The Project CARS 2 July Status Update

It’s obviously going to be a tricky endeavor to address anything related to Slightly Mad Studios here on PRC without endless cries of viral marketing, but given that the launch of Project CARS 2 is only a few short months away, other publications are starting to ramp up their own respective coverage of the title, and our personal involvement with the development of the game, it’s only fair we talk about the multi-platform racing simulator at some point, and there’s no better time to do so than today.

With a scheduled release date September 22nd for the PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC, Project CARS 2 is once again aiming to be that next step up from Gran Turismo or Forza Motorsport, offering auto racing fans a hardcore simulation experience with current generation visuals, and most importantly, without the absurd configuration, file management, and tweaking traditionally required from a niche PC simulator. Bundled with over 180 cars at launch, and a rather stout selection of circuits from around the world, Project CARS 2 is more or less an alternate reality version of rFactor 2, in which Image Space Incorporated had been supplied with near-unlimited funds to acquire as many prominent licenses as possible, and a comparatively massive staff to actually get the game out on store shelves within a reasonable time frame.

PRC’s involvement in the game, as stated in the past, has seen myself placed in a paid position, in which I was basically told to boot up the application each afternoon to poke around and see what kind of weird shit I could find. As a result, my experience with Project CARS 2 does not really put me in the best spot to publish a positive piece on the simulator, as I’m not exactly playing the game to enjoy myself as one normally would when busting out the toy steering wheel for the evening; I’m instead turning laps to troubleshoot and make sure that slip-ups and inaccuracies don’t make their way into the final game you’ll have the option to purchase in late September.

I definitely don’t want to claim I’m Superman and imply that myself and Sev have played an integral role in helping to polish Project CARS 2 prior to release, but I can confirm that in the months since we’ve last posted about Project CARS 2, we’ve found some important things that were promptly rectified by the development team. Personally, I was really proud of an 18-page thread relating to vehicle inertia and initial turn-in grip, and how within a week of first starting the topic, the team had identified a solution to our findings, one which drastically transformed the game for the better. It was really exciting when the solutions were gradually implemented, the lap times slowed to be within a very realistic window, and the driving techniques required to go fast were much more reasonable. It was definitely a moment that negated all of the uproar of the initial announcement of us partnering with our sworn enemy, and in the end, sim racers will reap the benefits.

Driving-wise, I still have to reiterate that it feels like a polished, complete version of rFactor 2, albeit with significantly better force feedback. SMS are at a point in development where they are still fine-tuning some cars for more authentic lap times, so I’m not exactly jumping at the bit to record a few videos of myself hotlapping because there are cars on the roster highly subject to change in terms of performance, but the most exciting part is that a lot of the most popular vehicles, right now we can jump in for an online practice session, throw down a few laps, check basically any IMSA qualifications sheet over the past two or three years, and we’re bang on in terms of lap times. Comparing on-board footage is also extremely gratifying as well; there have been a few times where out of my own curiosity I’ve synced up a Le Mans or Daytona Road Course lap of mine with the real life track record, and it’s not just the lap time that’s accurate; it’s the line, the pitch & attitude of the vehicle.. It’s something that’s really exciting to see, especially when other simulators aren’t at that level just yet.

Personally, I think a lot of people are going to be surprised because it just doesn’t drive like the original game in the slightest; those who say otherwise are flat-out lying or just being wankers under the guise of anonymity. On the other hand, I think a lot of criticism will instead come from sim racers who are unwilling to upgrade their PC’s to run such a graphically intensive game, though in our own testing at Dustin’s house, who’s not on a PC gifted to him by SMS, the game ran absolutely fine and did not suffer from any of the performance issues or graphical artifacts seen in the first title. Optimization for Project CARS 2 is really important and I’m glad the team are working hard to get it nailed for launch, considering many sim racers fall on extreme sides of the hardware spectrum; they’re either busting their balls to run the original rFactor, or have some kind of super-computer.

But of course, all of this is subjective, so instead I’d like to showcase a few elements that Slightly Mad Studios are implementing into Project CARS 2 that are objectively beneficial for sim racers who choose to pick up the title at launch.

There’s a built-in race engineer similar to Evolution Studios’ Formula One game on the PlayStation 3. While you don’t necessarily need a killer setup to turn laps and enjoy your time within a racing simulator, it certainly helps, especially if you’re participating in an online league of some sort. Though it’s obviously not a substitute for proper setup knowledge, and I definitely encourage people to bite the bullet and learn some rudimentary setup techniques sooner rather than later, Project CARS 2 allows you to consult a virtual crew chief within the garage menu that will make tweaks via what’s more or less a text adventure format.

