I think we all thought racing games would be perfect in virtual-reality (AKA VR). We almost took that for granted. Actually, anything that involved sitting seemed perfect for VR.
Sitting in a mech, shooting people. Perfect for VR.
Sitting in a spaceship, shooting other spaceships. Perfect for VR.
Sitting in a racecar, racing other racecars. Perfect for VR.
It makes sense. There’s perceived issues with virtual reality as a concept. We’re all agreed that, while VR has made spectacular leaps and bounds over the last couple of years, there are still problems to be solved.
Prime among them: player movement.
How does one run in VR? How does one jump? How do we climb and how do we shoot? So many of the classic video game verbs don’t really work in VR.
Driving though. We can handle that one, right? Yes. Probably.
But a strange sensation. I’m currently playing Gran Turismo Sport. I’m playing using the PlayStation VR headset. Literally five minutes ago I was playing Gran Turismo Sport like a relatively normal person: a normal person who somehow has a PlayStation 4 Pro and a really great 4K television.
I’m still trying to work out which one I prefer.
Which is weird. As a massive supporter of virtual reality as a concept; as someone absolutely rooting for VR to take over the world, I thought this would be a no brainer.
VR should be perfect for racing games.
It certainly is functional. With my head wedged in a headset, the immersion factor is real. ‘Immersion’ is often thought of a dead word when it comes to describing video game experiences, but it’s relevant here. VR is immersive. That’s a real thing. It allows you to detach your eyeballs and wedge them into the sockets of a brand new reality. Is there a better word to describe that experience as ‘immersive’?
But the more I play racing games in VR, the more I start to question its ‘suitability’.
I think about driving a car. I think about what my head does when I’m driving a car. I think about what my head would do if it was driving a high performance race-car at ludicrous speeds in life/death situations. I’m guessing my head stays mostly still, rigid even. Because I don’t want to die.
Which definitely removes much of the pleasure that comes from being in a virtual reality.
Whilst playing Gran Turismo Sport in VR I find that my favourite moments come, not when taking tight turns perfectly, or barrelling at high speed towards the finish line.
No, I am happiest when the driving is placid enough for me to quickly check my mirrors.
At one moment I spin out and crash into a barrier. It feels nice, I feel relief. I can turn around, look over my shoulder. I can remind myself that this is 2016 and I’m using a virtual reality headset for God’s sake! What a wonderful world.
Five minutes ago I was playing Gran Turismo Sport at maximum fidelity.
4K. Upscaled. Checkerboards. Whatever. Who cares? It looked sharper than any driving game I’d ever played. It looked glorious.
Sitting in a chair, fancy steering wheel attached, expensive TV sitting 1.5 metres from my eyeballs, I still considered myself ‘immersed’.
I’m not as immersed as I was when my eyeballs were wedged in a PlayStation VR headset, but is the difference enough to sacrifice all this additional detail? These glorious visuals, textures… the resolution.
It’s hard to deny: immediately jumping from ‘peak’ Gran Turismo Sport in 4k to the PlayStation VR version did highlight the visual sacrifices required for virtual reality. It was immediately apparent.
It got me wondering where the line was.
Gran Turismo Sport. To VR or not VR – I thought that decision would be an easy one. I love virtual reality. I love that experience. But with PlayStation VR that experience comes at a cost and I’m not sure it’s worth it for a game like Gran Turismo Sport.
It’s strange, wondering about the value of virtual reality for racing games. Once upon a time I’d argue VR was perfect for games like Gran Turismo Sport, but now I’m unsure.
My favourite VR experiences so far have been exploratory. They’ve struggled with issues of movement, but succeeded wildly in those moments of quiet, when you have a second to simply look around. The type of experience where it’s difficult to forget you’re experiencing something new.
When playing racing games, I consistently forget I’m wearing a VR headset.
Is that a good thing? I haven’t decided yet.
Do I prefer Gran Turismo Sport on a normal television versus PlayStation VR? 4K and the PlayStation 4 Pro might just represent a tipping point.
Again, I haven’t decided yet. But if you’d asked me three or four months ago which would work better, it wouldn’t have been a discussion.