Complete analysis of the console versions.
It’s been over two years since Slightly Mad Studios’ Project CARS launched on current gen consoles and gaming PCs. For its time, Project CARS was a fantastic looking racer on consoles and high-end gaming PCs. In many ways, Project CARS was a technical benchmark for showcasing the true capabilities of the PS4 and Xbox One. Back then, the PS4 version ran at a native 1080p resolution whereas the Xbox One build rendered at 900p, with both reaching frame rates up to 60. What Slightly Mad Studios’ achieved back then was nothing short of remarkable and fans expected nothing less with the sequel.
However, things have changed in the last couple of years. The current gen consoles are becoming more and more capable to render beautiful visuals and both Sony and Microsoft are leading their brands into the 4K era with the PS4 Pro and the upcoming Xbox One X respectively. As is the trend with development progression, engines get updated over time and become better, and this story is no different with Slightly Mad Studios’ proprietary MADNESS game engine.
Slightly Mad Studios have done some amazing work on the engine’s renderer to replicate some of the most mind blowing weather effects you will see in a racing game. Project CARS 2 utilizes LiveTrack 3.0, a framework within the MADNESS engine to deliver dynamic conditions on the track. For example, racing conditions on a Sunday morning will be quite different when compared to the afternoon. The wear and tear the track undergoes during the morning session will have an impact on how it performs during the afternoon one. But it doesn’t end there. LiveTrack 3.0 also takes into consideration various parameters such as sea level, wind direction, slope angle of the track resulting into a vastly different experience whenever the player races across different times of the day on the same track.
LiveTrack 3.0 also works in conjunction with the game’s dynamic weather system. The original Project CARS supported a suite of different weather parameters but the sequel has a number of options really takes that to an all together different level. Whether it be a hazy afternoon or a race in heavy blizzard, Project CARS 2 has you covered. For a while now, Evolution Studios had the honor of rendering the best rain effects in a video game, but Project CARS 2 takes that crown and absolutely smashes it. Seeing the rain water getting splurged from the back of the tires and right in your face while driving during a thunderstorm is simply a jaw dropping experience. We also observed that rain drops will start dripping down to the lowest point of the track and start forming puddles. So, it goes without saying that the weather effects in Project CARS 2 are simply outstanding and one of the best technical achievements of this generation.
However, delivering all of these features comes at a cost and that cost is the reduction in image quality compared to the original Project CARS. Instead of running at a fixed resolution, the developers have implemented a dynamic buffer which allows them to scale with respect to the action on the screen. You see, Project CARS is a dynamic game. The player can change all sorts of parameters ranging from the number of cars to the complex weather mechanics. There are also a number of graphical parameters such as motion blue and other post processing effects that players can play around with it. This makes Project CARS 2 a rather difficult game to analyze. Due to the dynamic elements involved, every player’s experience may differ. However, from a broader perspective, we believe that the base PS4 and Xbox One versions are both running at sub 1080p resolution at times. The PS4 reaches 1080p in less taxing scenes such as lesser cars and a clear weather whereas the Xbox One version has a slightly softer look strongly suggesting that it’s not using a 1080p buffer at all.
On the performance front, we don’t believe that either version is running at a locked 60 frames per second. Constant screen tearing was observed, especially if you dial up the opponent number to 32 cars and race in a thunderstorm. However, just like the original the PS4 manages to perform better than the Xbox One. But you will be better advised to adjust your expectations because this is not a solid 60fps experience on both consoles. Other than the resolution difference, the core assets seems to be a 1:1 match between both versions. Unfortunately, the Xbox One version suffers from a ton of jaggies which really deteriorates the experience. The PS4 version suffers from this issue too but its slightly less jarring.
It’s clear that Project CARS 2 is a GPU hungry game and it seems that the PS4 Pro is the place you need to be playing this game on. The game delivers a 1440p resolution for 4K TV owners along with an almost rock solid 60fps performance. Even in taxing situations, Project CARS 2 on PS4 Pro doesn’t disappoint. Further enhancements include reduction in jaggies, increased level of detail on cars, track objects, grass, better shadow rendering and better reflection quality. Although it’s not head and shoulders above the base PS4 version, in the end it does offer a better image quality and performance and for a fast paced game like Project CARS 2 performance matters.
With Project CARS 2, Slightly Mad Studios have once again moved the pole ahead. You simply won’t find a racer that looks as good as this, which includes so many dynamic parameters and gives the end player a ton of UI and visual customization options. It’s also great to see the development team supporting PS4 Pro players with better visual effects and performance. In the past, Slightly Mad Studios told us that a full 4K/60fps is possible on the Xbox One X and given that Microsoft’s upcoming console is more powerful than the PS4 Pro, it will be interesting to see how they use it effectively and whether they reach that golden standard.