You first pick the category you feel is worth exploring, and are then asked a series of multiple choice questions regarding car handling, before the crew chief offers a selection of changes that can be implemented with the click of a button. Again, it’s not a total replacement for manually making custom adjustments in the garage area, but given how daunting car setups can be for people really wanting to get involved in sim racing, it’s an excellent way to hold their hands and ease them into an element of these games that some spend years trying to figure out. Given how so many people on iRacing struggled to build setups, half of the service became fixed setup racing, it’s nice to see a developer take a hard stance in favor of the engineering side of auto racing, while still offering a reasonable solution for newcomers.

The bizarre force feedback setup seen in the original Project CARS has been eradicated, with something significantly more simple taking it’s place. With just four sliders and an overall effects setting – much like a guitar amp – gone are the days of an entire third party website with multiple configuration downloads being necessary just to get Project CARS to feel somewhat reasonable out on the racing surface. A couple of years ago, a force feedback menu wouldn’t really matter in the grand scheme of things, but given how expensive and complex toy steering wheels are becoming – with even more ridiculous setups arriving in the future – the fact that the entire game’s settings can be tweaked with just a few easy-to-understand sliders is a highly efficient design choice, and it really goes with the mantra SMS are trying to achieve with Project CARS 2; it’s a hardcore simulator, without the insane amount of time dedicated to configuration.

This screen is of course subject to change, but at the moment it’s certainly hard to knock or find fault with.

Lastly, the game will make use of what the team are calling “motorsport presets”, allowing people to jump in and immediately have the game configured to their preferred or even favorite style of racing. One element that pisses me off about game such as Automobilista or Race 07 is how the event configuration screen becomes an endless list of adjustable options, taking time away from the on-track action just to erect a race weekend to mimic my racing series of choice. The motorsport preset functionality will basically allow IndyCar fans to boot up the game and immediately have the single player portion tailored to an authentic IndyCar experience, while WEC or Blancpain GT3 enthusiasts can treat Project CARS 2 as primarily an endurance racing simulator. It’s not a complete solution for those wanting the days of single series titles to make a return, but it’s a nice way of accommodating those who know full well they will be ignoring a large amount of the game’s content, and making a beeline straight for the heavy hitters.

There’s certainly more I could talk about, but I do not wish to over-saturate the internet with Project CARS 2 preview information, especially with so many other websites covering the game in a much more traditional & extensive format. Straight and to the point, however, the game is shaping up to be exponentially more refined than the first offering; it drives well, and there a few neat little features to ensure you’ll spend more time turning laps than configuring the software – as opposed to many other modern racing simulators. Personally, I am hoping Slightly Mad Studios push out a free demo prior to launch, as after the first game failed to impress those it was built for, it would be a very nice gesture to demonstrate the improvements that have been made over the past few years, considering the justified amount of skepticism surrounding Project CARS 2.

Until then, preview articles will suffice.

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Nerd Goggles Fail to Impress at Goodwood Festival of Speed

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, or are just getting your feet wet in the world of auto racing, the yearly Goodwood Festival of Speed was held this past weekend in West Sussex, England. A tradition which started in 1993, the iconic event serves as motor racing’s equivalent to the Detroit Auto Show; race cars from the past, present, and future – as well as a capped limit of 150,000 fans – all cram into the grounds of Goodwood House for what’s essentially a pop-up encyclopedia of where auto racing has been, and where it’s going. Though the hill climb at the center of the festivities is little more than a cozy one minute stretch of asphalt sporting a few blind corners, the overall atmosphere and sheer size of the displays turns the event into the pinnacle of race car exhibitions. It’s certainly a bucket list item for those living within close proximity to West Sussex, and in recent years the popularity of Goodwood has skyrocketed thanks to event organizers streaming the event live on YouTube for outsiders to take part in.

To capitalize on the audience of 150,000 hardcore auto racing fans, many major developers had their own respective booths configured to show off this fall’s upcoming simulators to their core audience. Our friends over at Slightly Mad Studios were able to partner up with Bentley’s factory GT3 team and place a top of the line sim rig next to the Continental GT3 car, encouraging fans to have a go at the yet-to-be-released Project CARS 2 on the Brands Hatch GP circuit in what was more or less the best setup money can currently buy. We’re talking a proper Vesaro rig with a Direct Drive wheel, and of course a virtual reality headset.

