Project Cars II Hands-On Preview: Dances in the Rain
We’ve been slipping and sliding our way around the corners in Slightly Mad Studios’ super-realistic racing sequel.
It’s one heck of a year for racing fans. Hot on the heels of the announcement of Dirt Rally’s PS4 VR support, and a full-blooded Dirt 4 sequel, we can now set a release window for Project Cars II. It will be out late 2017, and joins the likes of Gran Turismo Sport, Flatout 4: Total Insanity, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, F1 2017, Micro Machines World Series, the return of Need for Speed and, no doubt, Forza Motorsport 7 as just a few of the four-wheeled delights coming our way in the near future.
With one well-received game in the bank, the sequel looks to grow on the strengths of its predecessor. Depth is a huge part of the experience, and with over 170 licensed cars and the “largest track roster of any console racing game ever” it’s not short on experiences for car loves to try out. New vehicles and motorsport classes are on the table, and the interface and online infrastructure is built with one eye on the eSports scene. In fact, the developer has specifically pointed out that Project Cars II has been “built from the ground-up with e-Sports in mind,” so perhaps that should be both eyes.
The original Project Cars was always a pretty game and the sequel remains gorgeous. Dynamic weather conditions and a 24-hour day/night cycle are more than just eye candy, too, with the impact of the conditions on handling a key feature of the experience. I will touch more on that shortly, but long-story short, the promised list of bullet-points hit all the right beats for a sequel. This includes the return of VR support, 12K resolution for PC gamers and a healthy online grid of 16 players (consoles) or 32 players (PC).
While the first game was born from a highly successful Kickstarter campaign, Project Cars II is being made with the support of Bandai Namco and it was at the company’s Australian office where I got some hands-on time with the game.
Fans of the first title will expect the feel of driving these high-end vehicles to be on-point and it is. But in particular, I wanted to test out the way the dynamic weather can impact the driving experience over the course of a single race. To this end, I set about racing a few laps of Mt Fuji in an Mercedes AMG GT-R. Mid-race, a rainsquall would dust the track in a good coating of water, before gradually drying out prior to the chequered flag.
I raced from the helmet cam perspective, which I love because it not only gives you the “cockpit view” that is the most authentic and gives you a chance to marvel at the detailed interiors. But as you turn into corners, the camera also moves in the same way you would move your head to look into the apex and beyond. It works really well to capture that feeling.
So it was off to the grid. As soon as the light went green, I was in the thick of it. The sun was shining and I was jockeying with the AI for track position into the first hairpin corner. More simulation than arcade in handling, it was a drastically different feel to Dirt 4 – which I had been playing moments earlier – with the heavier, more grounded vehicle initially feeling sluggish. But I soon got a feel for the grip coming in and out of corners, and began getting to top speeds on the straights.
There’s a real sense of body roll in the handling, too, and I could use that to my advantage through the corners. The AI was hanging around and looking for opportunities to pass each other, and in a few instances we were three abreast heading down the straights. I never got out to a massive lead, but did manage to get to the front of the pack.
Then the rain came.
At first it wasn’t too bad. I admired the rain on the windshield as my wipers got to work. I loved seeing the spray kick-up from under opponents’ bumpers, even if it did cloud my vision. But as the water started to pool, I began to understeer terribly. My slicks were no match for the deteriorating conditions and I began nursing the car around every corner, half-throttling out. I had traction control on, which at least stopped me from spinning like a top, but I had to adopt my whole driving style on the fly and I just wasn’t good enough. Soon I was slipping down the pack and losing sight of the leaders. That body roll I was loving moments earlier was now my biggest enemy.
Shortly the rain stopped and I could see the dark clouds rolling off towards the distant fields. A racing line began to form bringing with it better grip. Puddles still sprinkled the track and could send you flying off the road if you got too aggressive with your braking off the racing line, so it all became about precision racing and getting good exit speed so you could overtake on the straights. I was just starting to make a comeback when the chequered flag confirmed my deserved fate well off the podium.
This was just a taste of Project Cars II, and with dirt and ice tracks promised alongside the weather - not to mention day and night races – I’m pretty excited. All these conditions are said to have real-time impacts on your car’s physics depending on how you drive and what pressure you put on your tyres. I am particularly interested to see how tracks such as Bathurst will make use of these features, given it can be raining at the top of the mountain, and dry at the bottom simultaneously.
My first test drive of Project Cars II was a good one, and I am looking forward to seeing more. I wonder where it will end up on the championship table once all this year’s racers are out?
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