Project CARS 2 Impressions: New Levels of Racing Game Immersion

For more than a decade now, there's been two titans of the racing sim genre routinely squaring off on screens across the globe. Sony's Gran Turismo series and Microsoft's Forza Motorsport series - two of the largest and most well known franchises in all of gaming, loved by both gamers and car enthusiasts alike.

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Gamers have argued endlessly over which of the two big franchises has the edge when it comes to fun and realism, but lately there have been some newcomers to the genre and one of them is the Project CARS series developed by Slightly Mad Studios and published by Namco Bandai. When the original PCARS launched in 2015, it quickly put the industry on notice with its highly realistic physics, beautiful visuals and unique weather system.

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Last month the Project CARS 2 launched. I've had the chance to spend time with both the XBox One and PC versions of the game and have found a lot to like.

Here are five takeaways from my time behind the wheel:

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1. That Track List

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The original Project CARS had a very impressive track roster for a first time effort, and the second game has only improved on that. From legendary locales like Le Mans and Spa to the banks of Daytona and the streets of Long Beach, there are few major circuits left unaccounted for.

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In addition to the requisite real world circuits, PCARS2 has also been expanded to include rallycross racing and snow driving—which presents a completely different experience. Also, the highly realistic physics engine and tire modeling is equally impressive on- or off-pavement.

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Altogether there are some 63 different locations in the game, including dozens of the aforementioned real world circuits, twisty point-to-point roads, rallycross tracks, go kart tracks and more. It's a seriously extensive list. After playing the game regularly for a couple weeks, there are still courses we haven't tried yet.

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2. Greater Car Variety

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While it might be tough to compete with the 700 vehicles available in Forza Motorsport 7, PCARS2 has done a nice job of adding to the car roster's quantity and diversity. While the first game leaned heavily on European cars, the sequel has expanded the offerings quite a bit.

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Making the JDM fans happy is an impressive selection of Nissan race cars that include the 240ZG, DR30 Skyline, R390 and more. And what better place to race these than Fuji Speedway—the legendary Japanese circuit which has been added to the game.

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The game also includes both Porsche and Ferrari, for the first time, with a variety of production and racing cars that span from the 60s right up to today. With these two iconic brands, the car roster hits a whole new level of depth.

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Whether you want to race go karts, rally cars, IndyCar or even NASCAR, most forms of Motorsport are represented, and as you make your way through the game's career mode you'll be able to experience all of them.

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Alternatively, the game also allows you to hop into any car on any track for a testing session or custom race of your choosing. This is important for those who don't have the time to grind through endless races to access the cars they want to drive.

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There also some cool car additions that don't fit into traditional motorsports, including Vaughn Gittin Jr.'s "Ultimate Fun Haver" Ford F-150 and Mad Mike's "Radbul" Mazda MX-5 in all of its tire-smoking glory.

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3. LiveTrack 3.0

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The first PCARS game included dynamic weather, but the sequel take things even further. LiveTrack 3.0 includes selectable seasons, 24-hour day/night cycles, and driving surface conditions that change with the weather itself.

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Every track can be ran in conditions ranging from mid-afternoon sun to nighttime rain storms—conditions can also change throughout a single race, with tracks moving from dry to wet and back to dry again. You can even race in the middle of a snowstorm!

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Not only does this make for a great challenge, it adds a ton of re-play value—with each type of weather making for a dramatically different experience. Wrestling a Porsche 935 through the field in the pouring rain? It's both nail biting and incredibly fun.

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4. VR!

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I've already written about how virtual reality has completely changed my perception of racing games, and the PC version of Project CARS 2 supports both the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive VR headsets for the ultimate in immersion.

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Initially I was a little worried the game would be too demanding to run with my modest gaming PC in VR, but so far I haven't encountered any real performance issues. In terms of VR visuals, it's among the best out there.

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Everything that's great about the game, normally, is even better in virtual reality—but be warned that all of your "outside life" will be drowned out by a wave of screaming engines and screeching tires the moment you put the headset on. Oh sweet immersion.

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5. The Little Details

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Whether you are playing in VR or on a traditional screen, there's an attention to detail and sense of immersion in the game that's second to none. Visually, it could be the reflection of headlights on a wet track or the bits of rubber and grime that accumulate on your car lap after lap.

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Playing with a steering wheel, the force feedback is equally great, whether it's the tires losing contact with the road as you hit standing water, the feeling of lightness as you crest a hill, or the bouncing and bumping of rallycross.

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When it comes to a driving game, fewer things are more important than sound, and PCARS2 is one of the most accurate and ear-pleasing games I've ever played. In the audio department it could be the whine of a gearbox, the sound of the body scraping a rumble strip - or my favorite, a startup sequence for each car that sounds so cool that I purposely stalled my car just so I could hear it fire up again.

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Is Project CARS 2 a perfect game? No. At this point the opponent AI still needs some work and I'd like to see some more production cars added to the mix. The ability to customize and upgrade such cars would also be a welcome addition in the future.

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But when it comes to the driving itself and the immersive feeling of piloting some of the world's greatest cars over the world's greatest tracks, Project CARS 2 is fantastic.

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Even without the first-party backing of its rivals, Project CARS is a franchise that's here to stay and we can't wait to see where it goes next. Now, back to the (virtual) racing.

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