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.

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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.]

An Insight Into the Development of Project CARS 2

So with a whole bunch of people starting to climb aboard the hype train, and all major sim racing outlets beginning to cover Project CARS 2 quite heavily, I guess it’s only fair that a guy on the company payroll who has suspiciously not talked a whole lot about the simulator after aggressively ripping on the first iteration throws his own two cents into the mix as well. I don’t care for scrutinizing recent car and track announcements because my point of view is clearly warped; I can boot up the game and look at everything that both has and hasn’t been announced yet at my own free will, so instead I’d like to go in a different route for today’s entry.

It’s still weird to say given how the previous two years have played out, but I am a contract worker for Slightly Mad Studios and I’m paid to rip apart Project CARS 2 behind the scenes. I was able to quit my job at a very prominent rental car company, so it’s safe to say this venture is funding more than just excessive amounts of Ultimate Team packs for NHL or Madden. Now a lot of our readers have been pelting the comments sections of every single article on here with accusations that I’m paid to rip on the competition and/or keep quiet about the development of Project CARS 2 on PRC, so instead of arguing with these anonymous sim racers time and time again, article after article, the easiest thing to do is just be open about what’s going on behind the scenes and do an article about how the development of Project CARS 2 is coming along – or at least, how I specifically have contributed to the game.

Because, you know, that’s what I am paid for. Slamming various simulators and praising obscure console games from a decade ago is something I’ve done independently since 2013 when I wrote for RaceDepartment and VirtualR; claiming this rhetoric only exists because of the requests of a single company is just silly. Come on guys, you can do better.

There are things Project CARS 2 does objectively well over its predecessor and it’s why I made the decision to be involved with the game. The absurdly complicated force feedback menu has been completely eradicated; it’s just one main initial “style” of feedback followed by four adjustment sliders like a guitar amp – and I expect that to be simplified even further. The menus have been totally changed, now resembling the art style of a modern EA Sports product, while the heads up display has been completely re-designed from the ground up to be more TV-broadcast looking, incorporating the highly-appreciated iRacing delta bar into the default configuration. There’s also a tangible art theme to the whole thing as opposed to floating grey semi-transparent boxes that dominated the previous offering.

And in my 54 hours of gameplay, not once has my car sunk into the ground or exploded three hundred feet into the air like the viral videos from the original Project CARS have showcased. I will undoubtedly be called a shill, viral marketer, whatever, for merely suggesting that this game has improved in certain aspects, but these are the 100% definite elements of the game where you would have to be psychologically crippled to argue there has been no improvement.

As I said above, I don’t care for going over specifics in the vehicle roster or location selection; licensing agreements will see the content featured in Project CARS 2 announced over a period of several months. What I can say is that no major brand has been left out (which many have already figured out from the few trailers released), and the track selection will allow online leagues to run two or three seasons without treading through familiar territory. It’s very much like rFactor 2 in terms of content, but in an alternate timeline where Studio 397 have an enormous budget and an average score in the 80’s from all major gaming sites that allow them to negotiate with basically whatever brands and tracks they want. I don’t care for the Mercedes Benz ice circuit, nor the rallycross stuff that was recently announced considering most will buy DiRT 4 for their rallycross fix, but I can confirm that you’re allowed to slap dirt tires on any vehicle in the game, and there are a few street legal cars that are a blast in this toss-up format, which is something DiRT 4 doesn’t offer.

Alright, that’s the boring stuff out of the way.

There were initially plans to not include the Formula A car in Project CARS 2, which for those who haven’t messed around with the previous game, it was a generic top level open wheel racer inspired by 2011 Formula One regulations, kind of like what Reiza do with Stock Car Extreme or Automobilista. Straight up, I contacted Ian Bell directly and asked “where is this car?” Honestly, I don’t care for Formula One, and every time I’ve tried to give the series a chance, I’ve either fallen asleep or been left totally underwhelmed by the on-track product, but I understand what F1 means to many sim racers around the world, and heavily pushed for this car to be included in Project CARS 2 even though I personally will never touch it. The car showed up in the next build. You’re welcome.

