While virtual reality has opened the door to some of the more classic video game genres like RPGs, flight simulators, and FPS arcade style shooters, it’s fallen to a few studios to pick up the slack when it comes to racing car VR games. Some of the most iconic video games to have ever previewed on other platforms tended to be of the racing variety – whether it was Need for Speed racking up the speeding tickets as you cruised along set tracks that winded through urban and rural settings, the whimsical Crazy Taxi games that involved you picking up fares and trying to get them to destinations on time, or the ever eponymous Twisted Metal franchise that offered a much more open sand-box style approach to exploring huge environments as you hunted down other automobile enthusiasts with souped-up cars, trucks, and everything in between.
It is a genre all its own, and part of the appeal of the racing car VR titles that we take a look at correspond to some of the same reasons that VR tech in general has gained traction: full 360 degree immersion aside, the option of sliding into the first person perspective as you hit the NASCAR loop or take things in a muddier direction in an off-road rally represents something that racing games have always endeavored to achieve, and that’s emulating the actual activity of driving.
Project Cars (Oculus Rift & HTC Vive – $29.99)
One of the top racing car VR games to head the list for Oculus is Project Cars, a brainchild of several studios who really wanted to take advantage of what virtual reality is capable of – in this case, it meant modeling not only their huge selection of cars, but also the driving experience of a racing car VR, on actual automobiles. In tangent with some of the biggest auto manufacturers and professional race car drivers on the planet, Project Cars takes the idea of veracity to a whole new level.
Whether you’re tucked into a new Lamborghini or hitting the tracks in a Formula 1 racer, there’s a lot to love about this game. In general, the handling of the gameplay and the actual real-time dynamics of driving are all designed to the highest specifications, meaning that as far as a transferable skill, this is the closest thing to actually driving that you can get without stepping into a real car. There is also a lot of freedom in terms of upgrading your car, so much so that it might actually be one of the games detractors – with the ability to manipulate individual tire pressures, spring rates, toe angles, and sway bar angles, there’s a lot of technical expertise incorporated into the ‘behind the scenes’ element of this racing car VR. Thankfully, there is a Setup Manual, and your automated pit crew are available to help with suggestions, although the most appealing factor here is the presence of Ben Collins, a Le Mans championship driver and world record holder, who features as the voice of your Pit Engineer and keeps you updated while driving. Add that to numerous tracks from across the world and some in-depth solo and career modes, and you’ve got a title that offers endless hours of high-adrenaline driving.
As far as graphics go, what we’ve seen so far has been pretty damn exceptional. Originally released on 2D consoles, the attention to detail and the variety of tracks really test the limits of the technology, and gives this racing car VR game the feel of being grounded in reality – all the same, the production and release of Project Cars on VR has been fraught with some issues, including some glitches with the rendering of shadows. As a driving game, it also necessitates some specialized haptics, and having an actual steering wheel controller is definitely recommended. All in all though, we’re prepared to overlook some of the less overt deficiencies of the game simply because of the attention to technical detail and veracity that it’s aiming to achieve, and the huge interactive component of being able to personalize almost everything in order to tailor a racing experience that is as unique as the player.
Visuals: 6.8/10 – Gameplay: 9/10 – Story: 7/10 – Overall: 8.5/10 – Release Date: Available Now
DiRT Rally (Oculus Rift – $69.99)
Another racing car VR title, this one was also originally a 2D console beauty that was revamped for the Oculus, and arguably might be a bit more fun for the average gamer. The developer Codemaster who is behind the design for DiRT Rally originally brought out the game in April 2015, so this makes the VR addition one of the newest to hit stores (also available via a Steam update). With a huge amount of support and excitement coming out of its beta test for the Rift DK1, it’s not surprise then that Codemaster is excited about the potential for this off-road racing car VR game – although it probably has more of an arcade style than Project Cars, there is still a lot of attention paid to real-life detail and nuances, especially in the first person view that straps you into the driver’s seat (although there is the option of several different car views, if you’re more into a third person sort of perspective, which can be just as satisfying for some of the inevitable wipeouts you’re likely to encounter while playing for the first time).
