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Hands-On: Project CARS 2 Could Be The Best VR Racing Sim Ever

by David Jagneaux • February 8th, 2017
Coming Late 2017 With VR Support at Launch

How do you improve upon something that the developers themselves already set out to establish as “the ultimate driver journey” when it released in 2015? That’s what Project CARS from Slightly Mad Studios was supposed to be, an ultimate driving game that delivered on all fronts. For the most part, you could argue it delivered, although some lingering bugs are still unsolved, it doesn’t feature any snow, and misses some of the core components that genre fans have grown to love in the nearly two years since its release.

Now with Project CARS 2, the direct sequel to the original hyper-realistic racing simulator, Slightly Mad Studios (and publisher Bandai Namco) wants to set the bar even higher. After going hands-on with the game at a private press only preview event, I can confirm that expectations are high and goals are lofty. If everything falls into place, Project CARS 2 could very well end up being the best and most immersive VR racing simulator ever made.

Since the original game already had such a strong foundation, the studio has spent its time iterating, improving, and expanding on the core engine itself. In some ways, Project CARS 2 feels like the game that the original wanted to be. It’s a victory lap for a franchise that’s just starting to hit its stride.

At the press event, I had the pleasure of checking out Project CARS 2 running on a super-powered PC, hooked up to an Oculus Rift CV1, in a legitimate racing setup completed with seat belt-adorned chair and authentic racing wheel plus pedal apparatus. At first, it seemed like I was about to jack into The Matrix, if Neo had learned professional driving instead of Kung Fu.

“A lot of the issues people have with VR are automatically resolved with a racing game,” said Stephen Viljoen, Game Director at Slightly Mad Studios during an onsite interview. “The question of how do you move around is moot because you’re in a car, you just drive.”

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Heeding his advice, once the light turned green I slammed my foot down and just drove. Somewhere between my peeling out and my crashing into the wall at the end of the first turn made me realize I wasn’t ready for the spotlight. I’ve never been much of a racing sim person, but I’ve always appreciated the attention to detail. Project CARS 2 feels like the Tekken of the racing world — intricate and complicated — whereas Driveclub VR feels more like Mortal Kombat: approachable, but packs plenty of depth when you dig into it.

In the case of the original Project CARS, VR was seemingly a bit of an afterthought. The team was always passionate about the technology, but since it wasn’t commercially available to the public when the game released in 2015, it had to be incorporated after the fact. It worked great and some drivers even used it for training, but it was clear the VR integration wasn’t part of the original game’s initial design process. That’s not the case with Project CARS 2 — it will be there at launch and was always conceived as part of the final product.

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“When you’re in VR, there is already a natural interface with the inside of the car itself and it feels very natural and realistic,” explained Viljoen. “If you’re wearing a VR headset, it already feels like you’re wearing a racing helmet. When you play the game and you see the steering wheel, and you feel it in real life, it provides a powerful connection.”

That connection was on display as I regained control of my car, spun the wheel in my hand, and got back on the track. Fumbling and skidding around corners, I made my way across the finish line and completed the first lap far behind my opponents. That’s when it started to rain.

project-cars-2-mclaren_650s_gt3_mercedes_amg_gt3-fuji_speedway

“Over the course of a race, things happen that change the conditions of the track,” said Viljoen. “As you drive, you’re burning rubber on the track that will be left behind as tiny specks of debris. You’re creating dry marks through the rain, dividing the puddles, and dispersing the snow. Every lap there will be more grip onto the track because of the rubber and tires. If you get off the track and pull gravel from the dirt into the road, that’s going to affect your grip. In the first game, the surface conditions of the track were static for the course of the race, but now the actual track surface is affected. If you’re not leading the pack and you’re behind another car, its hot tires will cut through the snow and rain to form a drying line. If you stay on that drying line while driving, your grip will be better.”

The dynamic weather and time systems are carried over as well, allowing you to customize how quickly time passes and weather changes within an individual race. Puddles appeared on the road realistically and in different spots than the would for other tracks. Instead of the game registering the track as simply “wet” my tires interacted with individual pieces of gravel and water as if it were really there. The technological leap forward is immediately noticeable.

By the time lap three started, the raining stopped and my driving skills seemed much better.