One PRC ground reporter – who’s also a talented sim racer in his own right – was in attendance at Goodwood this year and was actually able to try a few laps on the rig (pictured above, though it’s not him driving), which was a monumental step up compared to what he races on at home. Unfortunately, his impressions from the experience of racing on a setup that featured top of the line everything were a mixed bag, and it does not bode well for those wanting to splurge money on sim racing peripheral upgrades, or even improving a single aspect of their setup – most notably the purchase of a virtual reality headset. In fact, his time with the Project CARS 2 uberseat only served to perpetuate our notion here at PRC that virtual reality headsets are a passing fad, and that it’s completely understandable for some developers to be completely uninterested in supporting the various high definition nerd goggles available on the market.

The choice quote I received from our ground reporter after his session was incredibly blunt; “virtual reality is a joke.” That’s how the conversation began, with him elaborating further “it was blurry and disorienting as fuck, with no peripheral vision either. It was like I was looking through binoculars with these giant black borders.”

So uh… yeah, that’s the kind of experience people are spending $800 on, and then shilling for across gaming forums far and wide.

And though they aggressively beg developers to add VR functionality across every modern game under the sun – especially racing simulators, where the technology is a natural fit – it’s also why developers like Codemasters are still generally hesitant to bother with nerd goggles despite scores of fans drumming up bullshit hashtags such as #noVRnoBuy. As Shaun Cole of The SimPit so expertly described these headsets many months ago, it’s a good experience for some who really get into it and can look past the flaws, but virtual reality headsets as a whole aren’t a good shared experience. For every person who turns a few laps in Assetto Corsa and is promptly blown away by how in-touch with the car they feel – promptly rushing out to buy a pricey wheel despite little to no sim racing experience – there are three or even five people wondering what the fuck all the hype is about, as our PRC ground reporter discovered first hand. It’s blurry, disorienting, and feels like you’re driving while wearing a shitty set of dollar store toy binoculars. Some developers can’t be bothered with implementing functionality for hardware they themselves personally don’t enjoy, and believe to be massively overrated.

It’s also got me wondering just how many users praising VR are genuine individuals, and not just paid shills told to flood various message boards in a quest to get more and more teams to purchase development kits/licenses, which in the end results in Samsung and Oculus turning a better profit. As a gamer I’ve never seen reception to any gaming product so inconsistent and contradictory; usually if a product is genuinely, objectively good, there are little to no negative remarks about the game or piece of hardware anywhere.

For example, when Assetto Corsa first came out in the fall of 2013, it was unanimous that the vehicle handling was leaps and bounds ahead of anything on the market – I don’t recall any notable negative feedback; the game instead shot to the top of Steam and threw more money at Kunos than they knew what to do with. Yet despite VR goggles receiving the same kinds of glowing reviews from portions of the gaming community in a manner similar to Assetto Corsa – deeming it to be the next revolution in gaming – there’s also been an equally vocal portion like our ground reporter from day one who were left utterly perplexed by the experience.

So how in the world are some people calling this technology game-changing when many others are coming forward to say it’s downright brutal? Again, my hypothesis is paid shills, mixed with a pinch of post-purchase rationalization – early VR adopters realizing the technology hasn’t lived up to expectations, yet convincing themselves that the purchase was worth it to feel better about the enormous amount of money they’d spent on nerd goggles plus the PC upgrades to run it.

Excessive Project CARS 2 Pre-Order Bonuses Draw Justified Criticism

I’m starting to miss the glory days of the Xbox Live Marketplace.

A controversial topic around these parts for blatantly obvious reasons, Slightly Mad Studios and Bandai-Namco have taken the wraps off an extensive array of pre-order goodies for their upcoming racing simulator Project CARS 2, and it’s an incredibly tough pill to swallow for even the most financially blessed members of our community. Venturing far beyond a simple car pack or two – turning a piece of software into some kind of pseudo collector’s itemgamers will have the option of forking over up to $460 USD for a copy of Project CARS 2 and various Easter baskets of gifts, including die-cast cars, hats, stickers, magazines for the Ultra Edition, which has been limited to 1000 copies.

