Much of Project Cars 2’s joy comes from the minute details and exhaustive options developer Slightly Mad Studios gives you. There’s an element of simulation meeting sandbox here. Yes, the game delivers realistic driving that requires a considered approach instead of simple arcade thrills, but where and what you drive is really up to you, as are finer factors like weather and course layout. Put simply, if you’ve ever dreamed of driving a certain car around a certain track, there’s a good chance that Project Cars 2 delivers on that dream.
But you probably already knew that, right?
When it comes to VR, what really matters isn’t those statistics and tactics, but the pure feeling you get from being behind the wheel. You want to really feel the force behind putting your foot down, biting your lip as you take a narrow gap on the path to victory, and being overwhelmed by the roar of the engine that propels you forwards. On this, the game delivers in spades; I’ve spent about an hour with it and I’m pretty confident in saying this is one of the slickest, most polished VR experiences you’ll find out there right now, especially in the racing genre. Graphically this is one of the clearest games I’ve seen inside my HTC Vive; cockpits are recreated with unwavering fidelity and accuracy, and the courses around you look just like they will without the headset on. It’s top of the range, simply put.
You know the core concept behind the game; get as much speed as possible whenever you can, but be ready to slam the brakes in time for a smooth corner, all while managing to maintain complete control. It’s a foundation we’ve experienced time and again since the release of the original Gran Turismo two decades ago, and the name of the game since has largely been refinement. Nothing was ever really broken with the original Project CARS, so there’s nothing really to be fixed.
Instead, Slightly Mad can focus on delivering complete and utter immersion to not just one driving experience, but to over 180 different kinds of experiences. Spanning everything from sports cars to Formula 1 racing, Project Cars 2’s ambition is to nail the look and feel of all aspects of the driving world. In one race with a lower-end class I weave around the track with little issue. When I apply the same amount of gas to a higher class, however, even the slightest touch of my analogue stick sends me hurtling off course.
In past games, it would have been enough for different weather conditions to simply mean your car might have less traction in rain or ice. In the search for added authenticity, though, Project CARS 2 goes into far greater detail; there are multiple options for even sunny weather in the quick race mode, all of which differ slightly in atmospheric conditions and can impact the way you drive. Then you can go out on practice laps to test out a car’s tuning, returning later not just to adjust your car but even the tactics used at pit stops that could shave seconds off of a lap time.
This is unapologetically for the hardcore racer, and there’s little here to suggest they’ll be getting anything other than a top class performance.
If there’s one thing I’d have really liked to have seen evolve for VR in this sequel, though, it’s UI. Sadly the menus are still virtual screens floating in front of you, presenting 2D information as if you were playing on a PC monitor. This is a game where menus are just as important gameplay, and it feels like Slightly Mad is missing out on a big opportunity here. VR is as much of a tool for driving games as it is a peripheral; it’d be great to see 3D map layouts, augmented car tuning that you could control with Touch controllers or Vive wands, and immerisve environments to really help you embody the driver that will take on a career. Given the proximity to launch we’re probably not going to get that this time.
The original Project CARS aimed to be a driving encyclopedia. The same is true of Project CARS 2, but it feels a little more confident in itself, or maybe it’s just that I’m that bit more confident it’ll pull it off. There’s nothing game-changingly new here, but the game does deeper in an effort to give you more authenticity than ever before. Don’t be surprised if this turns out to be VR’s best racing sim yet.
Project CARS 2 is due out on 22nd September 2017 for PC (with Rift and Vive support), PS4, and Xbox One; PSVR support is not guaranteed, but is planned. Check the official website for more details.