Alternate Reality rFactor: The Review of Project CARS 2

Disclaimer: I work for Slightly Mad Studios. If that triggers you, go here.

Imagine for a moment, that we’ve all entered some sort of bizarre science fiction vortex, and landed in a parallel universe in which Image Space Incorporated were miraculously able to become a multi-million dollar entity, using their status to acquire every last meaningful vehicle & track license, along with hiring a massive staff to actually push out a title that can be deemed “feature complete” – and not the dreaded eternal science project.

While straight out of left field, this analogy accurately describes both the highs and lows of what you can expect to discover during your time behind the wheel in Project CARS 2; this is a simulator that’s almost exactly what PC sim racers have been dreaming of in terms of content, licenses, and features, but also comes with the identical blemishes exhibited by the titles which inspired it. Absolutely loaded with genuinely captivating content that eclipses what other sims offer – and then some – Project CARS 2 is easily the best smorgasbord simulator presently on the market, yet also demonstrates that maybe the current crop of developers are chasing a false lead by cramming as much as possible into one package.

The original Project CARS was an impressive mess, in that the successful crowdfunding campaign and guerilla marketing tactics were offset by an end product known more for its’ technical ineptitude and inability to match expectations than for what it got right. This was a game touted by financial backers as the hardcore answer to Gran Turismo and Forza, only for us normies on the outside to discover the force feedback configuration menu was a university level engineering course at the very least, and cars had a tendency to explode into the air at the most inopportune of times.

To their credit, Slightly Mad Studios listened to a lot of customer feedback, even the stuff laced with heavy profane vocabulary, and there’s a tangible change in atmosphere from the moment you start Project CARS 2. Menus are easy to navigate, exhibiting a very EA Sports-like feel that should be right at home for those who indulge in Madden or NHL like myself, the force feedback menu has been simplified to just four sliders, and button mapping is no longer an ugly list of options all presented at once, but again streamlined into four distinct categories as you expect from something like rFactor 2. The level of polish given to the user interface extends to the in-game setup menu as well; this is the best car setup screen in any simulator – a hybrid of rFactor 2 and Assetto Corsa – and the heads up display now resembles more of a professional television broadcast than floating semi-transparent black squares. And yes, unlike the first game, you now have the ability to save multiple setups per car, as well as name them, load them, and manage them across multiple tracks as you would in a traditional simulator.

Pit strategies can be configured while in the garage area, and again the process is a lot more streamlined, and there’s now an in-car management functionality similar to the Codemasters’ F1 games, where you can use the D-Pad to alter your race strategy, prepare for an unscheduled pit stop, or play with the car’s engine mapping. It’s essentially a black box as you’d see in other sims, just presented in a much more aesthetically pleasing manner. There’s also the ability to save what are called Motorsports Presets, allowing you to eschew the session configuration process every time you want to jump in for a race weekend, and just get right to the track with as little fiddling as possible – a nice touch.

I’ve been personally impressed with the game’s attention to detail in some areas that were previously overlooked; we’ve now got animated pit crews, the game is pretty stringent about your pit entrance & exit procedures, and manual rolling starts are pretty flexible in regards to what you can do, and when.

The game also goes the extra mile to provide you with a virtual crew chief companion in the event you’re lost when it comes to car setups. The whole thing plays out like a very basic text adventure, and obviously there’s no substitute for actually knowing what each option in the garage area does, but this is the first simulator that actually tries to meet uninformed players halfway and walk them through basic adjustments to ensure their race car handles just the way they want it to. It certainly makes the dark art of race car setups much more approachable for the average user, and ideally this’ll lead to more people racing competitively and actually doing more than just driving in isolation – as so many sim racers tend to do – because they’re not whining about getting destroyed by a dude with an elite setup. It’s certainly not a be-all, end-all magic fix for sitting down during a lunch break at work and reading about race car setups on Google, but it’ll get a lot of the gentleman drivers among us much further than they were previously.

Unfortunately, genuine improvements to the overall package – the most notable of the bunch being the substantial optimization tweaks – come with an equally diverse list of setbacks. And while they aren’t as crippling or mind-blowing as some of the stuff we saw with the first game, they will indeed ruffle the feathers of those who were hoping Project CARS 2 would blow the doors off the competition and invalidate the need for a lot of other games they’ve got currently installed.

