Project Cars 2 is addressing the first game’s flaws

I’ve taken some flak for how much I like the first Project Cars. No, it’s not iRacing, but iRacing also doesn’t have AI that is ready to start a race at precisely 1:33 AM on a Tuesday night, pause halfway through because the popcorn started popping and the pan needs to be jiggled, and then resume after a light snack. I’m busy, and often the last thing I want to add to my gaming is scheduling.

The first game was a solid experience with a good simulation, and it had a ton of options that allowed you to play in pretty much any way. Oh, and it was bloody beautiful. Project Cars 2 [official site] is an evolutionary step forward. It’s much the same game, but the issues present in the first are getting some serious attention paid to them, and it all really comes down to better tire physics.

The four contact patches between road and tire are easily the most important thing in driving; they’re the only major way a car interacts with the world. Yes, aero has a significant effect, but mostly aero is there to push the car down on those contact patches more at high speed. The big issue with the first Project Cars was that when you lost traction it was often all over, even if you should have been able to save it.

Project Cars 2 is dropping the massed, forum-based testing the first game went through and has moved from 30,000 testers down to 700, some of whom are professional racing drivers. That expertise is really showing in some of the detail. At the beginning of a session you’re given warnings over the radio about warming your tires up, and by the end—when your tires are worn down, overheated, and squishy—the game does a great job of imparting the right feeling. Rather than the sharper snap of oversteer on a fresh tire, the back end on an old set oozes around a bit. The loss of traction is a bit easier, and a bit more linear. That sensation is particularly distinct on racing slicks, and I’m really happy to see Project Cars 2 putting a lot of effort into nailing those tire dynamics.

I do, however, still have a couple of issues with the physics in what I’ve played. All of the race cars I’ve driven have been solid, from karts to GT3 to formula cars, but when I’ve decided to play around with the road cars I’ve experienced unexpected amounts of understeer on some of them. The higher end cars work pretty well, but the more reasonably priced machines were giving me more trouble than I thought they would.

To make sure that I wasn’t crazy, I loaded up the Mercedes-AMG A45 at the Willow Springs Horse Thief Mile, because I’ve had a good amount of seat time there in a CLA45 in real life, and I really clicked with that car on that track. I set good lap times, caught up with a C63, and overall just had a wonderful time. In game I’m having massive understeer again. Yes, it understeers a bit in the real world, but overall it’s a sharp machine, and it felt remarkably neutral on turn-in. The real handling issue in the A45/CLA45 is that the AWD system is so front-biased that you can’t be very aggressive getting back on the gas when exiting a corner. In game, I found myself having to kick the brakes hard to shift the car’s weight forward dramatically, almost inducing oversteer, to get the front wheels to grip on turn-in.

I’m not quite sure whether the issue is me overcooking the turns due to the lessened sense of speed inherent in a simulation or whether the drive to make the race cars demonstrably better than the road cars lead the developers to reduce the road cars’ capabilities too much. I suspect it might be a bit of column A and a bit of column B. I might be going in a little too fast simply because a home sim rig can’t come close to providing the kind of information that a real car’s chassis sends right into your ass and the development time thus far may have been mostly spent on the flagship cars that everybody wants to see. I’m hoping my A45 gets significantly better by release.

Moreover, Project Cars 2’s force feedback from the wheel could stand to be a bit more robust, especially when communicating wheel slip. My Fanatec Clubspot is giving me the amount of information I expect from a road car in a formula car, and the road cars feel a bit like they’re floating.

This issue extends to the low traction surfaces a bit as well. Rallycross cars on the dirt section of a track feel a bit like they’re floating on the surface, rather than digging down into the dirt to get to the good grip. That said, the chassis dynamics, weight shift, and ability to control a slide are way better than Project Cars 1, and that has enabled the team to add this whole new discipline to the repertoire.

The thing I’m liking the most is simply how much the game lets you play it however you want. There are 182 cars, and 46 tracks, and you can mix and match. If you want to take a rallycross car for race with 32 other cars around the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in a blizzard, you can do that. It’s goofy, but goofy can be fun so go ahead. I did, and it was a blast. I wouldn’t recommend doing in real life, as it was extremely hazardous, but I also don’t recommend shooting a rocket at your own feet while jumping and then hitting people with a shovel in real life.

