Last week I was invited down to a trendy bar in Shoreditch by Bandai Namco to go hands-on with Project Cars 2. As well as playing the standard version of the game I was also given access to the VR mode. There were several event types to try out including the brand new rallycross mode.
It’s the rallycross mode which I opted to try out first and while having had a lot of experience with more arcade-y VR racers, I immediately had my arse handed to me. Anyone familiar with the Project Cars series will tell you that the game is an incredibly authentic and therefore unforgiving driving simulator. Chatting to one of the game’s QA testers I learnt that the main complaint with the first game was that it was just too damn hard for those not already masters of the genre. The devs have definitely taken this feedback to heart as after a few more tries, I finally found my groove.
The setup included an Oculus Rift and fully kitted out racing chair, hydraulics and all which, after I had conquered the initial learning curve culminated in the most immersive VR experience I’ve had yet. The visuals were stunning. Dynamic weather effects and a crystal clear image made braving the treacherous and varied rallycross track a blast. The car responded exactly how you’d expect, allowing for incredible control. After each lap I completed I was spurred on by the knowledge that the result was based purely on my skill as a driver, which was equally rewarding and frustrating.
It quickly became clear that the emphasis was on authenticity over all else. Developers Slightly Mad Studios have been working tirelessly with professional drivers to fine-tune the feel of each vehicle to get as close to the real thing as possible.
One of the game’s greatest assets is the versatility of the tracks. Switching from dirt to tarmac makes a huge difference in how the car handles. You feel every bump, jump and change in terrain, especially in the rallycross mode. This is a game for the pros, which worries me slightly as far as the VR version is concerned. Due to the smaller selection of games offered on VR storefronts gamers are more likely to take a gamble on games they would otherwise miss out on.
This rings especially true for the racing genre due to it being one of the genres most suited to the platform. I’m hoping that the developers offer an in-depth tutorial section for those new to the series, rather than assuming everyone is coming into the game with a certain level of experience. Accompanying me to the event was one of our staff writers, Spud. Prior to the event he had had no experience with VR racing but had used the hardware a handful of times. The aim here was to gauge the accessibility of the game.
Here’s what he had to say as a newcomer to the genre:
“The VR definitely takes some getting used to, and I’m not sure how well it would translate with VR and a controller rather than with the wheel. But it was definitely a lot of fun with the headset and the wheel. There was a learning curve for sure but there’s no doubting that the game was visually impressive”
The VR mode was the most comfortable racing experience I’ve had so far. Throughout my roughly 2 hours of hands-on time I experienced no nausea whatsoever, even when I managed to roll the car. There were a few bugs, sure, the AI for example seemed overly aggressive and crashing the car often sent the game into a twitching hellscape. The game is set for release late 2017 though so there’s still plenty of time to remedy this.
What struck me most about Project Cars 2 was the game’s incredible attention to detail. Whether it was in the standard version or the VR one, the tracks were all beautifully rendered and deep. Grass glistens with dew, dirt comes careening off of the wheels as they spin and heat-waves radiate from the engine. All of this comes together to produce one of the best looking games I’ve ever seen. This is especially true in the VR version which even in spite of the graphical downgrade, is still the best looking game on the platform. This will come as no surprise to those which played the first game. Real-life environments were scanned into the game to make it more realistic and the cars are recreated with pinpoint accuracy.
As well as releasing on PC platforms the game will also be gracing PS4 and Xbox One. There will also be PS4 Pro and Xbox Scorpio optimisation which will hopefully get close to the incredible visual fidelity offered by the PC versions. Project Cars 2 offers 12K visuals as well as support for second-screen apps and over 40 peripherals. The VR version will release on Oculus Rift and HTC Vive and while there is a PSVR version in the works, the developers are being cagey on confirming an official release.
Project Cars 2 is scheduled for a late 2017 release so stay tunes for further updates and in the meantime watch the rallycross trailer below: