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Project CARS 2 PC & VR performance evaluation – the Red vs. the Green Team

Intro

We have been playing and benchmarking Project CARS 2 since it released last week.  This Project CARS 2 PC and VR performance evaluation pits AMD’s Red Team versus NVIDIA’s Green Team using eleven video cards, and we also measure VR performance using FCAT VR.  

This Project CARS 2 PC and VR performance evaluation is performed using a Core i7-6700K at 4.0GHz where all 4 cores turbo to 4.6GHz, an ASRock Z170 motherboard and 16GB of Kingston HyperX DDR4 at 3333MHz on Windows 10 64-bit Home Edition.  We benchmark at four resolutions using NVIDIA’s 385.69 WHQL driver and AMD’s 17.9.2 driver although 17.9.3 was just released for Total War: Warhammer II this morning as this evaluation was being written.  Here are the 11 video cards that we are comparing – 6 from Team Green and 5 from Team Red:

  • GTX 1080 Ti FE 11GB (VR)
  • GTX 1080 FE 8GB (VR)
  • GTX 1070 FE 8GB (VR)
  • EVGA GTX 1060 SC 6GB (VR)
  • EVGA GTX 1060 3GB
  • PNY GTX 1050 Ti  XLR8 4GB 
  • Gigabyte RX Vega 64 Liquid Cooled Edition 8GB (VR)
  • PowerColor Fury X 4GB (VR)
  • Gigabyte RX 480 G1 8GB at RX 580 clocks (VR)
  • PowerColor RX 570 4GB – Red Devil overclocked version (VR)
  • XFX RX 460 4GB OC

One has to experience Project CARS 2 as a player to appreciate it, and absolutely not from viewing clips on a tablet, nor from watching Youtube gameplay videos.   And there is absolutely no way to convey the sense of immersion that comes from playing it in VR using a wheel and pedals.

We received a reviewer’s code courtesy of Bandai Namco the day before the game released on Friday, September 22.  Although we have spent an entire week playing Project CARS 2, we feel that we are just now getting really familiar with the game.  It is a huge game that a player may spend hundreds of hours with, and there is a bit of a learning curve as one cannot just jump into a supercar and expect to immediately race successfully even against the AI.   Project CARS 2 is a sim, and although it can be dumbed-down into an arcade-style racer, it is best played with a racing wheel and pedals.

Although the original game was ground-breaking in many regards, the sequel appears to be a solid improvement over Project CARS, especially with regard to having more of everything – improved weather and changing track conditions, as well as better handling and greatly improved tire physics.  We use the same track, California’s Highway 1 as in the original, but we now use Stage 3 as our 2 minute benchmark run in Project CARS 2 for both our desktop and VR runs.

The original Project Cars also had good graphics but its tire physics and handling lacked.

The menus have become a lot easier to navigate and the options are much better explained than in the original.  Like the original, almost every major setting change requires the game to be restarted for the change to take effect, and a lot of time is wasted with experimentation.  However, the amount of options that a player has to fine-tune his controls are amazing and very welcome.  This editor plays with an entry-level Thrustmaster Ferrari X58 Italia wheel that usually has a noticeable deadzone that can be minimized by editing the assignments.There are even options to synchronize the car with the dips in the track.  In another big improvement, unlike with the original, the game is actually playable with a controller, but a wheel gives the best results especially for VR.  There is also a big improvement with the number of tracks increasing to 60 with over 130 layouts, along with a doubling to around 180 the number of vehicles accessible to the player in the new game over the original.

There are almost 30 unique series and the player is now allowed to race against cars in a similar class.  A player can pick a career and spend many hundreds of hours tinkering with and driving in every sort of race including rallycross.  Or a player can just choose to practice, engage in single race mode, or race online against other human players. The player-adjustable AI is competent but inconsistent.

Project CARS 2 has its own Ansel-style camera which allows you to compose your perfect screenshot.  You can also use a Drone Camera to take shots from creative angles.   Every race that you complete is recorded and you can save these races for playback or for use as a desktop or VR benchmark.  You can also choose to view the race from a number of many different camera angles.  We picked the cockpit view as our default for benching.

Of course, Project CARS 2 offers a wealth of performance options and settings and we prefer playing with MSAA High for what we think are the best and sharpest visuals, followed by SMAA Ultra, and then by FXAA High.  SMAA Ultra appears to give a bit of temporal anti-aliasing, and for a performance hit of 5% or less over using FXAA High, there is much less shimmering and crawling with the camera in motion.  We would prefer to lower other settings before we drop from SMAA Ultra to FXAA High.

Project CARS 2 performance settings

Unfortunately, there is no overall default “ultra”, “high”, “medium”, or “low” setting, so we picked either the SMAA Ultra or the High MSAA pre-set and we used maximum settings for Ultra – except for Motion Blur which looked best to us on Low for all settings.  Each other individual setting was moved to “high” for our High tests; likewise to “medium” for Medium and to “low” for Low testing.  However, we left Pit Crew Detail to “All” and said “Yes” to Enhanced Mirrors.  These same settings are available for VR and the only difference was that we set our mirrored desktop resolution down to 1024×720.  

