It used to be that every shiny new piece of gaming technology needed a decent racing title to really show off all of its new-fangled advances and features. Nowadays, such showcases of new hardware seem to be purely in the realm of RPGs and FPS titles; the halcyon days of the likes of Ridge Racer as a technical flag-bearer having long since passed.
Now many years later, Evolution Studios last hurrah, DriveClub VR, attempts to do just that with its PSVR debut. Pointedly, while it feels like a reduced experience in some ways when compared to its non-VR older brother, it still elicits enough of those familiar thrills in addition to its newly found immersive qualities to prove itself a worthy effort for Sony’s shiny new VR headset.
The visuals in DriveClub VR need work
Before we go any further, we should acknowledge the twin narratives that seem to have plagued DriveClub VR since launch; that the game “looks like a PS2 game,” and also that it somehow has the magical ability to make folks eject their stomach contents after just a few minutes of play. In addressing the former, it is true that the visuals in DriveClub VR don’t approach those of its regular PS4 counterpart; nowhere near it, in fact. Arguably suffering the most from being on the wrong side of this technical gulf are the environments. Bereft of much of the incidental trackside detail, weather effects and other visual niceties that made many of DriveClub’s racing excursions so resplendent to look at, the tracks in DriveClub VR simply look unappealingly bare by comparison.
A bigger issue though is the massive drop in resolution, simply because it directly impacts how you do all that racing business. You see, as well as featuring the light blurriness that appears at the extreme ends of your peripheral vision when viewed within the PSVR headset, the drop in resolution also results in huge amounts of jaggedness on the edges of visuals, which more crucially, can make perceiving what’s coming ahead in the track somewhat difficult simply because it all starts to look like a blurry orgy of pixels.
Something else that the lower resolution affects is being able to accurately perceive objects in your rear and side mirrors, because it becomes much harder to pick out incoming cars that might be threatening your lead, versus the crystal clear equivalents that you would normally see in the standard version of DriveClub. Ultimately then, while the visuals aren’t quite PS2 quality as some might have you believe, but they do arguably fall far short of what PS4 players have become accustomed to.
Hitting Top Gear
As far as the whole sickness and queasiness thing goes, I hammered Tour Mode for an hour straight (which was notably longer than what was recommended by the manual for safe play because I’m an idiot), and felt no ill effects whatsoever either during or after the session had concluded, and that was despite me turning my car into the vehicular approximation of a pinball for much of that time.
Despite the distinct drop in visual quality, the handling model from DriveClub has survived wholly intact in its transition to PSVR. Ultra-responsive and great to control, gliding past the opposition and busting out power slides feels as effortlessly enjoyable as it ever has. Equally, taking DriveClub VR online proves to be a pleasure too with extremely quick matchmaking and the races themselves proving to be just as reliably exhilarating as they are on the non-VR version of the game.
Without a doubt though, where DriveClub VR truly shines is in how it leverages its titular technology to foster a sense of immersion that just hasn’t been seen in any PS4 racing game to date. Just being able to look around the interior of your car to catch a glimpse of a rival pulling up alongside you, or, the sensation of screaming along at 160MPH are all grand moments that everybody should experience.
This feeling of intimate involvement with the game world extends beyond just driving too, as an entertaining passenger mode allows players to, somewhat freakily, see themselves in the driver’s seat as they are driven around the track; permitting them to take in every detail of the race without actually worrying about doing any of the racing themselves. When you take into account that DriveClub VR wasn’t actually designed for Sony’s shiny new PSVR headset from the ground up, its accomplishments in this regard certainly feel far more significant than they initially appear.
Finally, it also turns out that much like its older sibling; DriveClub VR is absolutely rammed with content. Packing in an extensive Tour Mode, single races, time trials, online multiplayer, unlockable vehicles and the ability to create your own challenges, those who decide to stick with DriveClub VR will find that the game has more than enough longevity to keep them engaged for a good long while indeed.
Assuming you can get over the fact that DriveClub VR looks like the original DriveClub after a catastrophic night on the town, then you’ll discover that there is a fair amount to love here. Drowning in content and bolstered by a great handling model and a truly immersive VR experience, PSVR’s first racer, though not perfect by any stretch, is still a decent proposition for would-be racers everywhere.