Reviewed on: Playstation 4. Copy supplied by publisher.
Let me get something out of the way here first: I don’t really like racing games. Or at least ones that are considered “realistic” racing games. I’ve certainly enjoyed racing titles in the past, particularly Burnout Paradise on the Playstation 3, but it’s one of those games where all the cars have jet boosters, allowing insane speeds and you have the ability to totally wreck your opponents’ cars (at the risk of your own) in order to get ahead. It makes for some pulse pounding racing.
By comparison, the F1s, Gran Turismos and Driveclubs of the world just feel, to me, like slower, leisurely driving. Passing the other cars with a wide birth, sticking perfectly to the track, not daring to bump into anything. I get it, car racing is a real sport and in real sports you don’t want to be physically destroying your opponents (wish someone had told that to all the jerks in high school), but it’s just not all that thrilling.
I say all this just to acknowledge that a game like Driveclub just isn’t for me, so the recent Driveclub VR re-release for Playstation VR was really a test to see if being immersed in VR was enough to sell it to me. And while I wouldn’t say it has, particularly due to the VR experience not being the greatest, if you are someone for whom realistic racing games are your thing, then you’ll probably have a lot of fun with it.
Like many racing simulators, Driveclub VR is made up of several types of event, such as time trials, races, and challenges, like mastering drifting, achieving top speed etc. Each event features three tiers of criteria, each more difficult than the last, and achieving them grants you more fame points, which in turn unlock new cars. The cars themselves look very schmick, even in PSVR’s lower graphics quality, and come in a variety of makes and models, which the stats bars tell me greatly differ in performance. I say the stats bar tells me that because while I tried as many different car types as I could, they all felt the same to a non-realistic racer fan like me.
Driveclub is also very online focused, where players can form Clubs to level up together and also set challenges for other players who race on the same tracks. While I can certainly see the latter feature keeping the game’s longevity nice and fresh, constantly having a box pop up to tell me to try and beat the drift or speed score in a short section while I was already concentrating on trying to win the goddamn race became quite annoying.
But enough about all that, since my opinions on Driveclub VR as a realistic racer are probably not the most objective or informed. Let’s get to what you’re really here for: what it is like to play the game in VR.
Like many VR games, Driveclub VR certainly packs a huge “wow, VR is so real” moment at the beginning. You get to check out your car while standing on the track and admire its sleekness, before hopping into the driver’s seat. The car was one of those angular, F1 like cars, where the driver is really boxed in and has no windscreen or roof. What amazed me about this moment was when I got in the car and looked around, I actually felt the claustrophobic nature of the vehicle. I felt like my shoulders were millimetres from touching the doors, despite my really sitting on my living room couch.
Once that feeling subsides and you get into the actual game, the visual quality of Driveclub VR fluctuates between stunning and absolute garbage. Let’s start with the positives. As I mentioned earlier, the cars themselves look great when viewing them in the selection menus. Despite some anti-aliasing issues, the cars really shine and I spent a longer time than I thought I would just inspecting them all. Here’s a screenshot of what I mean, that I captured with PS4’s share function, meaning it is exactly what I was seeing, albeit in 720p resolution compared to PSVR’s 1080p.
Continuing with positives, the interiors of Driveclub VR’s vehicles are quite well detailed. I was able to check out the leather seats, gear stick and speed dials and also see my avatar’s hands and feet interact with the steering wheel and pedals as I pressed the corresponding buttons on my controller. Although it must be said that the speed dials weren’t really that legible thanks to the lower resolution.
But once you get into a proper race, Driveclub VR’s graphical faults rear their ugly heads. Literally anything that’s at mid-to-long range view is a blurry mess of pixels, which in a driving game is quite an eyesore since you’re often looking ahead to anticipate the track. Up close the other cars are quite good looking, but further away they look like two big red brake lights surrounded by unidentifiable splotches.
And then there’s the surrounding environment. Driveclub VR features dynamic weather effects, so you can set the time of day and quality of conditions in any given race, but unless the conditions are sunny and clear you’re going to have a rough time. Night time is very difficult since the addition of darkness makes the murkiness of long distance visuals even harder. And it doesn’t help that the open environments themselves are fairly ugly, even when standing still at the end of a race. I mean, just look at this ocean view shot I took after finishing an evening race in Scotland.
PS4’s screenshot capture has cleaned that up a bit, so trust me when I say that ocean looked like slimy, plastic splotch on the horizon when I was standing there.
So in summary, up close Driveclub VR looks great, but in the distance where it arguably matters most it looks pretty awful. Granted I was playing on a regular PS4, so you PS4 Pro owners’ mileage may vary.
Lastly, let’s talk about simulation sickness. In my anecdotal experience, Driveclub VR is one of the games many people point to when they say VR made them ill. Zooming along at speed, not feeling the resistance of the car against your body as you turn corners or, heaven forbid, bump into something can be a jarring experience at first.
Personally I was lucky in that I never felt queasy during my time playing the game, but after playing it for a prolonged stretch, longer than my tests for my review of PSVR, I did experience my first case of simulation sickness. I didn’t throw up or anything, more that after removing the headset I felt a little off for perhaps an hour afterwards. Nothing too serious, just needed a glass of water and a sit down for a bit. Perhaps there’s nothing to correlate here, but it hasn’t happened in other VR games I’ve spent a similar amount of time playing, so I thought I ought to disclose it.