Preview: Project CARS 2 – Aiming for Pole Position

It's shaping up to be one of the best VR racing titles.

Racing videogames tend to come in two types, the outlandish arcade ones like Mario Kart, or the hyper realistic simulators such as Gran Turismo. Virtual reality (VR) fans have already had a taste of both, seeing titles like VR Karts, DiRT Rally and Project CARS launch come to Oculus Rift and HTC Vive. The latter, by Slightly Mad Studios, has seen a mixed response from players, with them either loving or hating the videogame – just look at the consumer reviews on Oculus’ Store – but that hasn’t deterred the studio as it’s still bringing the sequel to VR headsets, and from early play through’s it’s shaping up nicely.

Instantly noticeable when starting Project CARS 2, it’s not been made for VR. All the menu’s, wherever you are in the videogame, are a floating window – kind of like a VR cinema. It’s basically a reproduction of what you’d see on your PC monitor with the rest of the world blacked out. Whilst it works fine – there is a gaze pointer for quick highlighting – it’s certainly not got the impact you’d expect from such as highly polished title, although this is an early preview so it might be rectified for the final launch.

Moaning about the menu screens may seem trivial but with the amount of options Slightly Mad Studios has put into Project CARS 2 you’ll find yourself in them quite a bit, so some sort of background – a track, a garage, anything really – would actually help in grounding this racing world in VR instead of making it feel isolated.

When VR first came to the consumer market naysayers derided the technology because the experiences weren’t substantial. That’s very much changed and while Project CARS 2 isn’t solely VR, its going to be one of those videogames fans are going to spend hours and hours in. Single races, multiplayer races, a massive career mode, and that’s just for starters. The customisation options as you’d expect are as extensive as ever, it could take you 10-15 minutes to get into a race if you have a real OCD for fine tuning everything.

But really none of this matters if the racing is rubbish, and quite frankly it’s looking very good indeed. Racing in VR is just a perfect match, and once you’ve got the monotony of the menu’s out the way and are sat in that first race, it all comes together. Whether you’re sat in a Jaguar ZF or a Formula E car, Project CARS 2 is as gorgeous as you might imagine. The attention to detail means that for a VR player that sense of immersion is even greater, especially in the middle of a race and you’re checking where your opponents are in the mirrors.

Project CARS 2 screenshot 1

Played on an Oculus Rift using an XBox One controller the handling didn’t feel vague or unresponsive. Being a simulator this is one of those videogames where you can’t just grab a car and thrash the competition, you have to know how to get the best out the vehicle because so much realism has been put in. On the other hand, one slight knock from an opponent and the cars did seem to instantly spin out, crashing straight into any nearby walls, gravel patches or creating a big pile up – which was quite fun.

Running on a just above minimum spec PC (i5-6600K, GTX 970), the driving experience was smooth and judder free, making for a really comfortable race – which should suit those who might be prone to the odd bit of VR nausea. Naturally, if you’ve got a good high-end rig that performance will be even nicer.

From this initial look, if you’re after a proper VR racing experience and the current crop doesn’t really tempt you then waiting for Slightly Mad Studios to release Project CARS 2 is looking to be a good bet. It’s certainly not an all round perfect VR racing experience, but there’s a lot more to like than dislike in its current form.

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