teenager slamming a heavy door.
Over on Forza, a lot of the Porsches are disappointingly ‘meh’, and the GT3-spec Nissan GT-R you try in the game’s prelude doesn’t sound quite right. All of which I forgot when stepping into an Aston Martin Vantage GT12 - the virtual V12 in that thing stirred my soul almost as much as the real-life N/A 5.9-litre legend.
Winner: Shall we call this one a draw?
This is going to be the most contentious point here. With the assists turned off, cars in PC2 are considerably harder to control than they are in Forza. I’m not at all ashamed to say it took me almost an hour of trying to get a completely clean lap in when first loading up the game.
“But it’s a sim!!” is the usual shouty counter argument, but here’s the thing: I’m not sure I’d call the way the cars handle in the game realistic. Cars simply aren’t as lethal as the game suggests - I’ve certainly never had snap oversteer from a Mercedes-AMG A45, on track or off IRL, for example. Then there are the few front-wheel drive cars in the game (so far I’ve only found two - the Renault Clio Cup and Megane Trophy R), which still seem weirdly determined to spin out.
What it seems like the game’s developers have done is exaggerate elements of car handling like weight transfer, making PC2 incredibly challenging, but not always faithful to the real deal. What probably doesn’t help is the steering is very tricky to get right on a controller - I’ve fiddled with the settings endlessly and it’s still not quite right. This makes the kind of gentle inputs that are necessary to avoid upsetting the sensitive balance of the cars rather difficult. Not to mention making catching a slide almost impossible.
Having said all that, there’s a perverse joy to be had in striving to get in a clean lap, given how demanding it is to do so on PC2. But make no mistake: ultra difficult is not necessarily ultra realistic.
Handling on Forza 7 on the other hand makes a lot more sense. Yes, the cars are more forgiving than they probably should be, but they operate in a way that actually makes sense when you push to the limits of grip and beyond. What’s more, FM7 works perfectly with a controller straight out of the box - no boring fiddling required.
Winner: Sim racing aficionados will be furious at me for this, but we’re calling Forza 7 the victor here
While there are a few different disciplines and career paths to choose from, Forza’s career mode still looks to be built around the tried and tested formula of winning races to earn money, and spending that money on upgrades and new cars.
What Project Cars 2 has in store is much more immersive, intending to replicate a real-life racing career - contracts, qualifying sessions and all. I’ve only just dipped my toe into the water with the career mode, but from what I’ve seen so far, it does all this very well. You can even start right at the beginning in karts, if you want.
Winner: Project Cars 2
So far it’s two ‘wins’ each for Forza Motorsport 7 and Project Cars 2, plus a draw. Equal pegging, but in the championship decider, PC2 comes apart.
With fewer than 200 cars, it has less than a third of the vehicles made available in FM7. That would be liveable, if it wasn’t for the fact the tricky, counter-intuitive handling is going to be a deal-breaker for a lot of people.
It’s also nowhere near as polished - compared to Forza with its slick menus, cinematic interstitial videos and (admittedly slightly annoying) prancing racing driver avatar thing - the budget difference is clear to see. PC2 in comparison just feels a bit cheap and in places not quite finished - for instance the third-person view seems to be jerky with certain cars on certain tracks. Oh, and that thumbnail image you might have seen for this article with the two Astons - the Project Cars half needed some hardcore Photoshop content aware editing to remove some glitchy white spots from the grille.
If you want a challenge, and if you’re going to do it properly with a decent wheel, then by all means give Project Cars 2 a try, albeit not before sampling Assetto Corsa. But if you’re not an ultra-hardcore gamer with the right equipment and the willingness to sink a good chunk of your life into a game, Forza is the one for you.
It’s hugely enjoyable from the off, looks fantastic and is more than realistic enough for most. Now if you’ll excuse me, there’s a virtual Aston Martin I need to go and thrash…