No, you’re absolutely not forced to buy the most expensive bundle for access to every last bit of in-game content Slightly Mad Studios will produce for Project CARS 2 – so the completionists need not worry – but it’s the principle behind it that understandably has a lot of people up in arms. Excessive does not even begin to describe what Bandai-Namco have concocted, especially given the status of the Project CARS franchise; I feel this kind of gimmick is inappropriate, and represents the kind of pie-in-the-sky thinking infecting other portions of the sim racing landscape. This isn’t what people wanted to see, especially with no formal release date announced as of yet.

Sure, you can make the argument that this practice of outlandish pre-order bonuses is nothing new and there’s no reason to be frustrated as a gamer over this announcement; the guys at Forza Motorsport go out and do something similar for each release, and I can remember quite vividly Forza Motorsport 5 offered a similar Collector’s Edition with all sorts of oddities that weren’t really essential to the software at hand, whereas Codemasters had the cojones to list a one-off, $190,000 custom BAC Mono for sale alongside Grid 2, and Gran Turismo had a package nearly identical to what’s been revealed for Project CARS 2.

However, in at least two of the three examples I’ve provided above, the excessive material goods are reasonable given the external circumstances. Both Gran Turismo and Forza Motorsport had well-established fanbases that justified some sort of fancy Easter basket; Forza is the definitive racing game on Microsoft’s home gaming console, while people who grew up playing Gran Turismo as teenagers in the 90’s now have children, wives, a mortgage, or in some cases professional racing careers. There’s sentimental value in the goodies that come with said special editions of either car collecting game.

Project CARS, on the other hand, is just one simulator that came out a few years ago, and aside from generally positive reviews written by mainstream publications who admitted in their writings they didn’t quite understand the game’s nuances, received a very mixed reception from the community it was primarily built for. So for a developer or a publisher to go out and push various special editions as if their first release was a smash hit and people are chomping at the bit to play the next game, when in reality the hardcore users their game was built for are openly shit talking the title on major sim racing websites, it makes it look like there’s a major disconnect between how the publisher thinks their game has been received, versus how their game is actually received. And that kind of disconnect has the potential to create even larger problems with the product itself – just look at Ubi-Soft’s Watch Dogs.

The silver lining is that to attain all of the in-game content Slightly Mad Studios will produce for Project CARS 2, you won’t have to shell out for any of these inappropriate special edition packages; in fact the prices of purchasing all post-release content is much cheaper than what you’d expect from Assetto Corsa or the Forza franchise – one positive in a literal sea of negatives.

However, as someone who was in high school during the Call of Duty craze, and whom had to carefully manage their Microsoft Points balance because not all of us had jobs at sixteen, I’m still disgusted by modern downloadable content practices – teenage me would be overwhelmed by the current climate. Though I’m open to hearing how post-release content guarantees job security for a studio, as they can continue to work and make money after a game lands on store shelves, from a customer standpoint, it’s bloody intrusive, and history has clearly displayed it isn’t necessary to the success of a game. The original Forza Motorsport, NASCAR Racing 2003 Season, and GTR 2 didn’t require monthly bite-sized expansion packs to keep the developers afloat and occupied; in fact Need for Speed once gave away cars that didn’t make it into the full game for free.

When you can vividly remember these times, season passes are frustrating; it feels like developers are feeding us propaganda every time they try to explain the reasoning behind them. You can’t tell me Oceania was always at war with Eastasia, when I was old enough to comprehend eight years ago that Eastasia were are allies, in the same manner that you can’t tell me boatloads of DLC is necessary to stay afloat in the market when the market in 1999 was a fraction of what it is today, and teams seemed to do alright back then.

In some instances, you’re paying almost as much as you did for the game itself, just for an extra platter of content that really should have been in the software since the start, as seen in the notorious Driveclub (which is actually a very good game once you buy the other fucking half in little tiny pieces).

Maybe I’m old school and have fond memories of titles such as Project Gotham Racing, in which Bizarre Creations jammed so much into the vanilla experience that most hadn’t even seen everything the game had to offer by the time the lone piece of DLC was released for PGR 4, but teenage me would be overwhelmed by current DLC practices, and many gamers are still as financially stable as teenage me – so I sympathize with them. I want a return to how things used to be; load the software up with as much shit as possible, then ship the product. Make my $60 go somewhere, not merely be a ticket to spend an additional $40.

Yet I’ll also jump sides and play devil’s advocate, because there’s a certain irony in all of this.

