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
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