Project Cars Head 2 Head Analysis

Publisher Bandai Namco
Platforms tested PS4 XboxOne PC

Being one of the most infamous games that was funded by the community it has had a long and at times tumultuous development cycle, showing big budget, small budget or crowd budget developing always throws up challenges and delays.Now available on both now gen consoles and PC with a Wii-U version still alleged to be alive and kicking. But for now we can only fix our gaze on the versions that are no longer deep in development.

Now available on both now gen consoles and PC with a Wii-U version still alleged to be alive and kicking. But for now we can only fix our gaze on the versions that are no longer deep in development.

Off the line we have the fixed target of the much lauded and preferred frame rate in this type of game at 60fps across all 3 formats, but the resolution is not so aligned with the XboxOne bringing in a 1600x900 resolution buffer being pipped to a full native display by Ps4 and PC, with the PC having an option to go higher if you have some serious kit with even down sampling an option within the AA in-game suite. The resolution drop on XboxOne is noticeable on track scenery and cars as you have many symmetric lines on fenders, frames including the screen showing off the aliasing edging more than the other 2 versions. It does not destroy the IQ but it is a very clear cut back but one that makes sense with such lofty goals within the game and the GPU resource.

And it is not only the content that is full but the options, having this many visual options in a console game is commendable, with all post effects able to be turned off along with bloom, lens flair varied levels, water droplets, field of view, head bobble from wind blast and even heat haze all customisable within the option screen, the only small Niggle is that changing these can result in a 10-20 second delay on XboxOne as it restarts the DX render state, on PC you are forced to quit game and reload for changes to take effect the ps4 is only a second or so to save. The PC also loads the tracks much faster than both consoles, and this is consistent across all my pc's but the game has been in development on PC for an age so makes sense. SMS have excelled with such a vast selection of options within the game and this is very welcome and worthwhile, do not worry if the sight of a radio button or scale bar is off putting as you can happily still ignore the switchboard entirely and blast straight into the game.

PC players get to select from an even greater pit box of options (sorry Could,not resist ) that has all the selection from both consoles along with additions like resolution, motion blur strengths, shadow quality and anti-aliasing options with MSAA being an option along with Low and High followed by extra FXAA section and smaa post processing to help on the missed areas like shader work on specular ignored by the render options. And this is where we see some larger changes in the game across platforms starting to appear.

Aside the resolution drop on the XboxOne the frame-rate can also be lower on average than the ps4, but this is not a testament to the PS4 or PC version as by default on PC and on consoles with no option to turn it on v-sync is off. This allows the frame-rate to be higher than if the frame delivery was locked to the refresh rate of the display, which is managed at 60Hz as a base in most sets but this is really not a fixed or standard rate anymore and more a by product of old legacy NTSC rates with PAL and SECAM being 50Hz as a base. Most modern TV's can set a rate from 24,25,50,60 and multiples their of as you go higher. Monitors can go higher still and then you get newer options like AMD's Free-sync or Nvdia's G-sync which allow the display to refresh as often as the GPU does removing this restriction. But this is an article for another time.

Now I am not a fan of tearing at all and always enable V-sync or use border less window mode in win7/8 or 10 to get effectively forced buffering to stop this happening, but the decision to do this here is understandable as this allows input latency to start at or very close to the optimum level and more importantly consistently throughout play, vital for such millisecond needed skills, although far from as critical for the average or even above average player as believed. As I have a large passion for Motorsport but mine is of the 2 wheeled kind and have first hand experience racing on track, in video game form this is much slower and hugely safer luckily.

