Preview: Project CARS

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You might think that Evolution Studio’s Driveclub is the perfect candidate for a virtual reality (VR) adaption with the Project Morpheus head-mounted display (HMD). The title ticks all the boxes, showing what the PlayStation 4 can do on a visual level without many of the limitations that currently plague early VR development in other genres, such as replicating movement. It was jarring, then, to hear Sony Computer Entertainment’s (SCE) Shuhei Yoshida admit that VR wasn’t a good fit for the upcoming racer. Fortunately, Slightly Mad Studios’ Project CARS more than makes up for this omission, ticking all those same boxes while adding VR support to them.

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Due out in November 2014, Project CARS is aiming to integrate both the Oculus Rift on PC and Project Morpheus, although compatibility may be released later down the line. Don’t be fooled into thinking the developer is treating VR as a simple add-on, however, as it has already posted plenty of VR footage from the title. Just how well it holds up when actually played remains to be seen but for now rest assured that the team is treating its integration with respect.

Elsewhere this a title that appears to be living up to the expectations its developer previously set with the Need for Speed: Shift titles. A series of empowering-yet-calculated laps around a race circuit makes it clear that this is unapologetically a racing simulator. While the collective roar of engines and gleams of sunlight from the bodies of cars tempts you to put your foot down, this approach will only find you trailing off course on the first corner.

Instead, Project CARS’ magic comes from precise, timely execution; knowing the perfect angles and speeds to approach the bend and recognising the opportunities to overtake competitors when they present themselves. Error can often result in disaster, but this just proves to be a driving factor in refining your technique. The thrill of being locked in a herd of vehicles, each one inching for supremacy is one of the oldest pleasures in videogames and it is alive and well within Project CARS.

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It usually falls to the racing genre to become an early bastion of the graphical prowess of a new generation of videogame consoles and Slightly Mad Studios is more than living up to that expectation. Taken for a spin on PlayStation 4, the title looks stunning even at this stage. It’s the details closest to the player that really excel; race tracks are littered with tire marks that snake round corners while selecting an in-car view reveals finely detailed textures that the developers could have only dreamed of on previous systems. That said, as eyes drift away from the immediate action a few blemishes can be found. Distant trees and background objects are in need of some work to bring the title up to a level of visual consistency and some of the less obvious areas of car models blur together.

The largely high standard in presentation carries through to other areas. Project CARS spoils its players in terms of options. While the title is set to offer an enormous amount of drivable cars and tracks, on-screen information can also be adjusted during races as can a range of perspectives. Flicking through the various camera options reveals an in-helmet view that will no doubt be ideal for VR support, with a visor obscuring peripheral vision and noises becoming muffled, giving a true feeling of presence. Driver support coming from the DualShock 4’s speaker is another neat trick that enhances this effect.

Project CARS might not be revealing its VR support just yet, but if Slightly Mad Studios is paying the integration as much attention as it is virtually every other aspect of the title then it could prove to be both Oculus Rift and Project Morpheus’ first great racing experience. Just when fans will be able to try out the title with VR is currently up in the air. Hopefully solid information will arrive in time for launch. VRFocus will continue to bring you updates on the title moving forward.

Note: This preview is based off of a build not yet compatible with the Oculus Rift or Project Morpheus virtual reality (VR) head-mounted displays (HMD).

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