I spent a lot of my time messing around in custom races and testing to get a feel for how accurate the simulation was, but once I was done revelling in the lovely lighting, crashing a Ford Focus RX into the brickyard’s walls, and cursing at the A45, I stepped into career mode. There are five different disciplines covering the gamut from formula cars to sports cars to endurance prototypes to rallycross, but I chose to start — in a most realistic fashion — as a kid in a kart.

A few corners in to my first race and I’m puttering into the grass, watching the competition zoom ahead, and hearing “In case you hadn’t noticed, your wheel fell off” over the radio. While I did eventually start winning, most of my losses in that first series were due to errant wheels. They pop off like Lego.

Finishing that first contract and getting into a car where the wheels usually stayed on was a relief. Once you’ve signed a contract to race in a series you’re in it, and there’s no backing out, so a wiser me chose to test my next car’s wheel sturdiness in some custom races before jumping back into my career. Just as the career started to get a little monotonous I got an entry to a one-off invitational, which was a nice way to have a diversion from my primary career goals while still contributing. It’s a feature that should be in more racing games.

All in all, Project Cars 2 seems to be shaping up to be the game we all hoped the first one would be. Given that I very much enjoyed the first one, I’m excited to see the finished version of this one… as long as that A45 gets a little love.

Note: Project Cars 2’s preview build was played with a Fanatec Clubsport Wheel, Pedals, and Shifter on an Aorus x7. The full game is out on September 22nd, 2017.

24 Comments

  1. Premium User Badge

    Grizzly says:

    If Project Cars 2 is the game we wanted Project Cars 1 to be, doesn’t that mean that Project Cars 2 is 3 years behind? Project Cars 2 is not just having to be a better version of it’s former self, it also has to compete with sims like Assetto Corsa. Assetto Corsa has not decided to release a new version of itself but rather focused on upgrading it’s own engine as they went along, gradually expanding the car and track selection with DLC packs and free updates in the process. The problems you describe with Project Cars 1’s handling are similar to those faced in Assetto Corsa at launch, but unlike Project Cars I don’t have to pay extra to see those problems addressed.

    Similarly, Project Cars 2 boasts a lot of cars and tracks, but quite a few of those are already available in Project Cars the first. So the question for me is not “Is Project Cars 2 good” but rather: Is Project Cars 2 good enough to warrant purchasing in a world where simulations I already own have gradually improved themselves? Is the Rallycross mode a worthy companion to Dirt 4? Is the expanded track selection unique or is it content that other sims also have?

    And, the question that bothers me the most: Is the Jaguar XJ220 any good? :-P

    • Raoul Duke says:

      My question is, as they are apparently fixing all the half-arsed stuff they did in Project Cars 1, will this be free for those of us who paid for that and were disappointed (haha)?

  2. ResonanceCascade says:

    Definitely looking forward to playing this in VR.

  3. GomezTheChimp says:

    I was extremely disappointed with the first one, so I`ll be waiting for reviews before I commit to this. Also, I`ve racked up over 650 hours in Raceroom and still enjoy it, so this would have to be pretty special to lure me away.
    Good to see the hype machine`s in full flow again; there must be at least a gazzilion previews on Youtube…

  4. Skodric says:

    You DO know it’s “tyres”, right?

    Re understeer in road cars, I found this to be a thing in PCars but I always thought it was just the contrast between say, supercart and muscle car and the different driving styles required.

    I’ll be watching this one – I’ve enjoyed what time I’ve spent on the first one.

  5. trjp says:

    The first game had some pros and cons

    Pros – it was FAR better than their earlier efforts

    Cons – the AI is abso-fucking-lutely laughably terrible once you advance it about “slow moving chicane” level. The cars drive into you/through you and generally behave like you’re just not there.