A good desktop performance goal is to try to maintain at least 45 FPS (frames per second) as a minimum for responsive handling, and 60 FPS or higher would be far better.  VR looks and plays best when 90 FPS are delivered at all times, but Project CARS 2 makes good use of Oculus’ Asynchronous Space Warp (ASW) so that a card delivering less than 90 FPS will intelligently reproject every other frame and will still be playable without causing VR sickness.  However, for best handling and responsiveness, we found that it is better to turn down settings than to suffer with more than occasional reprojection.  

Although we picked Ultra/Maxed settings, we would not hesitate to drop them in the interest of more raw frame rates.  Ultra grass doesn’t look particularly more impressive than Low grass at 150 mph, and reflections are another easy setting target to lower.  Although Ultra looks spectacular in VR, it is more practical to play with medium settings and some amount of SuperSampling for the greatest amount of realism and handling balance.  We benchmark as we do to highlight the differences in the video cards’ performance, and to leave room for each player to choose which settings to turn down, as well as to allow for benching future more powerful cards.

Handling, Physics, and Changing Road Conditions

Handling and physics are greatly improved with Project CARS 2 over the original.  In the first game, even with a powerful rear engine car, it was impossible to recover from a slide once the tires broke traction.  However, with a new physics engine, the tire physics allows a player to power on during a slide with a chance of recovery. There is a real feeling of immersion, and pulling off an intense power-slide while drifting through a corner in the Indy 500 neck-and-neck with leaders of the pack was memorable after spending just a few minutes with the game. And after many hours of play, we have come to the conclusion that Project CARS 2 is absolutely awesome on the desktop but far more spectacular in VR.

Weather effects are both impressive and believable.  Just as in real-life racing, as a track get wet, the stock dry tires will begin to slip and it’s time to change them.  And driving in snow gives its own challenges.  Fortunately, the performance hit from driving in bad weather is much lower in Project CARS 2 than in the original, perhaps up to 10-15%.  But BTR’s benchmark is run on a sunny day.

Graphics and Bugs

The graphics are very good and they are a step up over the original game.  However, there are inconsistencies and some tracks look a lot better than others.  There are a multitude of individual settings but no overall “ultra”, “high”, “medium” or “low” settings, and every setting change requires a restart of the game.  Cars generally look very detailed and realistic, and the interiors are particularly very well detailed.  This attention to detail works particularly well with the virtual reality cockpit and it adds greatly to a player’s immersion.

There is support for all types of displays including using 3 displays, but we preferred playing on the desktop with our 34″ 3440×1440 ACER Predator GSYNC display with a GTX 1080 Ti.  Both VR and multiple displays require using a powerful GPU, although using a single display the game can be played fluidly at maximum settings across a wide range of video cards as we shall see.

Project CARS 2 was stable for us with only a few crashes to desktop that seemed to be related to using Fraps to record frame rates.  We noted that there were a few instances where the realism failed, as in one example we went airborne in the benchmark yet survived without flipping over, and the NPC driver AI sometimes behaves strangely.  One can nitpick the debris balance and the AI, but overall, the graphics and the gameplay are top notch and the bugs are minimal.  We also expect that future patches will address current game issues and will probably provide a better balance just as happened with the original game.

Realism and Fun factor

There is absolutely no comparison with racing in real life and driving in even the most sophisticated sim.  However, for a game, Project CARS 2 is believable and it immerses the player into the world of racing very well.  Virtual reality is particularly well-suited for racing games as you place your hands on the wheel and your feet on the pedals just as your eyes confirm it is happening in the VR world, and a player’s sense of immersion becomes exceptionally deep.  The HMD limits a player’s field of view just as a racing helmet does, and a VR racer can look in any direction just as in real life.  However, there is a screendoor effect that SuperSampling can minimize, but a GTX 1080 Ti is barely sufficient for maxed out VR settings without SuperSampling without dropping into frame reprojection.

Project CARS 2 is a lot of fun.  It is difficult and there is a steep learning curve, but the AI can be adjusted downward so that a new player can just start racing with an entry-level car or even pick a go-kart from the Career Mode.  

Audio

Project CARS 2 audio is positional which means that it’s easier to tell where other nearby cars are based on their engine sounds, making the audio more immersive than in the original game.  The audio from the Oculus Rift headset is particularly well-delivered adding to the immersion of the VR experience.  Some of the sounds don’t quite fit as well as others and the shifter sometimes makes a really unpleasant and unnatural sound.  

Overall, Project CARS 2 is an excellent sim and a solid improvement over the original game.  Let’s take a look at our test system before we look at performance.

Project CARS 2

Project CARS 2
8.5

Overall

8.5/10

Pros

  • Improved Physics & Handling
  • Good Choice of Tracks & Cars
  • Excellent detail & customization choices
  • Incredible VR
  • Good desktop performance optimization

Cons

  • Uneven AI
  • Steep learning curve
  • Changing settings require restarting the game
  • Aquineas

    Nice job! You guys do good work over here.

  • Stephan froth

    Great stuff , i really wish i could see more vids of VR through the lens ! Maybe your recommended pCars 2 VR medium with SS 1.20would be a great start .