What really stood out for us though was the gameplay. The jacked-up physics engine that seems to loom over DiRT Rally really does aim for the sort of realism you’d hope for – when starting the game a tutorial waxes eloquent on the importance of weight transfer and surface cohesion, and this becomes readily apparent as you slide and fish-tail over bumpy gravel roads. But here is where it contrasts with a lot of other racing car VR games coming out for the Oculus and other headsets: there isn’t a whole lot of leniency in terms of making mistakes. If you buck against a railing or hit an angle wrong, that’s all it takes to completely wipe out and lose the race, so there’s a lot of playability here (along with some expected frustration). With both a Career and Custom Rally option though, you can find a good balance between competitive racing and one-off fun rallies. Two things we loved: the fact that you can turn off the HUD and drive more or less blind, something that hallmarks the off-road rally style of gameplay we’ve come to love, and the sense of immersion that DiRT Rally brings to the racing car VR experience. On the downside, the graphics aren’t as up to speed (no pun intended) with other titles like Project Cars and some of the interior animation could have been more realistic. Overall though, it’s a ton of fun.
Visuals: 7.8/10 – Gameplay: 7.9/10 – Story: 7/10 – Overall: 7.5/10 – Release Date: Available Now
VR Karts: Sprint (Gear VR and Oculus Rift – $5.79)
In the same sort of tradition that brought us Mario Kart, we can’t help but add the racing car VR equivalent to our list of upcoming games. Heralded by the studio Viewpoint Games, there is definitely something influentially reminiscent of its iconic N64 descendant – even the brightly color palette of the scenery and slightly cartoonish style characters and environments seem derived directly from Nintendo’s previous legacy. But while VR Karts: Sprint certainly borrows from Mario Kart and its subsequent incarnations (even using the word ‘Kart’) there are definitely some unique features as well that help make it stand out.
First and foremost, it’s all in first person, putting you right in the driver’s seat, something that contrasts with Mario Kart. This is a smart decision for a game that is being rendered in virtual reality since, as we’ve seen in other games across the board, VR lends itself to that sort of first person immersion better than any other platform. As you face-off against three other opponents in the multiplayer game type you’ll be able to slide and slip through a variety of different levels and power up with an amusing array of over-the-top weapons designed to take your competitors out of the game – all elements that will really speak to the nostalgic 90’s style of arcade racing.
Unfortunately, there are some major detractors from the game, the most obvious being that it’s clearly derivative. With other racing car VR games really pushing the boundaries of the technology and the medium, it’s a shame that Viewpoint has instead resorted to relying on familiar tropes, and this includes going with a simplistic – albeit stylistic – approach to their graphics. There isn’t a whole lot of diversity in tracks either, with only three real locations to choose from (even though the tracks themselves try to make use of them in creative permutations) and it can start to feel a little boring over time. VR Karts: Sprint is good for a laugh (and easy on the wallet), but don’t expect to get the same sort of lifespan out of it that you will with other racing car VR titles in this list.
Visuals: 6.5/10 – Gameplay: 8/10 – Story: 7.2/10 – Overall: 7.5/10 – Release Date: Already Available.
Live For Speed (Oculus Rift – Free)
The last one on our list should be a crowd pleaser all around. The newest racing car VR from the Live For Speed studio has brought their beloved game into the limelight with VR compatibility for the Oculus (and now HTC Vive as well). More of a track based game, this one has some of the better all-around features of the games in our list, including some of the best graphics and shadow rendering, as well as effects. The fact that it is restricted to pre-set tracks probably accounts for a lot of this: some of their tracks, including a laser-scanned Rockingham circuit, are all locked in, so they were able to devote considerable time and effort into embellishing them. At the same time, you also have a lot of options in terms of car choices that, while perhaps not on par with the finicky nature of Project Cars, still offers an interactive and immersive veracity that will satiate everyone from beginners to veterans.
Like a lot of racing car VR games that started out as 2D console titles, Live For Speed has certainly not been exempt from some of the more common obstacles in terms of integration into VR format – nevertheless, the studio seems to have found a loophole in that the actual system requirements for the game are much lower than other racing car VR sims, allowing for some of the most seamless gameplay interface we’ve seen. Furthermore, the Live For Speed available for Rift now operates on the latest runtime, so if you’re worried about the performance of a high-speed racing car VR game, then this is definitely the right choice.
Visuals: 8.5/10 – Gameplay: 8.8/10 – Story: 7/10 – Overall: 8.5/10 – Release Date: Already Available
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