Within normal and very indepth career mode the car limit is set at 20 cars and this limit along with how the weather plays out can have an affect on the amount of tearing and frequency of this happening. Here with like for like examples on both consoles and my medium range 7870 with fx8350 with the v-sync on we can see that around Brno with 25 car limit on track the ps4 handles it around the high 50's when it starts to tear, the XboxOne is more towards the mid 50's and the PC is around the low 40's or just under at the same settings as console (aside the 900 resolution ). It allows as I say the control to feel reasonably solid but the tearing is very noticeable when you have long open views with 8+ cars ahead steaming into the distance, this improves the further through the pack you climb and when out front on both consoles it keeps very close to the 60 target consistently well on both machines, but the medium range PC can still tear even when out in front occasionally more than the console, but the high end machine of i54690k and gtx970 has no such drama. At the same settings as console (aside some changes I will detail shortly) it can hold the 60 target pretty much flawlessly with only minor tears and dips at points (as weather kicks in being an example), but this is expected of such a machine at these levels, but in heavy play like here in Le man at all high (not ultra) settings it can still dip to the 40's, it is a true made for PC game that allows you to ramp up the settings well above console in some areas so long as you have the power. But the game scales well across hardware and allows you to bump up resolution if you so desire, along with higher levels of motions blur, AA and elongated brake light reflections on the track that are absent from both console versions. It must also be noted that AMD cards suffer more than Nvidia ones, with even the 750 Ti handing in a better showing on the game than my 7870 8350, which is ludicrous but this is an Nvidia linked game so this may have helped or hindered AMD who have commented that they are working on a driver update, sorely needed with the better console version performance proving the hardware is not the direct issue.

Further down the scale my low level A10 APU with onboard R7 GPU does its best to keep up and despite coming in a distant last of course it does a fair job of emulating it bigger siblings. Dropping resolution to 1360x768 and turning all settings to low but leaving post effects on including low motion blur helps keep the action as smooth as possible. Hovering around and just below the 30fps range it is a decent delivery on such hardware and shows that the AMD powered APU can still handle modern games in a cut back format including some much needed motion blur with a cap to 30 being the best aim here as well.

Also absent is any meaningful level of motion blur on ps4, here you can see when I spin the camera around on XboxOne and PC you get a sufficient level of blurring on background objects and roadside scenary as they hurtle past, the ps4 only seems to have the addition of a post processing form of SMAA running that smooths out any temporal Aliasing between frames ( by merging the previous frame buffer with the new one) from distant or thin objects, it also adds the smoother more natural look to the image over the very clinical and crisp displays from XboxOne and PC (even when this is on). Even through the ps4 has a native 1080 display due to this it can leave the texture quality looking higher on XboxOne over ps4 as this merging of the previous frame buffer into the current one glosses over the detail with an interpolated look to it. Which in stills looks horrible and as if all objects are ghosting, if it was an analogue signal you would be sure it was out of frequency, but digital this is and stills are not how the game is meant to be played, thankfully in motion it looks much better and works very well in removing most of the standout signs of jaggies or sub pixel shimmer as you drive, a common sight in a racing game as your focal point is very specific and off into the distance rather than very close quarter so it is a benefit here, but as I say it then means that the overall image quality of road textures and cars are left a little softer than the other versions, but it makes for a more natural presentation which is a subjective thing that some may or may not prefer.

But with the lack of motion blur (or at least bare minimum on ps4) it means that the sense of speed can be slightly Diminished, also of note is the shadow quality on XboxOne is lower than the medium level of PC with ps4 being the pretty much the same as it, and at points in replays during rain all occlusion contact shadows can at times be missing as here, which give the game an old school gamey look, this seems to affect all versions of the game but not consistently so looks to be a bug, something the game seems to have a few of.

Also of note is that the game certainly has issues with its depth buffer for occlusion and is a good example for me to show you how rastered order views would work in practise. Here you can see that the background that should be hidden behind the trees is actually drawn over them in the distance like a transparency effect, this should be detected in the z-buffer pass as an occluded pixel and skipped within the shader process, but this is failing and we can see that it is being drawn when not needed but also in the wrong order over the top of other triangles incorrectly. Rastered order views will allow this to be handled in the hardware (where present ) so that not only does this not happen but it is calculated much more efficiently, this is as I say a good example of the kind of problems it solves, just more so with actual blended textures that need some level of transparency. You can see this on trees as I go up hill and the foreground/background blend through. This could be a bit of a gotcha when it comes to further optimisation work on performance improvements in future patches.

But this issue is present on the DX11 versions of PC and X1 also, with different programmers working on the versions, API options or time as the separate choice of little to no motion blur and extra Post AA highlights how such small changes can make quite large differences when working within separate SDK's and hardware.

Texture quality is highest on both consoles with AF being the same at around 4x on both, PC can go higher if you want upto 16x, motion blur on PC can go higher than the XboxOne level which looks equal to medium and in practise is a decent but not superb level with it having quite heavy levels of noise within it, but in motion ( see what I did their ) it works well. But having the choice to go to a higher sample rate is welcome if you have the kit. But this highlights another area on PS4 the texture filtering is poor even on nearer objects, see here with the grass which although the texture quality is the same and resolution even higher the PS4 is a noticeable level muddier than the XboxOne and PC, although you only notice this when at the start or sight seeing.

