We’re pretty late to say this, traipsing over the stage finish line an entire month after Dirt Rally VR’s release on PlayStation VR – you can blame a February stuffed full of major games and consoles to review – but here’s my now positively tepid take on the VR mode: it’s practically essential for anyone with a PSVR.
There’s really just one proviso to that statement. As with any virtual reality experience, you can only really get the best out of it if you have the appropriate peripherals to play it with. For games like The Heist in VR Worlds, you want to have a pair of Move controllers so you feel like you’ve got guns in your hands, for Elite: Dangerous, a HOTAS joystick is practically a must to be able to truly immerse yourself in the role of piloting a ship, and for racing games such as Dirt Rally in VR, having a racing wheel should almost be compulsory.
As I’m sure I’ve written a good dozen times, playing a racing game in VR just adds a huge amount to the immersion you feel, especially when playing with a racing wheel. I might not be much, if any faster, but I subconsciously do all the things that you should do while driving a car. I’m looking into corners, I’m spotting the apex, I’m understanding more of what the car is actually doing and how to control it. I actually catch myself doing all of these things and, though I’ve a fair amount of experience with VR and racing games, I’m still pleasantly surprised at how easily I fell into the routine.
One thing’s for certain, and that’s that Dirt Rally VR also looks a good deal better than Driveclub VR did. It’s not perfect image quality on PlayStation 4 Pro, but it runs great and there’s none of the noticeable pop in and level of detail effects in play with the sadly abandoned rendition of Evolution Studios’ otherwise wonderful racer.
When you rock up to a rainy stage in Wales and the windscreen wipers struggle to keep the window clear, while looking out the side of the car is practically impossible from the amount of water on it. Similarly, I was lightly wowed when racing in Greece at night time, seeing the lights of a town far off in the distance, and doing something of a double take when rounding a hairpin and catching my trail of dust in the corner of my eye. It’s surprising what freeing your point of view can really highlight for you.
One thing I personally enjoy is stripping away the HUD which otherwise hovers strangely in the corner of your view, neither within the car, nor outside it, just there. Coming up to the starting line, you’re prompted to re-centre your view point and, if you have it enabled, hold the handbrake before you can rev the engine to start whenever you release, but beyond that, I don’t feel I really want the progress meter, the timer or the visualisations of upcoming turns and hazards. Again, it’s all about the immersion and really putting you into whatever car you choose to be driving.
The whole game is open to you, whether it’s the career mode, rallying, hill climbs, Rallycross or even online modes. There’s also a new mode – albeit one that I haven’t tested – where a second player can act as your co-pilot, matching various prompts on screen to have those commands be sent to you via the in-game co-pilot. It’s a nice little addition, but hardly essential.
Of course, you can play Dirt Rally VR with a gamepad in hand, but it’s simply not the same. Can you imagine sitting in your car with a gamepad in your hands while the steering wheel is right there in front of you? Playing the game like this, I felt oddly detached from what was going on. Yes, there were some of the advantages of a racing game in VR, but they didn’t feel quite as pronounced. I can look all around me, but I just happen to be within a moving box, as opposed to connected to and controlling it.
Beyond VR support costing £10 on PS4 and being a freebie for Oculus Rift, there are a few other oddities, such as how sensitive the in-game hands and wheel are. The wheel flicks back and forth wildly and jerkily, almost enough to take you out of the moment, if you weren’t staring off into the distance.
I’d also like to see more options for VR comfort. The main point you can choose is whether your point of view remains relatively level or if it follows the motion of the car, but I’d like to be able to set a driver height or adjust the vignette that closes in around you when you crash.. To be fair, crashing in a VR game can be very jarring, and this game handles it quite well, with a race ending crash seeing you pulled back out to the default cinema view that the menus use.
It’s surprising to me that more racing games haven’t cropped up on PlayStation VR just yet. As a genre that fits so well with virtual reality, it’s not that there isn’t the desire to support it, but perhaps a mixture of the limitations of the PlayStation 4 – I admit, all my playing was done on PS4 Pro because I simply couldn’t face dealing with the mess of cables – and poor timing with developers working on other projects. For the time being, then, Dirt Rally VR is practically essential for racing fans with PlayStation VR (and a racing wheel).