Project CARS, which was released two years ago after being successfully crowdfunded, is getting a sequel later this year. Offering a mix of extreme realism and accessibility, the sequel is looking to improve upon the first game in every way. At Level Up, Bandai Namco's big hands-on event in Sweden, we got to try out the game, playing it using both a controller and via a VR headset paired with a steering wheel and racing chair. With both methods of control, Slightly Mad's vision of what an improved Project CARS would be shined through even at this stage of the development process.
If the first Project CARS offered realism, the sequel is offering even more of it, this time with increasingly accurate weather and tire modelling. According to the team, the weather modelling - dubbed LiveTrack 3.0 - brings a unique level of realism to how different weather conditions affect the racing experience. For example when it rains, the water gathered by grass will eventually gather on the track, creating bigger and bigger puddles as the race goes on. When a tire is driven through these puddles, the water that the tire gathers stays on the rubber, making it slightly more slippery until it has dried out. We got to see LiveTrack 3.0 in action on one track, where the different weather conditions changed each lap. Much is of course still to be revealed, but the early impression of LiveTrack 3.0 is that it seems very promising.
LiveTrack 3.0 can also be seen in the seasons. Autumn storms, scorching summer heat, and icy conditions in the winter will affect the experience more than before. Because the game was presented in wintry conditions, the ice track was one of the bigger talking points of the presentation. At this point in time the ice feels much too slippery when compared to the real thing, however, according to the team these are the kinds of things that are being looked at and will be taken care of during what's left of the development process. Otherwise, even at this early stage, the weather effects looked quite good. On top of that, the tires really did behave differently when either wet, dry or hot. When it comes to the tire modelling, traces of rubber from the tires will stay on the track as they would in real life, affecting the driving line. Visually, the changing of the seasons is a sight to see, as the studio has put up a lot of work into making the scenery vivid and colourful. Whether you're driving in autumn, winter, summer or spring, visually there is no mistaking the time of year.
Project CARS 2 puts lot of emphasis on the VR side of the game, too. Virtual reality is also going to play a big role in the esports part of the proposition, which was something else they talked about during the event. According to the team, the goal is to create the most realistic virtual motorsports experience as is possible. When racing while wearing the VR goggles the action is intense, and at times it felt very close to the real thing. When combined with a decent racing chair with force feedback, the experience starts to feel very authentic.
If, however, one wishes to take the competition a little less seriously, you can set up your own private races. Each player is also given a digital Project CARS 2 driver's license, which changes colours according to the player's skill. Theoretically, those with the highest level license are qualified for esports racing. It seems like a neat touch that adds a competitive edge to the races, even when you're outside the leagues. This also should help pick out drivers who only crash into other players from those, who want to race fair and square.
When it comes to the single-player component, Slightly Mad's Andy Tudor and Stephen Viljoen took the opportunity afforded to them by the event to emphasise the freedom of choice. Even though different objectives and achievements do exist, there are no unlockable cars or tracks. Everything that the game has to offer is there for the taking right off the bat, and it's up to the player to choose which car they want to drive at any given moment. Because of this the gamepad controls (which were criticised in the previous game) have been modified quite a bit. Based on what we tried, they're on the right track (pardon the pun). The aim is to provide for every type of racing enthusiast, without sacrificing realism.
Even streamers are being catered for. Project CARS 2 gives players a free hand to direct and broadcast races. Everyone can be their own sports director and broadcast the footage they want to. Direct Twitch integration is of course on board too. The devs are promising a formidable number of accessible cars and tracks, with official licenses from car manufacturers to be revealed in due course.
After a little over an hour of playing time with the racer, on both a controller and in VR, and after sliding through various weather types, we were having quite a good time with Slightly Mad's sequel. Even though the game is not ready yet, from what we've seen thus far, Project CARS 2 is shaping up to be yet another very good racing simulation.
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