You’d have to be Slightly Mad to go up against simulation racing juggernauts Gran Turismo Sport and Forza Motorsport 7 this holiday, but that’s the unfortunate position Project CARS 2 finds itself in. The sequel to the British studio’s somewhat uneven crowd-funded debut attempts to standout by increasing the number of motorsport disciplines available to a frankly dizzying degree – and there’s more than enough here to ensure that you never get bored.

As with the previous instalment, the title gives you all of the tools you need to have fun, and then sends you on your merry way. The degree to which the release is malleable is rather impressive, from the heads-up display to the controls to the actual race day. Presets make it easy to dive into an event with real-world attributes, but you’re free to tweak and tune as much as you like. Want to take a rally car around a go-kart course in the middle of winter? Go ahead.

The crux here is that the menus are much easier to navigate, and you can get out on the course quicker than ever before if you can’t be arsed faffing around. Everything is unlocked from the offset, and just like its predecessor, the career mode allows you to choose where you want to start out; whether it's the easy-going Formula Fusion or the more advanced Formula A, it’s up to you. There’s so much variety in the campaign that it’s actually difficult to pick.

With this, of course, comes some inconsistency. The IndyCar tour is fully licensed, for example, while obviously F1 is not, so there are highs and lows in terms of real-world representation. But the key thing is that each discipline is represented as authentically as possible, with great handling vehicles and progression systems that accurately reflect each individual motorsport. Whether it’s the knock-out format of rallysport or the mentally draining endurance races, you’ll be bouncing from one challenge to another.

While it does feel like the content is spread quite thin across all of these different disciplines, it does result in a title boasting over 170 cars and more than 60 locations. Even more impressively, each of these courses are powered by new technology named Live Track 3.0, which means the undulations of the road surface have been measured in order to ensure that water pools correctly when it rains. Heck, the title even accounts for the transition of gravel from the roadside onto the tarmac.

With full day-and-night cycles and dynamic weather, the randomness of longer races makes for thoroughly enjoyable drives. Rainfall, for example, tends to puddle on corners, bringing about changes to your racing line as you try to avoid aquaplaning. Similarly, the season of your race can play a part in your performance, as even the temperature of the asphalt is measured. And, in rallycross specifically, there’s track deformation to take into account.

Of course, while all of this is sure to seduce seasoned racing game players, it’s worth mentioning that accessibility has been considered as well. The title plays better on a traditional pad this time around, which should lower the barrier of entry for those without a wheel. And an abundance of difficulty sliders – enabling you to tweak the artificial intelligence optimally – mean that you can set the challenge level just right.

There is a community focus running throughout the package, with leaderboards and rotating Time Trials designed to keep you coming back, so it perhaps would have been nice to see a little more in the way of racing tutorials like the new Gran Turismo is going to offer. But that said, the title includes more than enough information to explain its intricacies – and there’s even a Racing Engineer who will help you make the right adjustments to your ride if you don’t know your sprockets from your spoilers.

Online play is similarly in-depth, allowing you to lay on full racing weekends that segue between practice sessions, qualifying, and race days. There are a ton of parameters you can play with as the admin, and you can even lock out crash prone racers if you want to drive properly and not play bumper cars. We did notice some large hiccups during qualifying – probably a result of the open lobby format where other players can drop in – but races fared almost flawlessly.

Unfortunately, despite its best efforts, it just can’t measure up to its higher profile peers in the presentation stakes. Make no mistake, the game certainly has its moments – the weather effects are a particular highlight – but the lighting is much flatter than what Polyphony Digital’s able to deliver, and this makes the entire game appear a little drab. It is impressive when you see rain clouds clear as the sun rises around Le Mans, but the visuals are several levels lower than the genre’s best.

The sound’s decent to be fair, and as we mentioned earlier, the handling is excellent, with each vehicle having a unique profile that you need to get to grips with. Slightly Mad Studios’ trademark helmet perspective also returns, blurring out the cockpit as you reach top-speeds – a nifty first-person effect that dates all the way back to the team's work on Need for Speed: Shift. But regular screen tearing and some minor but noticeable framerate inconsistencies do occur, which is unfortunate.

Conclusion

Project CARS 2 gives you loads to do and the incentive to experiment with all of its content, too. The title manages to tie together a dizzying number of vehicular disciplines, and it’s a lot of fun flitting from one to the next. A tight handling model and the freedom to explore all of the release’s content freely means that you’ll lose a lot of time to this motorsport marvel, but presentation shortcomings do take the polish off this package the teensiest bit.