I think my first week or two was spent on the oval side of things. It’s no secret Slightly Mad Studios are looking to include oval racing in Project CARS 2 after the discipline not making the cut for the original game, but after my first shakedown of the content, I realized a lot of the guys in charge of the artificial intelligence were probably from Europe and just didn’t get how this type of racing works because I wasn’t very impressed with what I saw. Every other day, I would jump on to WMD, and write a somewhat lengthy post breaking down how drivers would approach each individual oval featured in Project CARS 2, where the AI should run, what kind of alternate lines they should take to either attack or conserve tires, and the mentality behind drafting – because it’s not just “follow the car in front.” It’s pretty challenging to describe to guys who have never watched a single NASCAR race in their lives how pack racing dynamics work at Daytona, but I think I did an alright job.

There’s also an oval on the roster that hasn’t seen competition since the 1960’s, so Sev and myself had to fire up a private online session and run laps against each other to understand what drivers would have been doing back then, and of course  then go on the forums and say “this is where you hold position, this is where you launch an attack, this is the spot on the track where you MUST fall back into line or else you die, and this is the line you run in the corner for maximum speed on corner exit to get a run on the guy in front…”  I found the process enjoyable because writing in a constructive fashion is a huge change of pace from being an asshole on PRC, and you have to employ a much different vocabulary to get the same point across. It kind of made me understand why musicians will start up side-projects; it diversifies their skill set.

People are going to throw tantrums if I talk about physics or the game’s tire model, so be warned that what I’m about to write is what you may or may not want to hear. The cars that have received a lot of attention in Project CARS 2, specifically the GT3 and GTE stuff, drive very much like the URD EGT payware cars in rFactor 2, so if you enjoy those cars to any extent, there’ll be at least two classes of cars that’ll be of use to you in Project CARS 2. I thought this was a meme at first when I read somebody’s impressions on the Sector 3 forums comparing it to rFactor 2, and then again when Sev told us on Teamspeak, but once I got behind the wheel myself, yeah, this is pretty much what Project CARS 2 feels like. I don’t care to sit here and throw buzzwords at you guys, so just go take some laps in the URD cars and that’s what you can expect from Project CARS 2.

Yet not every car is up to this level of competence, but I guess that’s to be expected from a game still heavily in development. A few weeks ago I was tasked with testing a specific class of car that I’m super excited to see in the game (good versions of these cars are impossible to find even in rFactor), and discovered in my shakedown sessions that the default setup warranted lap times several seconds faster than the real life pole time. So after finding this and reporting it, there were a few days where I’d sign on, run laps, post lap times in the appropriate thread, wait for an update to the cars, then do it all over again. We’re much closer to real world performance figures now than we were when I first started running shakedown laps in the class, so I’m glad I took the time to run those cars hard for a few days. On the plus side, one of the cars crashed spectacularly on me in the same manner it had crashed in real life, so that was confirmation the aero numbers were correct. I think y’all can figure out which car I’m talking about here.

Recently we did a weekend-long hot lap competition with a car I’m not too familiar with in terms of setup or driving, and in my quest to dick-wave on the leaderboards discovered a couple exploits and oddities within the setup screen that would have been just as bad as the camber exploit discovered in the first game had they made it into the build that’ll be released on store shelves. I’m still kicking myself for finishing second overall (or was it third?), but the key thing is that a fix is inbound, long before launch, and real-world setup knowledge will be beneficial to your car’s performance – as it should be in a simulator.

Starting today, I’ve turned my attention to a class that has skyrocketed in popularity in recent years, and managed to catch some interesting tire heating stuff that had a really adverse effect on the handling of these cars. There will be an insane amount of leagues using this class and I’m doing my best to ensure Slightly Mad Studios get these cars as close to perfect as possible.

I could obviously go into much greater detail, but this is just a little bit of insight as to how PRC is helping out with Project CARS 2. I’m not here to instruct you to buy the game, but with everybody else publishing stuff on the list of features, the cars and tracks that have currently been announced, as well as regurgitating some of the marketing pieces released by Slightly Mad Studios themselves, I’d much rather throw everybody a curveball and do a completely different approach on the subject matter so it’s something unique to read. The game is coming along well, and it’s enough of a genuine improvement over the first release in the series that I don’t feel bad attaching my name & website to it in some fashion.

Reasons to be Skeptical of Project CARS 2

project-cars-2Across the social media spectrum in YouTube land, the notorious loud-mouthed personality BlackPanthaaan 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.

pcars2There’s Too Many Discrepancies Between Teaser Material and the Actual Game

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.

project-cars-tech4gamers-21-750x400In 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.