When given the choice between driving a manual or automatic car, do you always go for the former?

Do you love the pure test of skill on display in karting as much as the track-record shattering abilities of hypercars?

Do you consider Mark Webber’s pass on Fernando Alonso at Spa in 2011 — side-by-side through Eau Rouge — one of the coolest things you’ve ever seen?

If you’re answer to all of the above is a resounding “yes!”, then you’re without a doubt the target audience for Slightly Mad Studios’ Project CARS 2.

This game (more of a simulation, really) is a lovingly crafted tribute to motorsport and the vehicles and tracks that live in the hearts and minds of aficionados everywhere.

The first sign that this isn’t your ordinary racing game comes right at the start, as a haunting piano instrumental starts playing over the opening menus. Most other games would go for something loud and bombastic, but Project CARS 2 opens with an understated hymn to the machines and arenas it so meticulously recreates. The message is clear: there’s no need to add any artificial excitement with a pounding drumbeat, because what you’re being offered here is the most fun and excitement a petrolhead can have not involving the smell of actual petrol and burning rubber.

Living the dream

Being a professional racer requires vast amounts of talent and vast amounts of money, making it the preserve of a tiny sliver of the population. Project CARS 2 tries to give us the next best thing in the form its career mode, in which you try to dominate one or more of the five available disciplines: open-wheel racing, GT, prototypes, rallycross, and touring cars.

The 180 cars on offer run the gamut from the classic to the futuristic prototype, from karts to hypercars and Formula cars to most things in between.

All the action happens across 140 tracks, most of them laser scanned versions of their real-life counterparts. Favourites include Laguna Seca, Spa-Francorchamps (including the pre-1979 classic incarnation), the Nurburgring (GP and full Nordschleife), Watkins Glen, Silverstone, and the Dubai Autodrome.

Right turn

Project CARS 2 makes huge improvements over its predecessor in the realm of controls. Using a compatible steering wheel is as usual a must for the most realistic experience, allowing you to feel where the grip limit is and making that last-millisecond opposite-lock save easier and more intuitive.

But what if you don’t have a fancy force-feedback equipped wheel and set of pedals? There’s good news here too: this time around using a controller is actually a viable option, and stick and trigger sensitivity can be customised to what works best for you. A wheel will always be better, but Project CARS 2 does as good a job as is possible translating a realistic handling model to a controller.

Cloudy with a chance of torque

Realistic weather simulation has been one of the holy grails of racing sims for a long time, and Slightly Mad takes an ambitious and impressive stab it here. The date and time at which a race happens will determine the sort of weather you’re likely to experience, based on the type of conditions typical for that location and period.

But starting conditions are just that; weather can change during the course of the race, necessitating a change in tyres, strategy and driving style. Water pools realistically on different sections of a track, and it’s no exaggeration to say that tracks have never felt as “alive” as they do in Project CARS 2.

Pole position

Racing simulation games are not for everyone, and that’s fine. There’s nothing wrong with preferring Need for Speed to iRacing. And there’s nothing wrong with loving both. But I do feel just a little bit bad for those who can’t find any enjoyment in games like iRacing, Asetto Corsa and Project CARS 2. These games can bring moments of excitement quite unlike anything else out there, and Project CARS 2 succeeds in doing this better than most.

Score: 9/10
Platforms: PS4, Xbox One, Windows