There are some hiccups with loading and saving setups, as I’ve noticed in the game’s online Time Trial mode, the game will load the preset default setup for the car instead of your most recent setup upon restarting the session for another shot at the track. No, it’s not game-breaking, you just need to always re-load your setup before climbing into the vehicle, but it’s something that really shouldn’t be an issue for a game of this magnitude. Suspension of disbelief issues aren’t game-breaking either, but they’re certainly noticeable. Though Slightly Mad Studios have acquired the rights to several major motorsports championships, such as the Verizon IndyCar Series, the AI drivers are still given the names of random WMD members – so even if you’re chasing Scott Dixon’s car at Indianapolis, the leaderboard will actually refer to him as Tiago Fortuna. Again, not game-breaking, but extremely goofy given the fanfare of signing such a high profile license.

The quality of tracks also differ significantly between new and old. Brand new additions like Portimao and Circuit of the Americas are absurdly good; the same cannot be said about historic Spa, which was originally created for the first game many years ago, and as a result it just looks really out of place. You can physically see the LOD on models in the distance change, which quite a jarring effect considering it happens when you’re fairly close to them. Watkins Glen has been given the same facelift it received in real life, and it’s probably the best rendition of the track in any video game to date, yet Sonoma Raceway is still just as inaccurate as it was two years ago. That’s not to say the textures are poor or the model itself is of a substandard quality, their lack of accuracy is just that much more noticeable when you head to something immaculate like Fuji Speedway immediately afterwards.

But now, we dive into the heavier stuff. For a couple of months, we’ve heard how Project CARS 2 would ship with full online league integration internally within the softwareinvalidating the need to monitor scores from each event on a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet and manage the championship externally on a private forum – with the game taking car of everything from scheduling to scoring to stat tracking. This is completely absent from the launch-day version of the game, and I’m extremely disappointed. I had a ton of friends really excited to put this functionality to the test with their own endeavors  because it gives league owners a much needed break from the management side of things – and hell, I personally was hoping to make use of it – and it’s just flat-out non-existent at launch. I wish I could use my internal connections to reveal when we can expect this to show up as a post-release addition, but I haven’t been privy to that information. So as a sim racer I’m pretty choked on this front.

The single player AI are also a point of significant concern, though while a lot of other websites claim the AI competence is “random”, there’s actually a pretty distinct method to the madness. When driving any modern car that makes use of proper racing slicks, the AI are on par with the current crop of simulators, and this year there are both skill & aggression sliders to ensure that if you’re a talented sim racer, you’ll have a decent field of bots to battle with. I took a fleet of GT3 cars to the Nordschleife, jacked up the skill slider beyond 100% – which is new for this game – cranked up the aggression as well, and received an on-track product that was a night and day difference compared to the first iteration of Project CARS. No, it’s absolutely not a replacement for human competition and shouldn’t be treated as such unless you’re stupid, but it’s in-line with what you’ll experience from other simulators, and for a lot of people, that will be absolutely fine.

Oval racing, another new addition that was left out of the last game, is also quite good. I hate using footage from an older build to prove my point, but this is more or less what you can expect from slugging around the IndyCars – they’re respectful of your space, and put up a good fight.

Where the AI falters, is when you take away mechanical grip. If you’re talented enough to wheel any historical car, such as the ever-popular Lotus 49, you will outright murder the AI on 120% skill / 100% aggression. The AI just cannot cope with such a drastic reduction in traction, to the point where in a short race at Oulton Park in which I started on pole, I couldn’t see the cars behind me after a single lap. At the Nordschleife, I was coasting behind the pack, the AI bots so concerned with giving each other room and adhering to the track limits, they ended up scrubbing off copious amounts of speed. Unfortunately, this is a by-product of creating a smorgasbord simulator with cars of all shapes and sizes – the AI have clearly been optimized for one general type of car, and the outlier vehicles suffer the consequences in pretty drastic ways. Again, all this really does is make me advocate for simulators that focus on a very core group of vehicles, as stuffing a product full of cars that drive fundamentally different from each other and hoping it all works clearly isn’t the right way to go about things.

