Mount Panorama is awesome in Project Cars 2
If you’re an Aussie race fan, you judge a video game by one factor and one factor only: Mount Panorama.
I shudder to think of how many times I’ve watched a race car do a lap of Mount Panorama. The iconic street circuit is set into the side of a hill in the city of Bathurst, three hours west of Sydney, Australia. Locals call it The Great Race. The 6.213 km (3.861 mile) track rises and falls 174 vertical metres, winds around 23 corners, offers opportunities to break the 300km/h barrier and has a race history dating back to 1938.
The Great Race is a 1,000km sprint. Since 1960, where the race officially began, the country’s best drivers and many brave challenges from overseas have looked to conquer the mountain. Primarily, it’s been achieved in a large, heavy, powerful V8 Holden or Ford. It takes in excess of six hours to complete the 161 laps, and those who win instantly etch their name into racing folklore. It’s the pinnacle of motorsport in a country that is just a little mad (max) about cars. So revered is the event, fans begin camping around the track up to a week before the race; it’s bigger than Christmas.
My own love affair with Mount Panorama began as a very small child. My dad, a fan of The Great Race since its inception, and I used to sit down and watch it every October. I’ve been out to see it live at least a dozen times, too. I was there for Craig Lowndes first win in 1996, and his most recent in 2015. I’ve done hot laps, flown over it in a helicopter and slept in tents in strange places all around the city. I know Mount Panorama better than my kitchen, and like most fans I have but one request: give me a race car and let me have a crack!
Enter video games.
Over the years, Mount Panorama has been a vital fixture in the tracklist of any self-respecting racing simulation. Leaving it out would be like ditching Spa-Francorchamps, Nürburgring Nordschleife or Laguna Seca – incomprehensible. All these tracks, and some 60 others, are available in Project Cars 2. When I was granted an opportunity to play the game this past week, however, I had only one destinations in mind – Bathurst.
I know exactly how a car should behave on Mount Panorama. It’s in my blood. So I know if Project Cars 2 feels right on Mount Panorama, then it will feel right across the rest of the game, too. Because it will mean the tyres, the suspension, the body roll, the sense of weight, the laser-scanned surface, the trackside detail, the impact of weather and all the other little bits and pieces that make a racing game feel right, are right.
Upon selecting Mount Panorama as my circuit, I began flipping through the cars looking for my V8. The 2013 Ford Falcon FG – it’s no Holden, but it would have to do. A member of developer Slightly Mad Studios’ crew leans over my shoulder with a word of warning: “you sure? That’s a difficult car to master.” I am sure, and I sure hope he saw my look of disdain. This was make or break.
The last great racing game to nail Bathurst was Race Driver 2, released by Codemasters way back in 2004. It was called V8 Supercars 2 here in Australia, and while I am sure I look back at it through rose-tinted glasses, my memories of spending hours racing Mount Panorama online with 11 other Aussies are my benchmark moments for the genre. So how does Project Cars 2 stand up?
It’s excellent. With a full grid of 32 cars, I negotiated that first corner, powered up the hill and felt like I had just put on the world’s most comfortable glove. It looked perfect. It felt perfect. The car rolled in and out of each corner just as I had mind-surfed it a million times before. The way you can use the incline and the heavy weight of the V8 to control your speed as much as the throttle felt instantly intuitive. The relief of coming out of Forrest’s Elbow having negotiated the summit and knowing you can take a breather as you fly down the hill, paddocks whizzing by on either side, is spot on. The sense, as you go nose to tail with your competitors through Reid Park and Frog Hollow, that if one driver is just an inch out you will all go down in flames is exhilarating.
At one point, I came into The Chase at the bottom of Conrod Straight at full throttle, having slipstreamed and overtaken an opponent moments earlier. I was off my racing line just a fraction and I felt a tyre hit the grass. Instantly I knew what should happen, and instantly it did. I spun straight through the breaking point and into the sand trap in a sudden and violent counterpunch to my smooth lines over the top of the mountain.
Project Cars 2 remains very much a simulation; get it wrong and your demise will be swift and merciless. Later, as I experimented with other cars on other tracks that I was less familiar with, I loved how much importance I had to place on tailoring my speed and my weight to each corner, and to the weather conditions. It’s not as ruthless as the first game because you can feel it through the controller so much more, but it’s still challenging. The result is something more rewarding. When I spun at Mount Panorama I knew exactly why it had happened: I stuffed up. Not the game.
In truth, Mount Panorama is barely the tip of a much larger iceberg in Project Cars 2. From VR to eSports, rallycross to ice rings, Porches to go-karts, there is plenty to explore. The customisation options alone will keep petrolheads tinkering for days. The game launches on PlayStation 4, Xbox One and PC on September 22. Be there.
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