The Lighting engine is identical on All with your car sporting its own headlights that like the wipers can be turned on with a flick of the d-pad, and like Driveclub these are shadow casting lights on objects and sports cars. As the game can offer a vast selection of tracks and conditions you get a chance to show these off at various points, it is good to see this in place as it adds (for me at least) a good sense of realism and is a welcome addition more so at the 60 fps target, dropping shadows to low on PC loses these shadows casting point lights. Another nice effect is the particle system in the game also casts shadows from light which is present on all versions.

And the dynamic weather in the game is another high point, having the choice to tailor each solo race with a random, fixed or upto 4 slot array of weather times means all tastes are catered for from blazing sun to fog hazed storms, this is accompanied by a selection of post effects like rain drops on the external camera or windshield, which can be cleared by your manual or automatic (dependant on car) wiper blades. This not only affects viability but handling as the track slowly changes from grippy dry Tarmac to soaked skid patch, with the more powerful motors being far more troublesome to control. This highlights the lighting system more as specular highlights reflect from the glancing sun which is occluded by background trees and enhanced with a bloom effect at certain angles based on the anisotropy, when it glances over your cars bodywork (more so when wet) is a particular nice touch showing of the HDR mapping in the game along with crepuscular rays peering through the trees.

An external rain drop effect runs on all that also refracts the background through it similar to driveclub on PS4 but unlike this on both consoles it loses the DoF effect over it making it look more bland, on PC it does have this subtle effect which is a nice addition that may get patched in later.

Cube map reflections are used on wet floors within the environment map, on console these are the lowest level as seen here on the car, with PC able to go much higher with ultra but the amount of times you will see this or even notice is slim, but another welcome choice of scale.

This vast array of weather types and lighting conditions all make for a very solid and visibly pleasing game, obvious comparisons to driveclub will be made here but with pcars aiming for twice the framerate of that game this is unfair, unsurprisingly they are not quite at this level and driveclub does still retain the top step in this regard but project cars is absolutely lovely and more so at the delivered framerate, it is a simply sumptuous looking game at times, with a track I know very well bordering on photo realistic at times, donington really looks and feels very accurate indeed with the sun haze distorting the view with such a strong bloom effect on the horizon down the back straight into the foggy esses. The scenery can be a little bland in places improved by 3d rendered models rather than billboards, but with such highly detailed cars on show with console looking to sport the high setting but with a shorter LOD than high around medium it seems this is highlighted more in the quite sparse backdrops, but again they are not something you really pay attention to mid race. With cars sporting 60k triangles on high but ultra pushes the player car over 200k and up close these additions can be seen, but they hammer the machine with pretty.

Again another highlight and commendable section is the fact that replays in the game also operate at the 60fps target which is something even the mighty Forza 5 does not do, and this is again very welcome but also suffers from the same vsync issues as the actual racing can, especially when heavy car shots fill the screen with a rain lashed track. But as we can test what it would perform like if we vsync the game on PC we can compare the PC going from the same unlocked but capped at 60 framerate into a stable but slower v-synced display. Here you can see that the horrible wavy screen is gone when this happens, but at the cost of 10-12fps solidly across the board, dropping what was an average rate within a 1,45 lap of 48 down to 36 and in turn this means that response time on the controller is impacted equally, it does not make a game changing difference overall but at more vital times it can be the difference between a near miss and a gravel trap excursion.

But many times these questions are asked for console games on what would a game run like when unlocked?. SMS have allowed that question to be answered here with a clear view of this multi platform racer and allows the game to run as fast as the screen can be displayed, certainly in career mode the 60 target is met more than not on both consoles and was the right choice to make, but if you want to stress the game and go mad with the max 40+ cars/weather and all effects on full for console it can tear itself up with frame rates never dropping below 30 at any point on ps4 but just managing it very, very rarely on XboxOne, but it must be stressed that even on my high end machine under these intense conditions it also fails to deliver a solid 60 most of the time during a lap, with my medium range machine faring worse than the ps4 and XboxOne as does my entry level a10 and gtx750ti being a near 20 fps slower than the ps4 with the high end machine being a good 10fps higher still. Even dropping the 750 down to the same 900 res and the same equal settings still see's it under perform from a 60 rate at any point even without weather, although part of this is the 4 core AMD CPU getting worked as hard as the GPU nearly, helped by the Nvidia driver. Many of these dips on PC and console come from the CPU more so than the GPU. And in this instance the A10 is a better CPU than an i3 due to its greater core count, something we are starting to see more of and will only go up from here.