So what’s going to happen is that some sim racers who race only modern endurance content will more or less come away from Project CARS 2 quite pleased with the AI improvements, whereas fans of historic content or cars that don’t use full-on modern racing slicks will be absolutely furious that they’re stomping the field – or experiencing situations like the video above. It’s very rFactor-like in that you’re going to have to figure out manually what works, where, and what difficulty settings should be used. I’m not a big fan of this, but I certainly look forward to the rFactor fanboys slamming Project CARS 2 for this very reason, only to retreat to a game that exhibits the exact same problems.

Also drawing parallels to rFactor, simulating to the end of a qualifying session prematurely generates lap times for the AI cars that are downright impossible for them to achieve under normal qualifying conditions, so there’s essentially a button in Project CARS 2 that under no circumstances should you ever touch. The workaround here is to just schedule a qualifying session that lasts around ten minutes or so – as once you’ve logged a few laps, you’ll have a minute or two for a piss break and then the event can proceed – but for longer tracks like the Nordschleife you basically have to skip qualifying altogether and just pre-select your spot on the grid.

Yet for all of the babbling about features and functionalities that are either improvements, reductions, or omissions, obviously at some point we need to discuss how Project CARS 2 feels behind the wheel.

Over the summer a lot of personalities got their hands on the game and started throwing around words like “planted” and “simcade”, and it kind of generated a meme proclaiming Project CARS 2 to merely be Need for Speed: Shift 4. I don’t wanna slag off people specifically in what’s supposed to be an informative review, but there are two easy ways to dispel this unjustified reputation: First, some of these online personalities were upwards of seven seconds off pace at the tracks they demonstrated for their YouTube audience – so of course the car will feel planted at 65% attack – and second, the PC version of Project CARS 2 has actually shipped with Pro default setups that cut into the corners like crazy and rotate extremely well through the center, essentially tailoring the PC version specifically for the hardcore sim racing crowd who don’t need an understeering car out of the box, as they’re not playing on a gamepad.

Not only is it a great gesture on the part of Slightly Mad Studios to bundle the game with setups that are pretty decent out of the box, it certainly helps to display the competence of the underlying physics engine and tire model in a more profound way. I think a lot of people will enjoy how much they have to wheel these cars, because it’s certainly not what sim racers are expecting from a game so many labelled as simcade before they’ve even turned a lap themselves. Setup adjustments also generate a tangible difference in vehicle behavior when out on the circuit – compared to the previous game, which felt like a total crapshoot in the garage area – and exploit setups have been more or less erased. There’s no zero camber bullshit or zero aero stuff here; the stuff I’ve been running for testing purposes both in WMD and on my own externally for the review, it’s all stuff rooted in real world techniques.

What’s even more surprising, is that the hit-to-miss ratio among cars in the game features significantly more hits than misses. There are a lot of vehicles where you can turn laps in time trial, hit up the respective series’ official results page, and actually be bang-on with the real drivers’ qualifying times. This doesn’t apply to every car across every track, but it was certainly cool to absolutely blast through Long Beach and be half a tenth off Helio Castroneves’ track record set earlier this year, then take the Ford Fusion stock car to Texas, get Dustin’s help with the car setup, and land eighth on the real world practice charts. I also matched Kobayashi’s Le Mans record this year with one of our prototypes, and in doing a side-by-side of his on-board video it was impeccable how close we were for the entire three and a half minute lap. Not every vehicle in Project CARS 2 is like this – again, a symptom of developing a smorgasbord simulator – but the ones that are, really serve to undermine the detractors.

And this is why, despite some of the AI issues that hamper the single player experience, the prospect of racing Project CARS 2 in a competitive online league – whether it be managed through the yet-to-be released in-game functionality, or a third party site – is so enticing; definitely a selling point. The default setups and physics engine refinements generate handling characteristics much more in line with what you’d expect from a traditional sim, the enormous list of marquee cars rivals – in some cases surpasses – one’s custom rFactor install of all the best mods, there are tons of tracks to ensure you can go at least two or three seasons without treading over familiar territory, and from a user interface standpoint, the whole in-game experience of going to the track, building setups, and monitoring the session’s progress is much more streamlined and representative of titles like rFactor 2 or Automobilista than its own separate thing you need to learn all over again. This is what a lot of sim racers have wanted from a modern simulator, and that’s what they’ll get in Project CARS 2 – a good league platform with a ton of content and no fiddling or extensive third party mod collecting required.