Unlike most mass-market racers, Project CARS 2 is a hardcore simulator. These games aren’t really built for children who have been allowed to run wild with mommy’s credit card; we’re sort of in that weird “adult hobby” area, though with the enjoyment of racing simulators being primarily reliant on skill means the occasional whiz kids can show up and validate their spot in the community (or just be annoying little shit cunts).

Take a journey through YouTube, and the people playing the original Project CARS, as well as a diverse roster of competing simulators such as iRacing, DiRT Rally, or Assetto Corsa, and it’s easy to discover triple monitor setups, dedicated racing rigs, expensive aftermarket pedals, $800 graphics cards, and $1,600 USD steering wheels as being par for the course. This is before the $12 per car cost of iRacing, Assetto Corsa’s constant stream of DLC, or the funny money conversion required to purchase items in RaceRoom Racing Experience’s in-game shop.

So for these people to turn around and suddenly complain that a season pass is too much is kind of hilarious.

But is the criticism surrounding these multiple pre-order packages justified? I believe it is. I think we all knew a season pass was coming, it’s just the way gaming happens to be in 2017, and no matter how much I – or we – cry about it, we’ll be thrown endless metrics and propaganda-like reasoning as to how it’s a necessary evil. If you’re a sim racer and really invested into the hobby, you’re already spending thousands on gear and content for other games, so at some point you have to realize there’s a certain irony in having a meltdown over just another game announcing some kind of post-release DLC plan.

However, I will say the exponentially pricier packages are where I too, like many, draw the line, and I think a lot of the outrage at places like RaceDepartment is 100% justified in this regard. I don’t really care that they’re optional; it’s the principle behind them. Project CARS is a brand new franchise where collector’s goodies don’t really have the kind of weight or sentimental value that a similar Gran Turismo or Forza package would – which is why people buy them in the first place. Bandai-Namco pushing these elaborate gift bags gives off the impression that there’s a disconnect between how they think the title was received, versus how it was actually received, and that can be a bit frightening if that mentality is allowed to blossom in the future.

The Fast and the Slightly Mad?

It appears the Project CARS franchise will take a page out of the Forza Motorsport playbook and churn out their own lighthearted alter-ego, albeit with a major licensing tie-in. German gaming website GameStar.de have reported this morning that hints left around the internet by head of Slightly Mad Studios Ian Bell, as well as publisher Bandai-Namco’s previous relationship with the films, heavily imply that the yet-to-be-announced franchise to act as an arcade alternative to their hardcore-oriented simulator will be none other than a series of Fast and Furious games for the PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC. Supposedly wrangled away from the grasps of incompetent shovelware developers and placed into the hands of a team whose entire gaming history revolves around cars, cars, and more cars, if this rumor materializes, it might be the first time we’ll actually get to see if the insanity from the silver screen translates into an enjoyable, satisfactory video game.

But while giving the reigns of the franchise to Slightly Mad Studios would guarantee the title won’t be immediately sent to the bargain bin upon release, and will pump a lot of money into the studio to help fuel their future simulation projects, I can’t help but have mixed feelings about this endeavor if I wake up in a few weeks time and see the rumors have been confirmed. Producing a mass-market arcade driving game with guns, explosions, cinematic sequences, and a compelling story that has little to do with cars would generate several major mountains to climb in quick succession for a team who until this point have specialized in nothing but pure, hardcore racing simulators, and many sim aficionados still aren’t entirely convinced the team have mastered their home genre as of yet.

Personally, I think Slightly Mad Studios would be fully capable of creating a competent, lighthearted arcade racer under the Fast and Furious banner had this partnership come about long ago, when the film series was just establishing itself as a cult classic among teenagers of the early 2000’s. The first few feature-length movies in the series centered primarily around the import tuner culture of Southern California and the accompanying narcotics trading rings, an element of the films that could be carefully removed from the virtual environment in favor of fleshing out the street racing aspect in a manner akin to Need for Speed: Underground 2.

However, the theme of the franchise has shifted radically into the realm of organized crime syndicates and bank heists rather than street racing – with the diverse cast of highly customized vehicles merely serving as an extension of the characters in the films – and I can’t imagine Universal Studios would want the video game tie-in to deviate from these themes, as the previous few games have all been mission-based driving affairs.

