To say I was disappointed not to get to try out Driveclub VR at Gamescom is a bit of an understatement. This game is still my favourite racing game on the PS4, striking an excellent balance between realism and arcade racing, featuring all manner of ludicrously fast cars, and simply sublime graphics that have yet to be matched by its peers. So when I got another chance, I was just a little bit excited.
Almost everything that made Driveclub as good as it is has made the jump. With a racing wheel gripped in my hands, something I’m familiar with from racing with a TV, I can get stuck in to some tough racing with barely a pause for thought. It’s just natural and intuitive to glance and check wing mirrors to keep tabs on other cars, and while I was ultimately not all that fast, hurdling a few too many high curbs around the Scottish Black Hills Race circuit, bumping into the side of AI cars, I was definitely getting into the spirit of things.
This race was on the slower end of the scale, as I was popped into one of the hot hatches in the game – I think it was a Golf GTI, but forgot to write it down. The emphasis on the demo was on accessibility as well, with automatic braking slowing me down for corners, but turning that off and maybe switching to the hardcore handling will be a more rewarding experience. I’m a little apprehensive of trying out cars like the Huayra or the Venom GT around some of the faster flowing tracks…
Racing games and space dogfighting are perhaps two of the best fit genres for this first generation of VR technology. Though I was impressed by Farpoint’s first person shooting and feel that The Assembly really cracked one particular set of first person controls, they’re not quite as natural or easy for the brain to digest as when you have an in-game layer of abstraction.
Having a cockpit or a car interior to sit in and look around, acting as a frame of reference for you while the world whizzes past you. Simply sitting in this virtual car is a fantastic experience, and it’s really here that Evolution Studios’ initial obsession with imitating all of the materials and exact layout of the car’s internals counts. I got so distracted just looking around in the car while driving down the pit straight at one point, that I nearly smashed into a wall. That wouldn’t have been my finest moment.
There’s one key difference between Driveclub VR and the original, and that’s with a little screen being mounted in the middle of the car next to the twiddly knobs for the fans and radio. It points towards you and displays things like the experience points earned in that race, your lap time and so on. It’s such a simple little twist, but it means that your view of the road and of the car isn’t cluttered with numbers and UI floating in mid air. Those do appear at times once the race is over or with the main menu, but once you’re in the car, there’s very little between you and the virtual vehicle.
However, getting Driveclub VR to run on the base PlayStation 4 hardware has meant that some sacrifices have had to be made. There’s fewer cars on track – eight instead of twelve – and, the detail around the track feels reduced, and there’s no inclement weather effects. Culling some of the gorgeous graphics has let them hit 60 frames per second though, which was essential for VR.
The game doesn’t look quite as good or as sharp in the PlayStation VR headset. 1080p is all well and good when on a TV screen a few feet away, but when it’s an inch away, it’s easier to focus on the pixels and the imperfections. As soon as you’re racing, those concerns fade into the background, you’re simply absorbed in the action on track and competing with the cars around you.
This might be a two year old game, its cycle of updates and DLC have come to an end, its original developer has even been shut down, but Driveclub is going to be one of the key tentpole releases for PlayStation VR, and it’s looking fantastic.