In my time testing Project CARS 2, especially the most recent event prior to launch, online events more or less mirrored what you’d expect from a solid isiMotor league race – the netcode was fine, the menu layout gave a sense of familiarity, and it didn’t feel like a drastic change of pace after several seasons in Stock Car Extreme.  So I think adopters of Project CARS 2, who are coming over from other sims, may be surprised to find that online events no longer feel foreign or confusing because the layout of the session screen is just so abstract – Slightly Mad Studios have paid close attention to what works in this environment, so there won’t be any stumbling around or learning curve to joining an online event.

The same could not be said about the first game.

And while we aren’t privy to the built-in league functionality at launch, the game does track your ELO rank, though it remains to be seen how this will play out. Currently, the online scene for the original Project CARS features a lot of chaotic six lap sprint races, and entering these will be suicide for your ranking in Project CARS 2 if that casual-oriented mentality continues, so those who actually care about their online rank should avoid public lobbies altogether. On the plus side, it’s nice to see Slightly Mad Studios bring back ELO from the days of Xbox Live on Microsoft’s first console, but I actually predict a drop in online activity as people become paranoid about their online skill rating and refuse to race unless it’s in a structured league with proven clean drivers. The ability to lock people out of a lobby who are under a certain skill rating will also play a role in this as well.

And then there are the gimmicks.

A lot of people aren’t fans of rallycross for several reasons, but the inclusion of many RedBull Global Rallycross vehicles and locations – as well as some historic content for good measure – have actually shown off that Slightly Mad Studios can create objectively fantastic loose surface physics. The rallycross vehicles are honestly some of the best race cars in the game, exhibiting more convincing dynamics than what you can find in DiRT 4, but from a content standpoint it just feels like they’re a bit out of place in what is a primarily tarmac-based racing simulator, and maybe it’s time for Slightly Mad to extend into off-road racing as well to give these cars the spotlight.

On a positive note, every car in the game can be equipped with either dirt or ice tires to try and extend some extra life out of the off-road tracks, and experimenting with the right cars can lead to some awesome combinations. Slap dirt tires on Mark Donohue’s Trans-Am Camaro from the late 60’s, and you’ve essentially got a Duke’s of Hazzard simulator. It’s great fun, and I’m thankful that Slightly Mad Studios did not pull a Codemasters by restricting what content you can drive and where – as was the case in ToCA Race Driver 3.

And as you’ve probably learned about via the promotional material, Slightly Mad Studios have not just gone out and created their own dynamic track technology, they’ve also replicated a full twelve-month weather cycle. And while it works, for the most part, I can’t help but think this would have been put to better use in a different game. As cool as it is to drive the Nordschleife in the snow as a throwback to Project Gotham Racing 4, or host a one-off winter championship with the rallycross cars on purpose built circuits, I’m unsure about the staying power this may have on the userbase. I feel it would be great to implement in an off-road game, but I’m just not sure why there’s a need to drive Monaco or Daytona in the snow. Yes, it extends the life of the rallycross cars and sort of justifies their placement in the game, but save for that one class and the meme-worthy YouTube videos it will generate, when are people honestly going to use this feature on a regular basis?

Thankfully, the dynamic driving line and standing water physics mostly hold up their end of the bargain, but in my experience I found the rubber to accumulate in an extremely slow fashion, with it taking almost thirty minutes for the dynamic driving line to become as prominent as the default racing line texture. So I actually expect a lot of people reporting that it outright doesn’t work, because you’ll be turning a pretty extensive number of laps in a full field of cars before you become aware of its existence. A patch or two could easily fix this, and it’s certainly not game-breaking, but I was definitely hoping this feature would be a bit more prominent after all of the publicity surrounding it. The dynamic water physics fare much better, with wet-weather driving being visually stunning while giving off a believable experience behind the wheel.

3,800 words later, what’s the verdict on Project CARS 2?

It’s a great league platform, a sort of alternate-reality rFactor 2 in which the physics are still firmly on the hardcore simulation side of things (aided by great default setups), yet the obscure car and track list of rFactor 2 that actively works against the title – marred by fake tracks and irrelevant vehicles – have been replaced by what’s basically an all-star cast of locations and race cars featuring appearances from all of the major players, and then some. Basically, if you’re a sim racer who patiently awaits for updates from Studio 397 in the hopes that the next lone piece of content they announce is even the least bit captivating, or for general UI improvements, or… well… anything that isn’t a blog post, Project CARS 2 offers a permanent solution to those willing to cross over.

