Let’s talk about Project CARS 2

I’ve owned Project CARS 2 for a little over a year. But after an hour I stopped playing it. That was enough for me to realize it wasn’t going to be one of my favorites, and I sort of forgot about it. But 60 minutes isn’t really a fair shakedown, and I should take a closer look. In the time since release, maybe they fixed some of the things I didn’t like before or released new content.

Controller Setup – user friendly, but deeply flawed

Setting up my wheel, pedals, and handbrake can be difficult because they are all separate devices. Some games expect you to have everything integrated into the wheel, which I don’t. Unexpectedly, getting my gear recognized and calibrated was really simple. But there was no customization. It’s critical for me to be able to change the low and high dead zones because my pedals don’t read zero at the bottom or 100% at the top. The throttle usually reads about 5% when off and doesn’t get to 100% at all. The clutch does get to 0% and 100%, but real clutches have a big dead zones. The brake is the biggest problem. It reads 20-22% when off and it’s pressure sensitive. While I can get to 100%, that’s pushing really hard. I usually calibrate my dead zones as follows.

  • Throttle 15%-85%
  • Brake 25%-50%
  • Clutch 15%-75%

Project CARS 2 has no such capability in the software. There isn’t any configuration file either. Most games put a config file in your documents folder, but Project CARS 2 encrypts this information in a Steam folder. How can I compete for fast times when I’m dragging my brakes and not getting to full throttle?

Car Selection – mostly high performance

I like having a mixture of cars to experiment with. My ideal situation is the following:

  • Old school Formula car like FF, FV, Skip Barber. These are my favorite for driving because they have no nannies, no grip, and decent power to weight ratio.
  • Mazda Miata. Well, Miata is always the answer. I have a lot of time in these in the real and virtual world, so I like being in a familiar environment.
  • FWD. Front and Rear wheel drive cars handle differently. I like both, and it’s important that whatever sim I’m driving models them realistically.

Project CARS 2 has a lot of really high performance cars, but not much of what I’m looking for. There is a Formula Rookie (FF I think), Toyota GT-86 (sort of like a Miata in performance), and a Renault Clio Cup for FWD. So my minimal set is reasonably well taken care of, but beyond that, it’s mostly rocket ships.

Tracks – not many, some good, some bad

Among the track collection is my favorite test track: Brands Hatch. So that’s great. There are also some nice scenic drives in Azure Coast and CA Highway 5. But there aren’t many tracks I have driven or expect to drive in real life. However, there are two very important tracks to me in the game: Sonoma and Laguna Seca. I have driven both of these tracks quite a bit and I can tell you that the Project CARS versions are disturbingly inaccurate. Every time I turn a lap, my brain is confused about the track I know vs. the track I’m presented with. Not only are these not laser scanned, they aren’t even close to authentic. How can the track owners allow such renditions?

The following US tracks are not laser scanned. Avoid.

  • Laguna Seca
  • Road America
  • Sonoma
  • Watkins Glen
  • Willow Springs

The following US tracks are laser scanned. Enjoy.

  • COTA
  • Daytona
  • Dirt Fish
  • Indy
  • Texas
  • Long Beach

Vehicle Dynamics – some bad, some good

The laws of physics shouldn’t change from vehicle to vehicle. But they do in Project CARS 2.

The first car I tried was the Formula Rookie. This is basically a Formula Ford, and it should be the perfect car for testing physics. There’s a reason they were used in the Skip Barber school. In a word, it’s terrible. It won’t oversteer unless you drive it in the rain with wets on the front and sports on the rear. I guess they wanted a noob friendly car for noobs, but that’s not what Formula Fords are. They’re all analog and hard-mode. In case you’re thinking I had assists on, I NEVER have assists on.

Next I tried the Ford Escort 1600 and Toyota GT-86. They feel like the same car. They will oversteer if you brake mid-corner or power too much out of a turn, but it feels like the game is guiding you. It’s hard to really mess up. And here’s a weird thing I noticed, you can’t spin more than 180 degrees. Not sure why, but once you go around 180, it’s like you hit a wall and the car straightens out. I had a hunch and loaded up GTR 2. The core developers from Sim Bin (GTR2) are the same people at Slightly Mad Studios (PC2). And guess what? The GTR 2 cars also have the same weird 180 degree behavior.

What about FWD? The Renault Clio Cup car has lift oversteer, but you aren’t punished if you mess it up too much. And when you add throttle, it’s almost as if the rears are also getting power. Hrmph.

In Project CARS, each vehicle has a “Control Difficulty” rating from 1-3. All of the cars above have a rating of 1 (easy). So then I tried the Formula C with a difficulty of 2, and it was better. Well if that’s the case, what about level 3? So I selected the Mercedes 190E 2.5-16 DTM and yes, that’s a much better model. In fact, I’d rather drive the 190E than any of the cars in iRacing. It’s that good. On the other hand, I’d rather drive any car in iRacing rather than the Project CARS 2 Formula Rookie. It’s that bad.

Rain and Dirt – depends on car and tire

The vehicle dynamics in the rain or on dirt depend so much on which car and tire you’ve chosen. The Slick and Wet tires have more grip on dirt than the All Terrain or Winter. What kind of tire/surface interaction model is that? Broken. Also, the dirt is much bumpier and grippier than the iRacing dirt model. Maybe Project CARS 2 models dry dirt? I definitely prefer the iRacing dirt. Despite my grievances, the most fun I’ve had with Project CARS 2 is driving the 190E on All Terrain tires on the various rallycross tracks. That’s some seriously fun shit. I can do that all day. Well, not all day. The combination of super bumpy terrain and me having a great time ended in a rare case of motion sickness.

Summary

Stay away from the vehicles with a Control Difficulty rating of 1. They will make you a worse driver in real life. Also, don’t load up the non-laser-scanned tracks or you will be sorely disappointed. However, if you choose the 190E and a laser-scanned track, you’ll feel that all is right in the sim racing world.

6 thoughts on “Let’s talk about Project CARS 2

  1. PC2 is trying to fill the space between FM/GT and actual sims. One of the complaints about PC1 was that it was impossible to play with a controller. I don’t agree that it was ‘impossible‘, but it was truly difficult. For a few people this made PC1 a uniquely challenging (read: enjoyable) console racer. For a lot of other console racers, it was a major turn-off. Many reviews of PC2 noted the improved controller playability. It sounds like the devs may have slid closer to the FM/GT side of things as a concession to console players, and the handling difficulty rating is reflects how much they messed with that car’s model to make it usable with a controller. If that’s right, it’s a shame you can’t just choose a handling difficulty setting based on your own comfort level (like FM’s “simulation” steering setting).

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      1. That would be an interesting test of my theory. I think I have PC2 on XB1. I certainly have controllers you can try, if you want to test this.

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  2. Try this game called Automobilista 2, It uses the Project cars 2 engine, but the vehicles are a lot better than whats pCars2 has to offer.

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    1. I have AMS2 but I haven’t driven it yet. I’m waiting for the official 1.0 release. The original AMS was very good so I have high hopes.

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  3. Yep, I do prefer AMS 1, from a physics point of view and for the pleasure of hotlapping. It is the peak of the rF1 engine from a consumer sim perspective. AMS2 has a different feel, not without its quirks, but am interested to see what you feel. Some aspects feel very right, and others not so much.

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