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“The physics of the cars have improved a lot, from the mechanical underpinnings all the way down to the tire models,” said Viljoen. “In Project CARS 1, one of the areas that we took a lot of criticism is that it felt fine until you got to the edge and things started sliding, it was difficult to catch. That wasn’t very authentic. In real life, if you’ve ever been in a street car, bringing a car back to control isn’t that difficult to do.”

All of that felt great while I was playing, but if you’re like me and have spent any length of time inside a VR headset while racing in the original Project CARS, you’ll have noticed the mirrors. For lack of a better term, they suck. They’re flat and they don’t appear to have the depth recognition that an actual mirror does. They just don’t feel realistic at all.

project-cars-2-aston_martin_vulcan-fuji_speedway

“Previously, they operated more like screens,” admitted Viljoen. “But in Project CARS 2, they have depth with proper parallax and there’s full proper positional audio in VR. You can hear where a car is located behind or around you. If you look in the mirror and don’t see it, you can lean and move your head and see how the mirror reflects differently like in real life. It sounds like a little thing, but it makes a huge difference.”

Project CARS 2 has ambitious dreams that all seem to be falling into place based on what we’ve seen. It felt great to play, the sights and sounds are better than ever, and the amount of content feels up to par with the presentation quality. At release, over 170 licensed cars will be featured, including a massive track roster, up to 4K or even 12K triple monitor support on PC, VR headset support, and all-new vehicle types and motorsport classes such as Rallycross and IndyCar.

project-cars-2-lighting

Since VR through the Rift and Vive is confirmed, what about other platforms? Since Project CARS 2 is also coming to Xbox One and PlayStation 4 when it releases, I had to ask about PlayStation VR (PSVR) support.

“We can’t commit 100% to PSVR yet because there is still a lot of optimization left to do and all of the new things we’ve added,” said Viljoen. “For VR, we need to achieve an additional level of performance. We don’t want to compromise like other racing games have and lose any of our authenticity on PSVR. If we can get there, we will release it. We’ll eventually get it there one way or another, but we can’t promise it will be there at launch. The plan is to deliver the entire game.”

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Project CARS 2 is due out in late 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.

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  • Gary Moran

    Here’s hoping SMD can get a version running on PSVR because after playing DC:VR for the last month there’s no going back to flat screen racing games.

    PSVR will be challenging though and some compromises will need to be made, its a matter of deciding where those need to be made.

    Fingers crossed

    • crazysapertonight

      I think quality of PS VR port will be terrible on standart ps4

      • Reels Rihard

        Unfortunately, I have to agree. There’s no way they’re going to be able to put all those different simulations, tires/weather/track conditions/etc with all npc opponents…..on OG PS4.

  • Sean Lumly

    I’m REALLY looking forward to playing Project Cars 2 for the Vive and perhaps even PSVR! After being let down by the fact that Driveclub may never see a second version, and GT:Sport is a limited experience, PC2 is a welcome title. And a good racing sim and flight sim is (IMO) justification for a very expensive cockpit. I hope that the game supports things like inertial movement (eg. a mod, hack, or patch).

  • koenshaku

    The first one not only looked like crap, but ran like crap also in VR on my I7 6800K 32gb ram with a GTX 1070. I have zero excitement for the sequel and it is easy to be the best racing sim in VR when it is pretty much the only one..

    • Your pc must be fucked. I have a much weaker CPU (i5 2500k) and GTX 1070 and Pcars runs smoothly on HTC Vive.

      • koenshaku

        When not in VR runs fine, granted I only downloaded the demo to try it out. It looks and runs like absolute crap. I have no issues with anything else Redout and Distance included. Project cars though runs at about 15-20fps and looks like crap on my HTC Vive. My PC is a pretty clean build and runs as the system spec suggest in benchmarks.

        • But Pcars runs fine for me in VR with a much weaker cpu! Redout by the way looks like shit in VR. A consequence of using the Unreal engine or perhaps an older version of it. If u have a GTX 1070 like me then you should be seeing very smooth play in VR. I haven’t tried the demo of pcars… only the full game. Visuals look good in VR. Redout looks awful no matter what settings so I got a refund on that last night.

          • koenshaku

            Maybe it is the demo, if it is $15-20 I may pick it up. Redout is not as crazy as it is on your display, but it translated pretty great compared to what Pcars did! I have to really say though I prefer these sort of games on the display all the same. from my experience with Redout and Distance so far at least.

