Project CARS 2 puts the pedal to the metal
The guys at Slightly Mad Studios have done it- they've created a racing game virtually indistinguishable from real life.
For a game that I found uncomfortably similar to the it's predecessor during my initial preview earlier this year, Project CARS 2 is exactly the game it should be. The developers have obviously drawn upon some of the criticism of the last game, providing a far better user interface and better support for controllers.
The cynic in me says that some of the improvements should have, perhaps, been patched into the first game rather than have fans pay for them. Being realistic, and seeing the level of effort that has gone into creating what could well be the definitive serious racing game, it's difficult to begrudge the developers another payday.
The game runs using a better optimised game engine and, for those PC players inclined, integrated support from the Vive and Oculus VR systems. PSVR owners will have to wait and see if they get a rumoured VR update further on down the track.
Project CARS 2 is evolution and not revolution. It features pretty much the same feature set as the last game when it comes to game types.
For solo play, you have your career- which lets you choose at what level you are going to start, all the way back to kart racing, custom one-off races- where you pick your car, track, opponents, time and weather, private testing- just you, your car, the track and the driving conditions of your choosing. For multiplayer online racing, you can either join a race or create your own custom race.
Whilst the game sticks close to what has gone before, everything is slicker and more refined, even changing the settings and accessing the user interface.
Visually, Project CARS 2 is an absolute stunner. The cars look superb, the tracks virtually photo-real. Throw in the environmental effect and you have a graphically perfect racing simulation.
With rain, fog and snow, Project CARS 2 allows drivers to race in the most realistic weather effects I've ever seen. You can see volumetric fog drifting across the track, get blinded by the water spray from the car in front and catch the sun's rays cutting through the haze as the asphalt dries off.
I had Project CARS 2 running across three monitors (5880x1080) in a 2xSLI GTX1080ti set-up. Whilst this monster set-up isn't the average PC, the high performance achieved demonstrates that the game scales nicely with better technology.
Even in the preview, without an Nvidia display driver specifically supporting the game, both GPUs were being utilised. I assume this is because the developer has implemented Direct X 12's multi-GPU feature. So, what we have, for PC users at least, is a game built on a robust foundation that is only going to get better as PC equipment improves.
Project CARS 2 has most of the circuits from last time, including some those added via DLC, plus a few new ones. I had a lot of fun with the karting tracks in Project CARS, which game me a nice change from the usual circuits. For something different this year, we've also got rally cross, and you can really feel the difference racing on loose gravel.
But that's not all. If you really enjoy sliding about and wet gravel isn't slippery enough, how about adding a layer of snow on top of the asphalt? Whilst we may have seen blizzard conditions in the past, you can choose to race on snow. Several circuits have the option to be turned into a potentially lethal winter wonderland that'll have inexperienced drivers spinning all over the place.
On the subject of spinning all over the place, the first Project CARS was a pain to play with a controller. Whilst Project CARS 2 is much, much better, the more exotic, skittish cars are going to be hard to handle without a racing wheel.
Don't get me wrong, once you get the idea that you need to gently apply the throttle and brake, not just grab a handful of controller, you will be fine. It's just that the controls for some of the supercars are sensitive and require a bit of respect if you want to stay on the track.
Saying that, I really recommend a racing wheel if you want to get the most out of the game. Driving the cars with a wheel, pedals and a manual shifter is pretty indistinguishable from the real thing. The cars feel responsive and have a real weight about them that you can feel through the racing wheel force feedback.
But, if you really want to feel like you are in a car, hurling along at break-neck speed, you need to experience the game in VR. Project CARS 2 allows Vive and Oculus users to experience the thrill of motorsport up close and personal- straight out of the box. The helmet view even puts a racing helmet on your head to complete the experience.
As with all VR titles that render into the distance, Project CARS 2 suffers from a fair bit of screen door effect, as distance objects are rendered with too small a number of pixels. This is due to a limitation of the currently available VR technology and not the game itself.
To say I'm impressed with Project CARS 2 would be an understatement, the driving is perfect and it's an absolute visual treat. Yes, many of the tweaks probably should have been incorporate into the first game, but with all these cars, circuits and performance enhancements, Project CARS 2 is most definitely its own game. Fans of real racing and gamers wanting something with a little more bite that your usual arcade racing fayre will have an absolute blast with this game.