Having an option to vsync the game to either 30 or 60 may get added and I would most likely take the vsync 60 option on both as in normal play it simply does not need that level of restriction on either format at all.

I have yet to test the online side and I will do an update video for that very soon just to confirm, but early tests are of a solid lobby system with no terrible lag within the handful of games I have played, but more testing is needed and conditions may vary based on your own situation.

Another important part of racing games is sound, and it also delivers well with strong engines roars, tyre screeching and reverbing off the surroundings as you race around track, muffling the sound as you jump into helmet cam. From the whiny sound of a go kart to the roar of a v8 Audi it delivers an audio treat as much as a visual one. This

Is also complemented by a rich soundtrack from driving tunes and emotional orchestral tracks, a very solid delivery and welcome within the menus to gear you up for action.

slighty mad studios have done a great job of delivering a tech heavy game that stands well upto bigger studios coming from its crowd funding roots it is a game that wears its developers love for racing and racing games on its sleeve. With a decent performance across consoles and PC at the difficult 60 target, with some minor ommisons on slightly dated and random DoF work at times that can affect textures unevenly resulting in a slight odd and dated look to it in practise. The helmet cam (my preferred view) is the worse offender on this with parts of cars or the rear view mirror loosing focus on occasion which can be a minor distraction.

The PS4 version seems to be slightly behind or taking a subtle alternative route of development with some effects missing or being buggy aided by an additional AA effect that works well to improve the image at the cost of a softer display, it would be a good option to add this frame buffer interpolation addition as an option to turn on or off along with the compensating motion blur bump, although the clean image is good the double image on most of the frame can leave you thinking you have double vision at times and a choice to remove and sharpen the image at the expense of more aliasing would be very welcome! let's hope slightly mad studios watch this video?

The XboxOne delivers a solid racing game that has to compete against Forza 5 and Driveclub on consoles and does a great job with it having a lower resolution and performance on X1 added to by having the clearer texture quality at the expense of a more noisy temporal display that highlights its non native display more so, even with its great EQAA solution that is the same on both consoles and the nearest AA on PC being 2xMSAA, with this being an AMD hardware feature very similar to MSAA with more sample points for both colour and coverage allowed added to by being programmable as to where these are taken within the the pixel it can potentially offer up a better than the same MSAA coverage for slightly less overhead, as the colour/depth sample points are separate to the triangle fill sample. This seems to be in slightly different levels of flux on both consoles with it offering up very clean mesh edges something similar to Forza horizon 2 whilst also having a cleaner display of the texture work which is best demonstrated on the XboxOne due to the smaa solution on PS4 softening the image and thus higher colour sample benfit.

The game is very CPU heavy not unsurpringly with so much AI and physics in play, using around 5 cores well on PC, and this appears to be the cause of some dips on console even a collision here on ps4 causing a near dropped frame where it not for the vsync being off.

So long as you have a high end machine then this is the best place to play this PC developed racer with an even vaster selection of options over the already impressive console ones to suit your tastes, but the console versions are well equipped and deliver a very close match to the PC.s best with the water spray alpha textures and cube reflections all being lower on console but the meat of the games visual punch is more than delivered here. if you fall into the middle or lower range and you have either console then sacrifices can be made to improve the performance at the expense of the image and effects on-screen, with even the highest texture setting still being easily run on a 2Gb card, my gt750ti is more suited to a locked 30 rate if you don't like the constant fluctuating frame rate or turning off all post effects and dropping settings to Low to achieve a more solid 60 aim. But both consoles have delivered an impressive racer that has been ported well at a high target framerate, that it fails to deliver on a locked 60 on most modes or hardware is a shame with the engine seeming very stressful in all guises, but is close enough in most regards to not be an issue with the console versions being a choice between if you prefer a cleaner but more shimmering display over a softer but far more solid IQ and performance benefits also being slightly better.

All in an impressive, indepth and immersive racer that apportions itself well into the upper echelons of rival top tier podium level racers.

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