Project Cars 2

Slightly Mad aims to not only over­take the com­pe­ti­tion but lap them, too


PC, PS4, Xbox One

De­vel­oper Slighty Mad Stu­dios

Pub­lisher Bandai Namco

For­mat PC, PS4, Xbox One

Ori­gin UK

Re­lease May 6

The first time we take 27R, Fuji Speed­way’s open­ing cor­ner, in a Mercedes-AMG GT3, we brace our­selves for the usual anx­i­ety-stricken night­mare of slow­ing for and ne­go­ti­at­ing a tight turn in a sim­u­la­tion game. The tar­mac will feel like it’s slicked with oil, ac­cu­rately and con­sis­tently met­ing out power to the rear wheels will be a night­mare us­ing the trig­ger, and the car will in­evitably pun­ish us for even en­ter­tain­ing the idea of re­ly­ing on those four rub­ber con­tact patches for grip.

To our sur­prise, though, the GT3 re­mains con­fi­dently planted the whole way around the bend. This is too easy. On the sec­ond time around we push a lit­tle harder, and still the car car­ries us through to the apex with­out drama. We ramp it up again for the third lap and dis­cover yet more com­pli­ance. This isn’t how sim­u­la­tion games usu­ally feel. We ask one of Project Cars 2’ s devs to turn off ev­ery driv­ing aid and switch our demo to man­ual shift­ing be­fore tak­ing an­other shot at it. This time we can steer on the ac­cel­er­a­tor and gen­tly cor­rect our line af­ter push­ing the car up to the limit of its trac­tion. This feels fun. This feels like ac­tual driv­ing.

“A big chal­lenge that we’ve had to over­come is the mind­set of a gen­er­a­tion that has grown up on sim­u­la­tors that have just been dif­fi­cult for the sake of be­ing dif­fi­cult,” game di­rec­tor Stephen Viljoen ex­plains to us. “If it’s a sim­u­la­tor then god for­bid that it might be fun; it’s got to be re­ally hard. I’ve spo­ken to so many real-world race driv­ers and not one of them con­sid­ers real-world rac­ing to be a hard day of, ‘Ugh, I’ve got to get out there and do this again, day af­ter day out on the race track.’ Mo­tor rac­ing is one of the most thrilling and ex­cit­ing sports. It is fun. And how more au­then­tic can you get than the real thing? So if the real thing is in­cred­i­ble fun, then how do you end up with a sim­u­la­tion of the real thing and there’s no fun in it? [Driv­ing in sims is] al­ways like tread­ing on eggshells. And that’s what we’ve worked so hard to get right.”

The peren­nial prob­lem of hair-trig­ger grip lim­its in rac­ing games is a prob­lem that has long frus­trated rac­ing driver (and for­mer Top Gear Stig) Ben Collins, who has worked with Slightly Mad on both Project Cars games. “We made some re­ally good progress [with

Project Cars],” he says. “You could just start to float a pow­er­ful car out of a hair­pin and get it to dance a lit­tle bit, but if it bit you, it bit you quite hard. I was so pleased with the way the cars han­dled, and the power-to-weight ra­tio, but that as­pect was still a bit trou­bling. We’ve been able to fo­cus on that in Project Cars 2. Now you can drive badly and get away with

it – you won’t be fast, but you have the com­pli­ance you would in a real car. It’s not like a Scalex­tric track where you have to keep get­ting up to put the car back on the track each time you make a mis­take. You just keep go­ing, and as a re­sult it’s more fun, and you learn faster. I think it’s a huge break­through.”

Part of the rea­son for this im­prove­ment to han­dling is the fo­cus Slightly Mad has placed on tyre and track physics. The stu­dio’s Live­track 3.0 and dy­namic weather tech­nolo­gies com­bine to repli­cate track sur­faces in un­prece­dented de­tail. Sur­face de­for­mi­ties are ac­cu­rately recre­ated, and stray wheels can bring dirt from the track­sides onto the tar­mac, chang­ing the level of grip you’ll have on the next lap. Mean­while, Slightly Mad’s con­fi­dent re­tort to Forza 6’ s three­d­i­men­sional pud­dles is re­al­time pool­ing and run-off. Grassy sur­faces will ab­sorb wa­ter un­til sat­u­rated, then send rivulets onto the track that gather in ex­actly the same places they would on the real-life equiv­a­lents. This is a re­mark­able step for­ward for the genre alone, but comes into even sharper fo­cus when paired with the game’s ob­ses­sive sim­u­la­tion of tyre com­pounds – a di­rect re­sult of the stu­dio’s strength­ened rep­u­ta­tion af­ter the first Project Cars.

