Perhaps one of my biggest disappointments with PlayStation VR is the dearth of racing games for the platform. While the base PlayStation 4 can handle racing games at 1080p and 60fps – optimisation and scope not withstanding – that hasn’t translated to racing game developers pushing all their games onto PSVR, presumably lacking the necessary overhead to accommodate an increased demand.
It’s a shame because there’s a comparative wealth of VR racing on PC based VR systems, with Assetto Corsa, both Project Cars games and Dirt Rally letting you play the entire game in VR. Of those, only one has managed to make the jump to PSVR, with the excellent Dirt Rally, and Driveclub VR was a ultimately a poor companion, even if it was an impressive technical challenge to shift from 30fps to 60fps.
So a lot of people had high hopes for GT Sport’s VR mode, though they were soon dashed. Polyphony manage to do fantastic things with the consoles they work on, often exceeding what others are able to do, such as breaking past the 720p barrier so many butted up against on PlayStation 3. However, getting the entirety of GT Sport to work with PlayStation VR has seemingly not been possible, to the extent that it almost feels like an unwanted obligation for it to be included and Kazunori Yamauchi sounds disappointed in what they’ve been able to achieve.
Hived off from the rest of the game, you have two things to do in VR. The less appealing option lets you step into a virtual showroom, a lifeless 3D car model viewer that lets you move around the car, turn on the headlights, and that’s about it. Without VR, games like Forza and even mobile titles like CSR2 let you open doors and look inside or pop the hood to get a glimpse of the engine, but there’s none of that in GT Sport’s VR viewer.
It’ll be about 30 seconds before you back out and dive into the other option of a VR Race. “We’re getting to the good stuff now,” you might think, and you kind of are, but you’re potentially in for some disappointment, depending on how much attention you’ve been paying. The only thing that you can do is race for two laps round any of the tracks in the game, going one on one against an AI. That’s it.
It has the almost effortless excellence that racing games tend to have in VR. You’re transported into the driving seat and cockpit completely, and vastly more effectively than racing in the cockpit on a big TV. You’re given a real sense of presence here, looking into corners to gain a real awareness of the track, and it’s staggering just how much more pronounced the geography of a race track feels.The fall down through the first three corners of the famous Interlagos circuit actually gave me a split second of vertigo, and the epic hill that you speed down into the steeply cambered hairpin of the fictional Autodrome Lago Maggiore are two fantastic examples of how effective this sense of scale can be.
Trust me, this feels like a very, very steep hill…
Naturally, while you can play with a DualShock 4, you ideally want to be playing this with a racing wheel, not just for the better precision and feel that this gives you, letting you turn more of the assists down or off, but also so that your real world actions match up to the in-game actions that your avatar is making. However, there’s a surprising lack of game options to let you tweak your experience. You can’t adjust your seat position, your height within the car (which for someone well north of the UK’s average height is important), and even nitty gritty tweaks, such as whether your viewpoint is always kept level or can be more attached to the car.
Though it’s just one on one, the racing can actually surprisingly good. The AI isn’t particularly fast, and there’s no option to turn their difficulty up or give them a faster car, but they drive scrappily, will battle for positions when given a chance, and generally try to put up a little fight until you speed off into the distance. It’s another effective layer of immersion to have the headlights of your rival filling your rear view and wing mirrors, making you painfully aware that they are there as you go into a corner.
It actually looks really rather good as well, though it highlights the limitations of the PlayStation VR’s first generation technology. Even with what I presume is the PS4 Pro supersampling the image, the low resolution and pixel density of the headset means that the scenery is a fuzz of aliased lines or missing fine details, so that the ferris wheel at Suzuka is magically without attachment to its central support. While the main game lacks dynamic time and weather, that’s scaled back even further in VR, for some reason, restricting you to just a handful of well lit times of day to race around each track, which I presume is down to the lowered visibility of night racing and the potential nausea that could cause.
Even knowing that this was all we were getting, there’s still some clearly low hanging fruit that Polyphony could and probably should have plucked. I’d have loved to have a simple time trial mode so that I could compare my best times in VR with my best times in the main game, and letting me run through all of the single player content that doesn’t pit you against more than a single car would also have been great, even if the results didn’t amount to anything. Of course, were Sony not so strict over there being no divide in features between PS4 and PS4 Pro, the more powerful console might be able to support more cars on track with its more powerful CPU.
You can’t help but see the VR mode in GT Sport as a missed opportunity, and while actually driving in VR with Gran Turismo’s familiar and accommodating handling model is fantastic, it feels like it’s been limited by the hardware and the desires of both publisher and developer. One year on from PSVR’s release and we’re still limited to what boils down to a technical demonstration, that it’s almost disingenuous to make a fuss over in game trailers and marketing materials.
GT Sport is not (or should not be) a PlayStation VR system seller, but it’s definitely worth playing if you have one already.
Our full review of Gran Turismo Sport is a work in progress right now, and while we are enjoying it on the whole, it’s been held up partly thanks to online restrictions and the servers having been unavailable for testing over the weekend. You can catch more about how restrictive that is here, and we’ll have our review ready soon.