News dropped that rallycross, would be coming to Project CARS 2, and a few hours later an exclusive club – including this author – got to sample this, along with other new features and builds being introduced by Slightly Mad Studios, hands-on at an event in London. Between one room full of VR sim racing rigs and another full of computers and controllers, I came away with plenty of reasons to be optimistic about the late 2017 release date.
Obviously after the phenomenal success of DiRT Rally and their outrageously fun RX modes, SMS know the dojo they are stepping into; and fortunately, they come packing heat. A tie up with top rallycross team Olsbergs MSE means both plenty of licensed cars in-game and feedback from their team of drivers, and it shows in-game. Two setups were on show – an RX Lites car at Daytona’s GRC course, and RX Supercars at the Hell circuit in Norway – and both setups on pad and wheel were ridiculously fun. I’ve heard others complain that the handling was unpredictable, but I didn’t feel that way at all; maybe it was the many hours sunk into DiRT Rally’s RX mode on my beat-up DFGT, but it didn’t take too long to slip into the familiar mode of popping the handbrake on corner entry and grinning like an idiot through every jump and powerslide. The Oculus Rift VR setup and race-prepped rigs only amplified my impish glee – although my stomach didn’t enjoy all the hills and jumps quite as much.
‘Race Anytime, Anywhere, On Any Surface’
Dirt and off-road racing feeds into a concept that Slightly Mad COO Rod Chong explained to me in a fascinating chat; the concept of being able to race ‘anytime, anywhere’. ‘It’s a complete environment you’re in, so when you take a car and when you’re driving it in say wintertime instead of summer time, how it’s going to drive will be quite different’ he explained. ‘You put hard tires on your GT car and go around a cold track, they’re not going to build heat properly. Take soft tires and bring them out to a boiling desert track in California, they’re gonna start melting. So you’re really going to start thinking about this. All the racing drivers that we’re involved with, they tell us that when they’re at races, they’re always thinking about the conditions. So we wanted to take that feeling and push it a lot further.’
All Day & All Of The Night
Conventional road racing was represented by GT3 cars at the Red Bull Ring and hotlaps in James Hinchcliffe’s Indycar DW12 at Long Beach, and both also showcased the new day/night cycling features – lookin’ at you, Gran Turismo Sport. Transitions felt smooth, and the twinkling city lights of Long Beach looked particularly great whilst belting down Shoreline Drive at 170mph. The prospect of classic endurance races like the Le Mans 24 Hours pushing these visuals to the max – as well as incorporating the changing atmospheric conditions directly into the physics – is a tasty prospect. Framerates appeared to differ across setups and tracks, but all ran relatively smoothly with no apparent drops or glitches.
Improved Tyre Physics
It’s worth mentioning the updated physics, particularly on controller, which felt far more intuitive. I sampled all four scenarios on the Xbox360 controller, and pad handling is much improved from PCARS 1 – it’s still too easy to snap into a spin with one sudden catch of the analogue stick, but much better throttle/brake control helped tame the cars a bit better, and in RX modes where the cars are very sideways anyway, it didn’t hinder that experience too much.
On wheel the game felt phenomenal; just as hardcore as the first game, but with some of the more brutal edges taken off and tonnes of feedback through the wheel. Rallycross as previously explained was an absolute riot, and belting the Indycar through the Long Beach streets was viscerally thrilling and super satisfying. For comparison, my fastest lap was 1:17.4 on pad versus 1:14.3 on wheel.
A lot of the refined handling might be down to new tire code introduced for this game. ‘Tires in real-world racing are a black art – they deform, they wear, they overheat, they’re interacting on a molecular level with the racing surface,’ noted Chong. ‘We’ve started a technical partnership with Pirelli…their involvement and some of the new code we’ve added, we think is revolutionary. We had a factory driver testing with us, he was driving a GT car at Fuji, and the back end stepped out – and instead of reacting and trying to correct it, he just left the back end out, and sailed around the corner. He turned to me after and said ‘I have never done that before in a sim’. There was no way he could feel the control and know what was happening over the limit. So when you’re driving in rallycross, you’ll be able to feel the new code we’ve added for when you’re sliding and spinning all four wheels, and how it’s clawing at the surface.’
With these enhanced levels of accuracy, Chong also believes in greater crossover than ever between sim and real-world racing. ‘Traditionally, sim racers are sometimes faster than real-life drivers (in-game), because they know how to exploit the tire model and handling for what’s necessary. What we’re finding with PCARS 2 is that’s NOT the case – we’re getting parity. This I think is very significant. Most young racing drivers sim-race all the time; they’re training their nervous systems, they’re learning the tracks, that’s how you learn now. We look at one of the drivers on our development team, Mitchell De Jong, he’s a decorated sim racer, but he’s also a champion rallycross driver, so he’s a very interesting example. We know now that someone who has the ability to be fast in the latest generation of sims, like PCARS 2, with VR – there’s a direct correlation.’
Just like the first game, PCARS 2 has a very ambitious vision at its core, but what I saw and felt that night indicated enough substance to feel optimistic that SMS can achieve their lofty goals. A greater variety of racing experiences, closer real-world/esports crossover than ever, and fanatical attention to detail are what is promised; and so far, they are on course to smash them out of the park.
‘Sometimes we tell ourselves that we’re biting off too much, but we usually always prevail!’ Chong joked to me.
No pressure, GT Sport and Dirt 4.
This article was authored by Adam Johnson