The problem with mission-based driving games, and even car combat games if you’d like me to go that far, is that they typically don’t do so well when finally released out into the wild. Vin Diesel’s Wheelman received only lukewarm scores, while players universally blasted Ubi-Soft’s The Crew for an intrusive, hokey, and downright annoying storywishing it didn’t exist at all and just wanting to roam the map competing in races and upgrading their cars. Electronic Arts twice dabbled in heavy narratives and “action driving” sequences with Need for Speed: Undercover and Need for Speed: The Run, but both were panned by basically everybody who bought them; Undercover going down as the worst Need for Speed release on the Xbox 360, with The Run establishing itself as a close second. You have to go back two console generations – to Rockstar San Diego’s Smuggler’s Run franchise – to find a solid mission-based driving game, and even then, it was from a team who had at that point already created three other mission based driving games.

Major developers with decades of experience in multiple video game genres just can’t figure out how to make these types of games appealing to critics or enjoyable for the common gamer they’re marketed towards, so a team like Slightly Mad Studios – who have specialized in nothing other than hyper-obscure simulators with European sports car racing at the forefront – would have an exponentially more difficult time molding such a project into a compelling experience.

With Project CARS 2 on the horizon, and a handful of games that didn’t entirely convince myself nor the sim community that Slightly Mad Studios have mastered their “home genre” so to speak and would be fully prepared to take on a new challenge, I’m also wondering why there wasn’t more of a tangible effort to remain tight-lipped about this incoming announcement, even if GameStar’s productions are incorrect and we end up finding out the unannounced movie franchise is Mad Max. The exact licensing partnership doesn’t really change the final element of criticism SMS may receive on this front.

There are a lot of people across various sim racing forums that felt burned by Project CARS (though there seems to be a cult following around the two Need for Speed Shift games), and Slightly Mad Studios have spent the past few months reassuring them that the team are 110% focused on ensuring every last possible need of theirs will be met in Project CARS 2. That game is still many months away from release, you’re spending a lot of time carefully coddling the community into giving you another chance, and suddenly to the outside world it seems as if a portion of the team have now been allocated to a totally unrelated piece of software just as crunch time on Project CARS 2 is about to begin. I’m not a fan of the mixed messages here, nor the way information was allowed to leak out when it could actually backfire and upset the fan base of another one of your products; it gives them the impression you’re not focusing as much as you said you would.

Regardless, we’ll see how this all plays out in time. One more racing game from a large studio isn’t exactly going to hurt the genre, so long as it offers something unique and enticing compared to what else is on the market.

PRC Invades Bandai-Namco Germany

18049515_10212920580798641_1027486462_oThanks to the opportunity spearheaded by Ian Bell, this past Wednesday I was graciously invited as PRC’s foreign relations rep to a private press showing of Project CARS 2, which means we can start opening up a bit more about the upcoming simulator and tell you about everything that was on display at Bandai-Namco’s offices in Frankfurt. I arrived on location around noon and was greeted by two SMS employees, Luis and Marco. They quickly led me to the room where they had a rig setup with a Playseat and a Thurstmaster T300, complimented by a relatively large television running Windows 10.

Marco told me that before lunch would arrive, I could warm myself up with a couple of laps in the Olsberg GRC Lite car at the Daytona infield rallycross track. Straight out of the box the car behaved like I expected a support class  rallycross car to behave. If I had to explain the feeling of the car to someone who hasn’t played Project Cars 2 yet, I’d say that it felt very similar to how the rallycross cars drive in Dirt Rally – though much more refined. On dirt or gravel, the car felt almost identical to Dirt Rally, but on tarmac you could really feel that Project Cars 2 is, at its heart, a racing simulator. It didn’t display the weird and wonky tarmac physics of Dirt Rally where the car seemingly has too much grip, but rather felt exactly like you would expect a car with dirt tires would behave on tarmac.

18049465_10212920577118549_1400574340_oAfter I’d done a couple of warmup laps, it was time for a proper race against a field of AI opponents. If you don’t know much about Rallycross, then let me quickly explain to you how it works – six cars are spread across two rows, with the race commencing in a standing start fashion. Events are usually short affairs rarely lasting more than five or six laps, of which one requires you to take a slightly longer route around one of the corners of the track – known as the joker lap.

Since Marco was impressed by my speed he disregarded the AI strength setting recommended by Slightly Mad Studios for the press event and set the slider to 100% strength and increased their aggressiveness as well, a slider that many longtime rFactor players will be familiar with. I started the race in last place and had to make my way up the order during the course of five laps. I quickly overtook four of my five opponents, however the AI driving at the front of the pack was giving everything it could, throwing blocks, braking late and trying everything else at his disposal in order to keep me from taking his spot. However, my immersion was affected when I completely forgot to take the mandatory joker lap, and the game did not penalize me for it.

