Across the social media spectrum in YouTube land, the notorious loud-mouthed personality BlackPanthaa – an English bloke who traditionally showcases arcade racers on his channel – has caused a bit of an uproar within the Project CARS fanbase. Recently uploading a pair of videos entitled “Reasons Not to Buy Project CARS 2” and “The Project CARS 2 Community Responds”, Theo spends about thirty minutes discussing why he feels the average virtual auto racing fan should avoid the upcoming game by Slightly Mad Studios. And while it’s hilarious to see the all-out war taking place in the comments section between enthusiastic Project CARS owners eagerly anticipating the next game, and those disappointed by the 2015 multi-platform racing simulator for a vast array of reasons, I actually sat through both videos and felt Theo just didn’t do that great of a job getting his main talking points across – which is partially why he was met with such immense hostility from the games’ supporters. It’s really just people shit-talking with one another as if they’re spectators of an important soccer match, instead of properly dissecting why people should or shouldn’t be looking forward to Project CARS 2.
In fact, intelligent discussion around this title is something I’ve yet to see on even the most calm and collected sim racing message boards, such as RaceDepartment, VirtualR, or even the sim racing subreddit. People are quick to call Project CARS a scam and throw all kinds of colorful derogatory nicknames at Ian Bell, the head of Slightly Mad Studios, but rarely do people go into any sort of detail as to why the product is allegedly inferior to other modern auto racing simulators.
So let’s discuss those details. In response to BlackPanthaa’s most recent YouTube videos, here are actual reasons to be skeptical of Project CARS 2 that you can take back to your respective sim racing communities, and have a reasonable discussion around.
Refining the AI Behavior is Too Steep of a Hill to Climb
This one’s pretty self-explanatory, with the short clip above really drilling home just how genuinely difficult it was to participate in a satisfying offline session of racing within the original Project CARS. With so many different vehicles on the roster, and a multitude of tracks that came in all shapes and sizes, it was pretty much impossible for Slightly Mad Studios to craft a compelling artificial intelligence component that could handle all possible racing situations. For example, if you build an AI component for GT3 racing, where they bang doors, brake rather early, and throw dirty-ass blocks because the cars have fenders, it’s not going to go over well with open wheel cars thanks to them making use of completely different braking zones, on-track etiquette, and aerodynamic dependencies.
But during my time spent messing around with the game across two different platforms, the problems I ran into were more than just general aggressiveness. It was not uncommon to make it through Qualifying in one piece and be somewhat satisfied with how the AI drove once they were all spread out, only to see the field of cars become hypersensitive around each other, wander off the racing surface, and smash into a solid object a good thirty feet from the preferred line once the green flag dropped. Anything that could go wrong, did go wrong.
It was already next to impossible to test every single car on every last track layout in the original Project CARS to ensure a compelling single player experience, and with more pieces of content set to be added in the sequel, in my opinion this problem can only get worse. One of the reasons I advocate for single-series games is so developers can focus on perfecting one specific style of racing, as Project CARS is a solid example of what happens when you throw in too many conflicting types of auto racing; you physically can’t test and refine everything to make sure it not only works, but that it works well.
While a lot of sim racers will promptly skip the offline component entirely and head straight towards the eSports section of the title, not giving a shit about how the AI drive in the slightest, where Project CARS differs from other racing simulators is that it attempts to create some sort of major offline career mode experience, where if you want to treat the game as this virtual auto racing career where you start in karts and progress through the ladder like a real driver, you can. If the artificial intelligence is too hit-or-miss, where the GT3 cars are objectively serviceable but the Formula C drivers are complete idiots and wad up the field with nonsensical kamikaze moves, this entire portion of the game is basically a write-off.
Some of the Technical Hiccups Are Ready to Enter Kindergarten
Unfortunately, I have to admit defeat here and confess that in 2017, most major video games ship with a wide variety of bugs and glitches, to the point where making a video compilation of unique in-game fuck-ups is a surefire path to YouTube stardom and at least recouping the cost of the game thanks to Google AdSense. However, the glitches that were present in Project CARS at launch, and during the first few months of the game’s shelf life as a $60 product, were more than a misplaced menu, spelling error, or distracting visual anomaly. It was not uncommon for your car to spontaneously explode thanks to gremlins deep inside nVidia’s PhysX system, rendering all of the time you’ve spent behind the wheel up to that point, an absolute waste of an afternoon.
