At a race night in London recently we got to get our hands on the recently announced Rallycross side of Project Cars 2, and also got to chat with creative director Andy Tudor about the game, and we asked him, to start with, why Rallycross was put into the game in the first place.
"So Rallycross is this wicked new motorsport that got really popular last year and is getting even more popular because, for gamers especially, it's perfect for them," Tudor explained. "It's five minutes long, it has a joker lap, which is a bit like a Mario Kart-esque kind of game design kind of thing, it's got small little cars bashing into each other, and also sliding round corners, and also going over jumps. And yeah, like I said, it's all over in five minutes, so it's really accessible, and the drivers are both young guys who are just getting into motorsport, and also legends from the past, and the cars are faster than F1 cars - zero to 60 in less than two seconds. There's Monster branding and that kind of stuff, Red Bull are involved, so it's just really exciting and therefore we wanted to get to it, so when we wanted to move away from the tarmac-based racing of Project Cars, and we wanted to start going sideways, Rallycross is a perfect fit, because it's literally half tarmac and half dirt, so it's kind of a good transition motorsport to move into."
We also asked about balancing realism and arcade with Rallycross. "So the balance is between accessibility and authenticity," Tudor explained. "So you want it to be authentic, and you want it to look right, feel right, all that kind of stuff, but to do that, Rallycross cars specifically need the assists off, and generally gamers, no matter what [...] you're not going to have the assists off, because it's way too complicated for you. You'll be spinning the car all over the place. So what we've decided to do is we've decided to make the default what we call 'real', so cars that have traction control, stability control, you'll be able to use them, and cars that don't, that benefit from them not being on, will not. So Rallycross, for example, is a sidey, sidewaysey, look through the window kind of experience, and it's still fun without it being arcadey, so it's not GTA where you can just hit the handbrake and slide round the corner or maybe do a burnout or something like that [...] it's still about authenticity, but we've tried to make it as accessible as possible as well."
So how does this work out? Well, when we took to the track, we raced on tarmac as we were used to, taking all the appropriate measures to take the track's turns, and although we expected the dirt to require something different, we didn't expect it to be as different as it was. Your brain really does have to switch gears (pardon the pun) to adjust to the surface. As said, this was expected, but until you get your hands on it, it doesn't hit home how different it is.
For example, turning on dirt is much harder and a lot different to tarmac, and it's much easier to spin out here, especially at high speeds. As soon as we messed the first lap up, then, not being used to the surface, we immediately put the brakes on when transitioning to dirt, but once we got going, we found we could pick up the speed eventually and gradually as we found the rhythm.
With the potential for horrible crashes and spinning out, though, comes the other side of the coin, which is the potential for awesome sideways drift. The feeling when you nail a turn on a loose surface and the dust comes off of your wheels as you drift round a corner is a great one, and this risk versus reward aspect of Rallycross introduces a welcome new factor to the game.
What's also included in Rallycross are bumps in the track, and although they're not ridiculous stunt jumps or anything, these are yet another obstacle to overcome, especially if you're someone who likes the camera angle at the front of the car rather than a third person view. These bumps again require some getting used to, but were actually pretty cool once we'd raced a few times with them, producing an almost speedbump effect (which can be chaotic when a lot of cars are in close proximity to one another).
In terms of the feel of Rallycross, it does have a different feel to the rest of the game, and with the introduction of sliding, drifting, and jumping comes a more high-octane environment than the rest of the game that can sometimes be a bit slower and more methodical. Racing on dirt also produces unique features, one of the tiniest being dust hanging in the air, which is a detail Slightly Mad Studios has been recently deliberating.
Tire physics and surface physics, as you can expect, have been developed a lot for Rallycross, as Tudor explains. "We've done a lot of work on that, you know, we already did loads of work on tire models when we started the project, because tire models and feedback was one of the big comments from the last game that we needed to address. So we did that, back in September [...] And then specifically for the dirt stuff - not only have we made our tire model way better and the suspension and all that kind of stuff, but we've had the drivers helping us, as we always do."
In short, Rallycross switches things up a lot for Project Cars 2, and introduces new ways to race, testing different skills to what fans of the game are used to. We're looking forward to hitting the dirt again, and testing out our skills on more tracks from all over the globe.