Later in the afternoon, we continued with a proper Honda Civic GRC entry at the Hell Rallycross track, a track many of you will be familiar with from Codemasters’ Dirt Rally. Though the track layout itself was the same as it is in Dirt Rally, I noticed something else now that I had a direct comparison with a different game that has the same track; Even though the layout was the same, the track surface detail was much higher in Project Cars 2. You really felt that you were driving on big chunks of gravel; The wheel vibrated ever so slightly, just like it does when you drive a gravel road in real life. Obviously, this feeling will change on the wheel and force feedback options that you set yourself, but that it’s working this well at this stage of the development of the game is a good sign.

After I’d accustomed myself to the car and track combination, it was time for another race. Since I had beaten the AI easily at 100% strength at the Daytona rallycross track, Marco now set the AI difficulty to 120%, fittingly called “Alien”though I don’t consider myself one, neither figuratively nor literally. This time I had great difficulty keeping up with the AI since I had started in last place again, and due to a couple of mistakes from my side I didn’t manage to win the race.

Next up was driving the Acura NSX GT3 at the Red Bull Ring in Austria. For the first time, dynamic time changes and 60x time speed up were activated as well, which meant that during the couple of laps I drove to get used to the car and track, the time of day progressed from noon to deep into the night. Headlights turned themselves on automatically on the car and at the track, and due to both lower air and track temperatures you could actually feel the tires producing a little more grip than during day time. This is something the endurance racing guys will love.

During the couple of hotlaps that I completed to familiarize myself with the car, I noticed that the turn-in behavior of the car felt “weird”. It was a feeling that was difficult to describe, but compared to my own experiences playing the alpha version of the game at home, it didn’t feel as smooth as I was used to with these cars. We went into the gameplay options menu and saw that Stability Control was activated, presumably for the more mainstream gaming journalists who would arrive later. I don’t know exactly what it does (apart from making the car feel like shit), but I implore Slightly Mad Studios to explore how stability control has been implemented. Many pad users will undoubtedly toggle on a vast array of assists to come to terms with the driving experience in Project CARS 2, and I felt it was counter-intuitive to what driving assists are supposed to do.

So, after disabling the Stability Control option, it again was time for another race against the AI, this time against a full field of 31 other GT3 cars, similar to what you would experience when driving the Blancpain GT series in real life. Again, I started last and had to make my way up the order during the 10 laps I was given for this event. After I’d gotten into a bit of free air and could turn some laps without having to constantly battle for position, I noticed that the AI somehow had a lot more power coming out of the corners and thus they were able to accelerate much quicker. But even though they arrived with much more speed at the different corners of the track, they could brake five, sometimes even ten or fifteen meters later than I had to in order to make the corner. In turn, their actual cornering speed was somewhat slow; sometimes they were so slow that I bumped into them at the corner apex, even though at turn-in they had a good two car lengths on me. This is something that Slightly Mad Studios definitely have to put some work into until the release of the game, as right now they exhibit behavior traits similar to ISI-powered products, where the line the AI uses conflicts with what the player car is capable of.

What I enjoyed about the AI though, was that thanks to the high aggressiveness setting the AI often dared to try and out-brake me into corners when they were next to me, something which many games don’t do well. Sometimes this led to the AI using me as a brake in order to make the corner, but most of the time it worked out fine. I also didn’t notice any massive pile ups or cars stuck in the gravel pits, which plagues not only the original Project CARS, but also other racing simulators like Assetto Corsa. I eventually made my way up to third before all of the spaghetti fell out of my pocket coming out of turn five, and caused a massive pile up that involved at least five or six cars.

The final car and track combination that we visited was IndyCar at the Long Beach Street Circuit. There was no AI race event configured for this combination, but again we started at daylight and drove until the track was dark. I rarely drive single-seaters in racing simulations since most games get them pretty wrong based on my own real-world experience, but I was positively surprised by how it handled.

What you’re asking yourself the most at this point is probably: “Tell us how the cars drive and feel!”, so let me answer your question. The overall feel, as Austin described a few days ago is very similar to some of the very good cars in rFactor 2; for me that means that it feels very realistic and predictable, but I know there are people out there that really dislike rFactor 2’s physics. The tire behavior is very similar, flat-spotting is simulated at least to the same degree that rFactor 2 simulates it (albeit the force feedback doesn’t try to rip your arms off you once you flatspotted your tire) and PCARS2’s tire model also incorporates an advanced form of tire deformation, as you can see in the video below.