However, it also comes with some of the problems found in rFactor 2, and on a wider scale, problems that appear in basically every other racing simulator on the market today. The offline racing experience varies wildly depending on your vehicle of choice, and like rFactor, there are hiccups with the underlying AI simulation engine when you try to accelerate through a session. But at the same time, the phenomenon of cars in rFactor 2 being wildly out of sync with each other in terms of quality, doesn’t exist here – there are exponentially more hits compared to misses, and it’s definitely an upgrade compared to the other sims available.

Regardless of whether you plan on entering a league right away, or will be holding off until the built-in functionality is up and running, Project CARS 2 is the simulator a lot of people wanted – great handling, lots of marquee cars, lots of world-renowned tracks, and online lobbies that naturally lend themselves to league play – but at the same time it also demonstrates why the smorgasbord approach is getting a bit long in the tooth. When Project CARS 2 is firing on all cylinders, it’s objectively a great racing simulator, warranting the positive reviews received from the more mainstream outlets while making genuine improvements in several key areas that sim racers would be hard pressed to dismiss. When it stutters – figuratively, not literally – you understand it’s because the dev team just couldn’t possibly refine every last car on every last track, and maybe it’s time to collectively rethink where the genre is going.

Advertisements

World of Speed is Risen

So this is probably not the news you were hoping for on the day of the solar eclipse, but it certainly fits the theme of “strange shit happening” nonetheless. Originally conceived as a lighthearted, free-to-play alternative to Project CARS –  appearing to use numerous assets from Slightly Mad Studios’ previous workWorld of Speed fell into development hell after the release of the company’s flagship racing simulator; news outlets (aside from us) remaining totally silent on what exactly had happened to the game. Though it certainly wasn’t something that would captivate hardcore simulator fans, the free-to-play racer promised to bring a visually striking title to the homes of those in geographic regions where purchasing a fully-priced title isn’t always an economically friendly option, so there were actually a lot of people looking forward to this game. However, months upon months of radio silence on behalf of the developers frustrated those who became emotionally invested in the upcoming title title; most jumping ship in exchange for greener pastures, and in some cases reverse engineering Need for Speed World or Motor City Online for a similar experience – despite Electronic Arts taking both games offline.

Saber Interactive, a company who have recently found moderate success with both indie off-roading simulation SpinTires, as well as the alternate sports title NBA Playgroundsa throwback to the gameplay of arcade classic NBA Jam – are listed as the developers behind this project on Steam, meaning that when World of Speed inevitably does make it into the hands of the general public, the number of eyes on the title, as well as those who give it a whirl out of curiosity, will be significantly higher than what was initially projected several years ago. Saber, along with publishing company Mad Dog, have done a great job in particular marketing NBA Playgrounds to all the correct online voices – those with hundreds of thousands of views on YouTube – so at the very least there’s a shot the initial size of the online community will actually be quite large, and in turn this means the game’s social and competitive features – elements woven into the core experience of the game – will be ripe with activity. Regardless of how neutered the handling model may be compared to traditional simulators, there will at least be an abundance of people to jump in a lobby and race with; the same cannot be said about the aforementioned hardcore sims.

And as you can probably guess by the header image, we won’t actually have to wait long for World of Speed to be more than a piece of trivia. The title recently appeared on Steam’s Early Access platform with an estimated release date of August 2017, so despite Saber running into some problems with the projected launch – which was probably intended for today – we’re going to enter a period of time where World of Speed is a legitimate product you can play, and not some obscure disappearing act akin to Grand Raid Off-Road that only a few people remember.

Obviously, any delay due to issues discovered in quality assurance testing is worrisome, but given the overall positive reception both SpinTires and NBA Playgrounds have received during their time on the market, it’s hard to imagine a situation in which Saber are unable to iron out what needs to be fixed in time for the release of World of Speed. At the same time, it also brings into question what has happened to Lauda Interactive, the company that was last said to be working on World of Speed. In October of 2016, the company – run by Niki Lauda’s son – was said to be entering the world of eSports with a multi-platform World of Speed release, though visiting the same address in present day leads to a completely blank website.

Regardless, you’ll be able to play World of Speed very soon, and with a decent group of folks behind it after years spent in development hell, there’s a chance it might not be too terrible for those in a desperate search to find a successor for Need for Speed World.

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.

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.