    Add that to SMS’s absolutely HORRIBLE attitude to their customers(*) and – frankly – this is a game I have zero interest in…

    (*) they operate an echo chamber forum, banning anyone who complains or even offers constructive criticism
    they left promised features out of the last game
    they’ve offered poor support for it’s issues
    they promised an ‘evolving’ game and yet announced sequel the week it released

    Frankly they can all die in a fire…

    • ColonelFlanders says:

      I’d never wish a fiery death on anyone, but I do agree that Slightly have a SHIT attitude towards their customers. The forum is a hostile environment full of fanboys and apologists who can’t handle that pCars isn’t as good as the “proper” sims, and will (as you say) shoot down anyone who criticizes the game, even if you criticize the laughable shitty tyre model. I don’t know about anyone else but I’ve never seen cold racing slicks turn into fucking ice skates before. I know warm tyres help your traction but come on guys you are taking the piss.

      • grimdanfango says:

        It doesn’t help that the head of the company is the worst bully of the lot of them, and is a complete narcissist who will only tolerate sycophantic fans willing to sing their praises unconditionally on his forums.
        Nasty. They’re never getting a penny out of me again.

  6. Foosnark says:

    Once you’ve signed a contract to race in a series you’re in it, and there’s no backing out…

    This is something I dislike from pCARS 1. Accidentally got into an endurance race and don’t want to drive around the same track for 2 real-world hours? Too bad. Wound up driving something horribly unfun? Too bad. Race has you starting in 14th place and by the third turn you’ve been rammed and run over by other drivers 15 times, and you restart 5 times with the same result? Too bad.

    • Raoul Duke says:

      It seems to be a car game thing. Want to play how you want to play? TOO BAD, we will not give you any decent cars or interesting tracks or races until you slave for 3000 hours racing go karts around this shopping centre car park.

  7. Jason Moyer says:

    ” but when I’ve decided to play around with the road cars I’ve experienced unexpected amounts of understeer”

    Yeah, that’s because a neutral or oversteering street car would actually kill most people who drove it. The average person seems to have enough trouble just keeping an understeery Camaro or 911 on the road.

  8. gwop_the_derailer says:

    What the hell was that Mitsu Evo with the missing boot in 0:28?

  9. TheSplund says:

    TBH I rather enjoyed pCars1 apart from the aggressive AI – if they want to sell this to me they’d be better-off not spending excessive time on tyres and focus on improved, less gung-ho, AI – I despise being punted off by an AI car that doesn’t suffer similarly if I reciprocate.

  10. Anti-Skub says:

    Wasn’t this the game that got kickstarted, failed to deliver on a bunch of their promises, never really got properly finished and then the profit was used to fund a full price sequel that is basically the game they said they’d make with the crowd funding money?

  11. FPV Man says:

    Yes project1 was kickstartet and they failed to deliver the promised features. But it was the best investement I ever made. The earnings from the invest where much much higher than the invest. I wish I had spent very much more money for the invest. Its a pity that pcars2 isn`t a crowd funding project anymore.

    And what Grimfandango said is true. The attitude of the head of the company is horrible and sometimes very rude (e.g.: “you are going on my balls”). He shouldn`t post anything into forums. And there are a lot of boring fanboys. Thats also true. But I still like the game. Its one of the best I ever played.

  12. LaundroMat says:

    The main reason I like iRacing that much is that they have found a way to create a compelling multiplayer experience. iRating and Safety Rating force people to drive clean races. Is there any word on how pCars 2 wants to make sure multiplayer is not the crashfest you typically see in online racing multiplayer games?

    • Monkey1917 says:

      Iirc, the “Racing license has two components. “success” rating , that’s based or like ELO, and “Safety” rating that measures how likely you’ll get involved in accidents. Servers/Championships/Tournaments/Leagues can then choose to deny access of too bad players. This should sort the players based on skill and eliminate all but the few skilled trolls that would grind to high rating, mess up few races and fall back down to start again. Idiots like AMIK should find themselves stuck with other like minded “people” or preferably quit “playing”.

  13. Pizzzahut says:

    The question isn’t ‘is PC2 better than PC1?’, it’s ‘is PC2 worth buying and putting hours into in a world where AC exists?’. And the answer? Undoubtedly ‘No’.

  14. Unsheep says:

    Instead of trying to do what 90% of other sims are doing I wish they could aim for something more unique, something that would make it stand out in terms of content. For example, by having “fantasy” tracks instead of the same tracks you get in every other sim racing game.

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