          • The display? Monitor? Yes, redout is ok on a monitor… it just has serious issues on VR. Not just for me but for everyone.

          • Daniel Gochez

            The demo runs great on my rig with a GTX 980ti

        • Aaron Bales

          Only game over $25 that I would go back and buy again, if not pay double. Running a 980 and addicted. TLDR; either the demo or your machine is fucked…

          • koenshaku

            If you look on steam at the Project CARS – Pagani Edition demo it has mostly negative reviews also. I deleted it quickly after trying to figure out what the heck was wrong with the performance and never looked back. Maybe the full game is better I don’t know they shouldn’t put out $hitty demos if they don’t want people to think their game isn’t the same.

    • Mozzie

      There are a number of racing sims that support VR, iRacing, Assetto Corsa, Live For Speed. For me iRacing is the best but that is purely my opinion.

    • hogscraper

      I’m running on a 3770K, 12Gigs of ram and a GTX 1070 and I do have to turn certain things down like grass or it runs like crap in VR, (Oculus). Everything else is turned up as high as I can but grass and I think one of the shadow settings had to be turned down a bit. Otherwise it runs great so it might just be something with the demo using outdated drivers maybe? I just saw that it was 66% off on Steam for the winter sale. Something strange like $10.19. Still a great deal if you like VR racing.

    • John

      iRacing, Assetto Corsa, Live for Speed, DiRT are 4 VR games. There’s a few more. Among sim racers, Project cars is pretty low down the list. Its a pretty game, but many realistic physics isn’t there yet comapred to its competitors

      • Johan Zarco

        Nonsense. Project Cars is the most realistic driving simulator in the world. You don’t know what you’re talking about.

        • John

          Nonsense. Project Cars is clearly not most realistic driving simulator in the world. You don’t know what you’re talking about.
          Provide 1 person anywhere that agrees with your opinion.
          Google any list of the most realistic VR car sims to back up my opinion.

    • JustNiz

      I have pretty much the same setup and I had no problem with running it. For me by far the worst problem is the car handling in PCars. Its a complete joke. I have driven several of the actual cars that are modeled in PCars and they are all FAR easier to drive and handle/recover than their counterparts in PCars. In Pcars you have to take even slight corners at no more than say 30mph otherwise the car will suddenly, totally and unrecoverably lose control and only stop sliding when it crashes into something. Its like you’re always driving on ice. If the actual cars handled anything like that they wouldn’t even be allowed on the track, let alone ever win anything. PCars is not even close to an accurate simulation.

  • This dev supports VR so I will be buying Pcars 2 as well.

    • Yaniv Ben David

      Exactly my thoughts!

  • leeleelee69

    This will be VR awesome

  • WhywasIbanned

    The biggest problem with the first PC was to be the draw distance in game. When driving on track you have to look ahead to the next corner, rather than when you actually arrive there. You just can’t see anything detailed down the road due to lack of the VR resolution. Obviously you can up the SS, but PC was a killer in VR with frame rates as it is.

    • John

      True. I find that I’d rather play a less graphically depended race sim and up the SS (e.g.Racing, AC). PC will be great when GFX prices come down and I can run is at 2xSS.

      • WhywasIbanned

        That’s exactly where I am and play AC for the reasons you said. There 1080 will drop in price when the TI is out, but I still think that will be limited to where it needs to be and the 1080TI is a card I can’t fully warrant paying £800 for just yet.

  • polysix

    First game was shockingly shit (and way over-hyped). God it was boring, bad gfx, bad floaty feel (regardless of VR). Hope they’ve completely redone it ground up to actually make it good/fun.

    Though props for supporting VR. That gets a pat on the back.

  • Pete

    3 4K screens is NOT 12K. Otherwise great article.

  • mrtexasfreedom

    The first project cars is awesome on PC with Oculus Rift CV1. Enjoying it immensely with my steering wheel setup. Could care less if they port this to PSVR. I’m sure console VR is really good for subdued graphics affairs like Battlezone, but it’s not really the platform for a photo-realistic experience like that delivered by Project Cars. Fingers crossed they have Circuit of the Americas as one of the PC2 tracks!