Now while we all love a good car crash, there’s a difference between hitting an invisible wall in Burnout: Revenge and dropping back five seconds from the race leader, versus having a multiple-hour race ended prematurely, or losing the points lead in your private online league, because the software was defective for a split second. With how incredibly complex modern video games have become, we’re never going to completely abolish technical issues, but the problem with Project CARS was that the technical issues were show-stopping; launching your vessel into orbit at the most inopportune of occasions. The thrill of sitting down to play a racing simulator comes in merely completing a lengthy event with the car in one piece, and having that dark cloud looming above the players’ heads, threatening to fuck it all up at random, was very frustrating.
But what really rustled people’s jimmies, was that these were some of the exact same gremlins that had popped up in previous Slightly Mad Studios releases, such as 2011’s Need for Speed Shift 2: Unleashed. Four, almost five years had passed, and though Slightly Mad Studios had re-built Project CARS from the ground up with the help of the sim racing community, injected an entirely new roster of content into the application, and were operating on a completely different design philosophy, the same bugs that ruined races in 2011, were ruining races in 2016. Customers wanted to be shown the new game was be an improvement over the old game, and in this case, it didn’t happen.
So with the team unable to fix one of Shift 2’s most notorious bugs in five years for the release of Project CARS, it’s completely understandable as a potential customer to question what bugs from Project CARS they’ll be able to rectify for the sequel. Will the zero camber exploit return? Will cars continue to spawn directly on top of one another at the start of the race? Will rain tires last longer than hard compounds, while producing the speed of supersofts? Many sim racers believe the answer to these questions are all “yes”, and the track record of Slightly Mad Studios when it comes to getting these things fixed for good just isn’t where it should be.
Of course, that’s not to say there isn’t a possibility they’ll go out and prove everybody wrong, but if we’re basing our predictions on past tendencies of Slightly Mad Studios here, the hyper-critical sim racers digging up old NFS Shift glitch videos are certainly making a valid argument, and have every right to be concerned.
Digging through the PRC.net archives to when we first began covering Project CARS 2 in the summer of 2015, I was able to find choice snippets of teaser material, depicting a very different Project CARS 2 than what has officially been announced this past month.
The 200+ car figure first mentioned has been cut back to 170. Hill Climb racing and Touge battles have been cut entirely in favor of ice racing – if a VirtualR commenter is to be believed – which from the publicly available footage appears to be just one facility. There hasn’t been a word about driver swaps, spotting functionality, teammates, or co-drivers, with the focus instead being placed on something called LiveTrack 3.0 and dynamic puddles – which is probably a shot at reeling in the rFactor 2 crowd, who endlessly masturbate over unique rubber build up. There’s also a create-your-own test track feature listed, and some sort of tutorial mode dubbed the “Project CARS Academy” discussed in early pCars 2 material from the official Slightly Mad Studios website, though none of this has surfaced, either.
It’s not abnormal for developers to cut features from a game during the development phase for any number of reasons. This is a simple fact of game development – not everything on the drawing board makes it into the final product. However, the drastic change in direction compared to their initial, very public vision that was proudly shown off to the sim racing community, is commonplace for Slightly Mad Studios, who once aimed to launch the original Project CARS as a Wii U title before sheepishly admitting they couldn’t make the game run at 30 FPS long after the game’s release on other modern consoles.
Putting myself in the shoes of a potential customer, its very hard to have faith in the quality of the upcoming product a company is working on, when the company makes very public initial statements, claims, or previews that are then totally contradicted by their own second wave of promotional material a few months (or in this case years) later. Again, it’s not out of the ordinary for a big team like Electronic Arts to talk about a new feature in FIFA or Madden in select interviews that eventually fail to see the light of day due to time constraints or the inability for the team to implement it in a way that was enjoyable, but in this case, it’s now two games in a row where Slightly Mad Studios have come out and said “we’re planning to try and have X, Y, and Z in our game”, only to show up a year later with Q, W, and a portion of Z. Customers sketch out a bit when this happens, and its very understandable for them to feel that way, so they start asking legitimate questions about what other kinds of surprises are in store for them – the surprises without stripper cakes and copious amounts of alcohol.
In the coming months, there will be a lot of fighting when anybody dares to bring up Project CARS 2, and the above three areas are where I feel any sane message board user should drag the conversation into if they’re looking to move away from generic shit-talking comments such as “Project CARS is the most beautiful piece of crap I’ve ever purchased” in favor of a more reasonable critical discussion about what will most likely turn into Bandai-Namco’s alternative of Forza or Gran Turismo. There are a lot of reasons to be skeptical about this game, but rather than busting out the one-liners, calling it a scam, or dreaming up new nicknames for Ian Bell, personally I’d rather see things evolve to the next level of online warfare – proper discussions.