I still consider Driveclub to be one of, if not the best racing game on the PlayStation 4. Evolution Studios struck a brilliant balance between sim-like authenticity and arcade racing that, while not perfect, I found it immensely enjoyable.
Though Evolution no longer exist as a Sony-owned entity, their work lives on in Driveclub VR. They had already been working on this for quite some time, before they were closed, translating and adapting their game to VR. All of the existing tracks and all of the cars are in this release, and then more on top, with new street tracks added to a few of the world locations.
However, while there’s so much in common with the regular game, Driveclub VR stands on its own. It’s a separate purchase – albeit one that’s discounted significantly for prior season pass owners – and has a separate icon in your list of games. The menus, the sounds, the look and feel will all be familiar, but there’s a whole new series of single player events to play through, which throw you in at the deep end with a mixture of faster and slower cars. There’s no shared leaderboards, cars are unlocked at a rapid pace, and you’ll even have to start your clubs again. It’s like hitting ‘New Game’ and wiping all your existing progress.
As a race loads in, you now find yourself stood next to your car on the grid. Look around you and you can see your rivals for the race ahead, but the real focus is your car. You can quite easily move to another spot and view it from different angles, open a door, sit in the passenger and driver’s seat.
Another key thing it does is allow you to adjust your seating position in the car before you start to drive. Unless it’s something more unusual or a single-seater, you can match your actual pose much better, as well as replicate what it’s like for you when in an actual car – being 6’5″, my head brushes the roof and the wheel is quite far away, though I am slightly sad that the seats don’t move with your adjustments. I’m habitually a bonnet cam racer, sitting in the car and looking out the windows and glancing at mirrors is just so intuitive, so while bonnet and follow cameras are there, the game defaults to having you in the car.
If you’re using a wheel, you get to better approximate its position, as well, which really helps with the immersion in the game. You can, of course, play with a DualShock 4 and it handles brilliantly when you do so, but really getting the best out of VR driving games requires a wheel. The driving feels more fluid and more intuitive as you do so, with Driveclub’s pleasingly generous handling model really shining under these circumstances. Make sure to turn braking assist off, if you can live without it, and you’re rewarded for precise driving, finding your turning in point, and now being able to look into corners, but you can race messily, abuse the AI and still come out on top.
Even drifting works really quite well now. I hate drifting events, normally, struggling to get the car sideways and hold it steady – Driveclub’s replication of traction control and ABS don’t help much, though you can switch to Hardcore Handling, which has made the jump. However, in VR, I can turn my head and look where the car is heading, as opposed to having a view locked to the front of the car. On the other end of the scale entirely, you can simply enjoy this as a driving experience, jumping to any track or trail and just driving at your leisure, soaking in the scenery and enjoying the car in your control.
The only real problem with a wheel is that their controls simply aren’t as easy to reach as on a DualShock 4, and you’ll now be stretching your thumb blindly and feeling for the familiar shapes and formations. That’s not so terrible in the menus, but I have difficulty with instinctively knowing where he handbrake, KERS and DRS buttons are at the best of times. You might also be a little put off by the hands doing things that yours aren’t.
But Driveclub VR is also an example of the PlayStation 4’s limitations. In order to reach 60 frames per second, per eye, a number of cuts have been made to the game that can be quite keenly felt. There’s only eight cars on track as opposed to 12, the surrounding scenery detail has been scaled back quite significantly, with some noticeable pop in and a generally quite soft image as you peer off into the distance. While you can change the time of day, the sublime weather effects of the main game have been scaled back to sunny and slightly cloudy. Bloom lighting also makes the dashboard difficult to read at times, in addition to the PSVR’s resolution making text that isn’t right in front of your face generally quite indistinct.
I admit it’s a very unfair comparison to make, but playing Project Cars on HTC Vive had far fewer compromises, but hopefully PlayStation 4 Pro support can narrow that gap. Where Driveclub VR bests it is in the overall experience and a fit and finish that feels much more like a native VR game. The menus are all in engine, letting you look over at a nearby car while you pick your event, and there are very few distractions from the racing. The HUD is quite minimalistic, with just challenges and the finish lines represented outside the car and most of the vital information on a screen in he middle of the car. The exception to this is with open top single seaters, where things like your time and position hover in the sky above you.
There’s a handful of new tracks added to the wealth of locations and tracks from the original game, all set within towns and cities. Again, they manage to look good but not amazing, feeling more like racing through a small model village than an actual city.
Driveclub VR also doesn’t really attempt to fix some of the lingering weaknesses of the original. The clubs haven’t been imbued with a new and lasting purpose beyond unlocking a few cars and chasing higher and higher points totals, and challenges will still be of limited appeal, restricted to only letting you share your top score or best time, as opposed to being able to set the specific on track challenges and creating more granular achievements. It stands separately from the original game, but this is a standalone expansion rather than a sequel.
Driveclub VR has its shortcomings and doesn’t quite match up to the high bar that the original game now sets, but even then, it’s an outstanding racer, especially if you have a racing wheel. Driveclub VR is an essential purchase for racing fans on PSVR.