What really makes the biggest difference though in terms of feel compared to other simulators, is the way that the suspension is modeled and how it interacts with the force feedback and the overall feel of the car. As I mentioned with the Rallycross cars earlier, thanks to most of the tracks being laser-scanned, you can feel every little bump on the track. This makes the cars more exciting to drive but also easier to predict, as driving over a bump gives you immediate feedback as to what the car will do next. Obviously all of this is subject to change, but if Slightly Mad Studios keep going in this direction with the development of their physics model, then I’m very optimistic that it will turn out very well and generally be liked by the community.

Another thing that I got to experience was what the team are calling “Live Track 3.0” and how weather affected the track. Track and weather progression was accelerated by a factor of 60 during my time spent playing the press demo, so one lap with one car would feel like like two laps with a full grid of cars putting rubber down on the racing surface. After a couple of loops around the circuit you could not only see a driving line form, but you also felt that you could brake later and accelerate earlier where the rubber was laid down. I also have to mention that unlike rFactor 2’s real road surface, which is a generic uniform strand of rubber, the racing groove begins as two distinct smaller rubber trails (one for each side of the vehicle’s tires) before eventually widening into a bigger, general patch. It looks objectively better than rFactor 2’s real road, and gives you a better idea of the lines people are taking through each corner. An additional feature that I sadly wasn’t allowed to take footage of yet (since the feature isn’t completely finished) is how the dynamic track changes with weather, but I’m sure you’ll see it at some point in the near future

Once I was done with all the car and track combinations that I was allowed to take footage of, we went back to Long Beach, but set the weather options in such a way that it progressed from heavy clouds to a heavy storm, and then back to blistering heat over the course of a couple of laps. Since the build version I was playing didn’t allow for pit stops or a change of tires at the start of a session, I could only use dry slick tires for the complete session with the Acura NSX GT3.

With every lap I turned, it began to rain harder and harder until I could barely go forward anymore due to aquaplaning. And when the weather changed to a scorching heat, a dry line quickly formed where I had driven the lap before while the rest of the track only slowly dried off. According to Slightly Mad Studios, the final version of the game will, on most tracks, have realistic drainage modeled into the track mesh, so once it stops raining water will realistically start to disappear from the driving surface, while taking much longer and in realistic places off the track, such as on grass. Though sim racers who run shorter races won’t be able to see how this plays into an event strategy, the bigger GT3 and prototype leagues will find this to be an extra challenge they’ll have to deal with.

The sound is, overall, pretty decent. Depending on the car it’s already very good, though some cars still experience issues. One thing I spotted during my session at Bandai-Namco was that when you drive under a bridge it sounded like someone is cutting a steel beam with an electric steel saw, though I assume this will be fixed.

In terms of visual fidelity and performance, I can’t comment that much from the event itself since the game didn’t run at full details in order to guarantee perfect performance. I can tell you from my personal experience though that the game looks absolutely beautiful in most cases on full detail as the graphics engine is, after all, an improved version of the one used for the original iteration. Optimization is significantly better than the first game, as during hotlapping on maximum details I never dip below 60fps, and that’s with a 970GTX at a 1440p resolution. This is of course still subject to change as not all graphical features have been implemented into the game yet, but what I just said should give you a rough ballpark figure of what to expect from the final game. Be aware though that the more AI or, when playing online, real players are driving in the same session as you, performance will most likely take a dip as your CPU will be stressed pretty heavily thanks to the complex physics engine that works underneath the cover of Project Cars 2.

All in all I found very few things wrong with the game in its current state (or rather, the build that I played), and if things progress as nicely as they have done so far, I see very little reason to not enjoy this game once it is released. I honestly tried to find as many bad things as I could during the couple of hours that I had to play this game so I couldn’t be accused of shilling for the game, but there just wasn’t that many things wrong with the game. I also did not receive any money or other incentives to write this article other than paid travel to and from the Bandai-Namco Germany headquarters.

Auf Wiedersehen

[Disclaimer: The poor video quality is down to Austin not having mastered the art of Sony Vegas video rendering yet, since we were allowed to recapture the footage taken at Bandai Namco at home. At the event I was able to play the game at a 4K resolution.]