The next couple of months will see three major racing games release and the first one to hit the accelerator in just a couple of weeks is Slightly Mad Studios' Project CARS 2. Sequel to the partially crowdfunded racing sim released in May 2015, Project CARS 2 looks to build upon that foundation, while adding more variation, depth, and polish across the board.
At Gamescom we had a lengthy chat with Slightly Mad Studios chief commercial officer (CCO) Rod Chong, a month out from the release of the game.
"Finishing games can be a stressful experience," said Chong on the subject of reaching the finish line. "But now it's August and we've gone through the most difficult stage. We know that the game is looking really good. We've attacked all the bugs and we're feeling quietly confident now. I think the studio is feeling quite proud of what we've achieved with Project CARS 2."
"We've done quite a lot of work on the driving experience for Project CARS 2," said Chong. "One of the areas that we've done a fair amount of work on is the drive-train. So we have for instance a new differential and we've had to do a lot of new simulation and code work around the rallycross cars, because they go over jumps, they have long suspension, they have unique drive-trains. So we've had to do a fair amount of work there. But the biggest area for Project CARS 2 is the tyres."
"Project CARS 1 innovated a brand new carcass model mode, what I mean with carcass is that it works with the tyre as a three-dimensional piece of rubber that's filled with air. So we simulated that, but there were certain areas of this new technology, this new simulation technology that we needed to work on some more and a lot of that is the feeling of the car up to and over the limit. We added new code there so you can really feel the car on the limit and if you overcook a corner you can get the car back."
In terms of how the game is shaping up, we've certainly been enjoying our time with the several recent builds we've gotten access to (the final preview build, Gamescom, and even earlier versions), be it on PS4, a mid-range PC, or an insanely expensive mega rig. It sure appears as if this game is flexible enough to shine across the board. Therefore, prior to launch, we can foresee a much better experience with both controller and racing wheel, as well as a potentially better package for console players. These aspects, plus content and presentation, were definitely the most requested upgrades this time; in other words, it looks like Slightly Mad is hitting the right notes.
Although behind the wheel it didn't feel perfectly natural yet (at least at first glance, with less than five hours of driving time and, again, not final code), the improvements on driving, tyres, and physics models can be clearly felt on a proper force feedback setup, especially in terms of road nuances and the specific differences between well-known cars. Add to that its highly realistic, game-changing dynamic weather, and the overhaul feels like a leap more than a couple of steps. Thus, not only are we potentially looking at a much more realistic simulation, but also a more lively, fun and extreme racing game, whereas PC1 felt a bit too rigid, soulless or hostile with some cars/tracks.
Looking back at the original Project CARS, which sold two million copies, Slightly Mad Studios were faced with pleasing many players on varying levels and with varying needs.
"We've designed Project CARS 2 with two areas in mind", said Chong. "One of them is the PC sim racing world, for the people that are more hobbyists, who get all the expensive steering wheels and they have a racing seat, they may have upgraded to VR now, there's new triple monitor support, these type of areas. So that's one segment, it's a very particular community in what they're looking for, but we are very committed to ensure that we're the most technically advanced simulation title out there with all the new features and triple-A production values with the incredible graphics and this next-generation physics experience."
"That's all very important, but we've also spent a lot of time making sure that the console players can have a fantastic time as well and a lot of them are not using steering wheels, for example, they are using game pads. Very early on in the Project CARS 2 development cycle, we spent a lot of time with the game pad handling and this is a thing that's a very big difference from Project CARS 1 is the game pad experience and how you can control a car how you can feel a car and how the algorithms work for taking steering input and what that means for what the car does."
Gamepad controls and menus are improved. Taking care of both is essential if you're to cater to the console community, and the first game was lacking in this regard (not to mention performance issues). Controller input has been revamped and it now feels very natural and responsive, even though its foundation in simulation is just screaming for any petrolhead to buy a proper FFB rig. Now you can dare taking more aggressive turns, and navigating menus and settings is no longer a nightmare on console. Performance-wise, though, we still want to test it on both the standard and upgraded Xbox and PlayStation models to check how both versions have been optimised.
Content-wise it's not yet a matter of what we've played (other than enjoying the expanded car/track collection), but more a matter of the official numbers and promises made by the studio. The new career concept/layout seems like it offers a better hook though, and we're really looking forward to getting stuck in over the next few weeks, while readying our review in time for the game's launch on September 22. With its strong commitment to simulation and by listening to feedback from the first entry, this might as well overtake the console manufacturer's exclusives as the best pure racing experience this year, as well as at the same time pleasing and expanding its already significant community on PC.
Project CARS 2 will be the first of the "big three" racing titles due out over the next couple of months that also includes console-exclusives Forza Motorsport 7 and Gran Turismo Sport.
"Fundamentally, when it comes to looking at the landscape this year of all the different racing titles that come out, there's different ways you could do it," says Chong when asked about the competition. "You could get really competitive and start listing their features with our features and things like that. But we believe that what we've made is going to stand out and when you really just look at what we've put into the game it's going to stand on its own."
Check out the full interview with Slightly Mad Studios' CCO Rod Chong below:
The article continues on the next page as we sent game director Stephen Viljoen a bunch of questions.