“We are able to get in and get ac­cess to tech­ni­cal data that tyre man­u­fac­tur­ers are typ­i­cally very se­cre­tive about,” Viljoen ex­plains. “Now, be­cause they know that we go for this level of au­then­tic­ity, they’re will­ing to work with us to pro­vide us with this data, so that we can pro­vide an au­then­tic sim­u­la­tion of the tyres. It’s crazy – that these guys are will­ing to trust us with this in­for­ma­tion is a se­ri­ous com­pli­ment.”

This im­proved stand­ing with man­u­fac­tur­ers and rac­ing as­so­ci­a­tions has had reper­cus­sions in ev­ery as­pect of the game. Project Cars 2 fea­tures more than 170 li­censed cars, and 60 tracks (the largest lineup of any con­sole rac­ing game to date). It has also given the stu­dio a lit­tle more clout in its pur­suit of un­prece­dented ac­cess.

“It’s one thing to get car man­u­fac­tur­ers on board,” Viljoen says, “but we also re­quest things in the li­cence agree­ment that other de­vel­op­ers don’t. Part of what we ask for is ac­cess to one of the fac­tory driv­ers so that we can pro­vide them with the game with their car in to test, and we will not be happy un­til they tell us they’re happy. For these com­pa­nies it was just like, ‘What? We’ve never been asked to do this be­fore. This is weird.’ And we just in­sisted, and said this is how we need to do it. And it’s worked. They’ve fi­nally opened up and we’re get­ting to the point where we have ac­cess to those driv­ers from most of the man­u­fac­tur­ers we have in the game.”

All of this would be for lit­tle if Slightly Mad stuck with the well-in­ten­tioned but dis­ap­point­ingly non­com­mit­tal pad con­trols of the first game. It’s a re­lief, then, to find that, while there are still plenty of cus­tomi­sa­tion op­tions avail­able, the stu­dio has re­fined and pre­sented its idea of an op­ti­mum setup. And it’s very good in­deed. “We’ve just blitzed it,” cre­ative di­rec­tor

Andy Tu­dor says, wear­ing an ex­pres­sion of un­apolo­getic sat­is­fac­tion and pride. “Last year we knuck­led down for a month where it was just, ‘Right, ev­ery­one get the gamepad out – we’re go­ing to nail this now, far in ad­vance of the game com­ing out.’ We went through var­i­ous ver­sions of gamepad han­dling, try­ing dif­fer­ent things that dif­fer­ent peo­ple on the team pre­ferred, and then just ironed it all out through playtests.”

The re­sult is an as­sured, re­spon­sive setup that sat­is­fy­ingly com­ple­ments the game’s deeper track and han­dling physics. At no point do we feel like we’re wrestling with an ar­ray of hap­haz­ardly po­si­tioned slid­ers.

“It’s that dif­fi­cult sec­ond al­bum – we can’t rest on our lau­rels,” Tu­dor says. “We’re not just mak­ing an it­er­a­tive se­quel here. If you look at the game com­pared to the last one, it’s com­pletely re­built from the ground up, but with­out throw­ing ev­ery­thing away. So there’s still that great core there, but we’ve re­placed bits, en­hanced bits, added new things. It’s not Project Cars 2017. It’s so much more than that.”

“It’s com­pletely re­built from the ground up but with­out throw­ing ev­ery­thing away”

FROM TOP Game di­rec­tor Stephen Viljoen and cre­ative di­rec­tor Andy Tu­dor

Ben Collins, rac­ing driver and con­sul­tant

Project Cars 2 will fea­ture dy­namic sea­sons and day/ night cy­cles on ev­ery track

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