I’ve spent the last week playing a PC preview build of the upcoming Project CARS 2 racing sim.
2015’s Project CARS is a proper racing simulator. It was built by racing enthusiasts for racing enthusiasts. The result was a technically superb racing game with an unforgiving learning curve that alienated much of its potential audience.
With Project CARS 2, the developer, Slightly Mad Studios, seeks to refine the experience, improving accessibility and increasing the level of immersion with extra weather and environmental effects.
Still, at first glance, you’d be forgiven for mistaking Project CARS 2 for no more than a game of the year version of the last game. This new entry has all the DLC locations from the first game, but it’s not immediately obvious what else has been added.
It seems that this sequel is all about evolution rather than revolution- and that might be exactly what it needs to be. Project CARS was a nigh-on perfect racing sim, held back by a few annoying niggles.
The game is supposedly more controller-friendly. Racing with an Xbox One controller on the PC preview version, whilst not impossible, isn’t exactly easy. The controls are still extremely sensitive.
Of course, using a racing wheel, things are a lot more refined. We used a Thrustmaster T300RS wheel with a T3PA pedal kit -gas, brake and clutch, and TH8A shifter. They all work straight out of the box.
The AI does the job and you can have some fun cranking up the new aggression setting. Dialling up the aggression rating of my thirty-one opponents resulted in an entertaining, if a little unrealistic, skirmish at the first bend with bits of car flying into the air in a cloud of dust. Having a circuit littered with debris and cars re-entering the track certainly added an extra level of challenge.
The games presentation seems a lot more refined. The menus system is a lot slicker this time, allow for more changes on the fly, without having to leave a race- essential for finding that all-important balance between visual fidelity and frame-rate.
I tested the game using the VicBStard.com elite PC review rig, sporting an i7 7700K, 64 GB of DDR4 RAM and 2xSLI GTX 1080ti (I know, right?). The preview build was test on both a triple monitor set-up (5880×1080) and in VR on an HTC Vive.
Performance-wise, at 5880×1080 resolution, there was not a lot of difference between Project CARS 2 and its predecessor. The graphics may be a little more sparkly, but it was pretty indiscernible.
The Project CARS 2 is built with triple monitor set-ups in mind, featuring its own multi-monitor options page. It goes a bit further than the Surround setting in your NVIDIA drivers, allowing you to set the angle of your screens as well for a proper cockpit experience.
It’s only when playing in VR with a racing wheel that I really starting getting to grips with vehicles handling. The cars feel weighty and responded exactly as you’d expect as you power through corners actually sitting in the driving seat. Racing in an open-wheeler with HTC Vive VR kit and a wheel is absolutely mesmerising. Unlike the last game VR seems to have been integrated into the code from the start. The result is a smooth, optimised VR racing experience that is without peer.
The addition of snowy weather has given some circuits an icy winter alternative. We have also got three new rally cross circuits and even an ice circuit. These join all the previously released circuits from the previous game.
I’m not exactly blown away by the additions in the preview version of Project CARS 2. But I’m not sure what I was expecting, really. The game has been refined with some great new circuits and weather effects. Arguably it could have all have been added to the first game with DLC or patches. But there’s likely more going on under the hood, particularly noticeable in the VR element.
My feeling is that if you are an invested Project CARS player, you are going to want to get this one and if you are a newcomer, Project CARS 2 will be the way to go as well.
There were still a lot of modes greyed out in preview version. I’ll be interested to see the game at release, and try out the multiplayer modes that were unavailable during the preview.
Project CARS 2 will be out on 22nd September for PlayStation 4, Xbox One and Windows PC.