When Gran Turismo Sport was announced and the hype train had well and truly left the pits, a promotional video surfaced that featured Martin Brundle and son Alex Brundle talking about how life like the game was. Using Brands Hatch as an example and regaling us of stories of both playing the older Gran Turismo games as Alex was growing up, the pair raced. Then Alex tried the game in VR. Here’s what he said.
“You really get the sensation of being inside the car. I now realise that’s one of the key differences between a simulation where the camera is in a static position. Having the freedom to look wherever I want, it’s something you never do when the camera is static, and it’s something you always do in a race car in reality.”
It’s something that I have also experienced and I believe categorically that racing in Virtual Reality does make you a quicker racer. But I have discovered that it’s not an exact science by any means.
You can easily lose yourself in the forums of Project Cars or on Reddit of people telling you their experiences and their dislike for graphical fidelity in some VR headsets. Or tales of gamers that don’t believe they are faster but are better drivers because of the freedom of movement that a headset provides. Is this accurate though? Does racing in VR make you faster?
DO YOU NEED ALL THE GEAR TO GO FASTER?
There is a bit of a strange thing with racing in video games in that, sometimes, having all the best and life-like technology doesn’t necessarily make you faster. It depends on the game of course, but you’ll find some Gran Turismo Sport, WRC and Forza Motorsport that are just as quick and indeed quicker using a controller than a steering wheel.
Indeed, you’d think a wheel would lead to quicker racing times. It’s more responsive, more realistic and allows for greater throttle and brake control but that isn’t always the case. Certain games might be more optimised to a controller over a wheel, or visa versa. Certain styles of driving will better suit a different control method. And games have to be inclusive of a controller because not everyone will have the budget for a wheel.
To explain my own setup, I’m only racing on consoles at the moment. So my VR setup is a PlayStation 4 with a PlayStationVR headset and a Logitech G29 steering wheel. The VR games I play are Gran Turismo Sport, Dirt Rally and occasionally Driveclub VR but for this kind of experiment, I don’t compare the VR and non-VR versions of Driveclub because they are two very different games. I also have a small USB fan to help combat any motion sickness and to keep me cool.
I have previously used various different setups at promotional events for games. I’ve played Project Cars 2 on with a console controller, a Thrustmaster wheel, a Fanatec wheel and in VR using the Oculus Rift. Suffice to say I’ve had experience on most of the commercially available gaming setups from budget to bank breaking. I have to say that racing in VR, each time, has made me faster. It certainly felt that way and my times were also constantly improving. Racing in virtual reality has made me quicker, although that’s not just limited to being in VR.
Here’s the thing - testing if racing in VR is faster needs a controlled environment with an experience between both a VR and non-VR version that is if not identical then similar, which is why I haven’t used Driveclub VR. So you need a game that will be able to show improvement. For reference, the best games that will have this comparison are Gran Turismo Sport and Dirt Rally on PlayStation and on PC, Project Cars 2, iRacing, Dirt Rally and Assetto Corsa. You’d also be best to use an in-cockpit view for maximum effect.
The second problem is that you might find that you end up, initially, being quicker out of VR because of track familiarity. When I did my initial testing on this, I was quicker in VR. But, once I came out of VR and tried again, I was quicker still because I knew the track better having seen it in virtual reality. I knew where the kerbs were even though I was in a static camera view.
Which is probably a good time to explain why I find that racing in VR is quicker. It echoes the sentiment of Alex Brundle in that you can see a whole lot more. You can turn your head and see where the apex of a corner is and aim for it, hit it as cleanly as possible and get out with excellent speed.
That kind of track knowledge that you gain from seeing so much more does carry through to when you are no longer using VR, which is why in my testing I was faster after I had done my VR testing. Of course going back to VR I was even faster still but it improved my non-VR racing.
But for the best test in how much quicker you are, I’ve found that Dirt Rally shows the most improvement, as long as you can stomach it. The freedom of head movement really allows for you to look where the cuts are, look how close the big stones really are and look ahead to see what your co-driver is actually calling. Especially when you are in a car like a Renault 5 where the smaller size of the car makes you inch ever closer to danger.
o for my own personal conclusion, I have to say that racing in VR does make you quicker and in certain circumstances, the knowledge and confidence you get in a car and a track can carry over out of VR into a more standard racing mode. But it isn’t an exact science.
I’m really intrigued to see if you have any experiences in VR with racing and if it has made you a faster driver.
THINGS EVERYONE SHOULD TRY IN VIRTUAL REALITY
- Dirt Rally - Pikes Peak
- Gran Turismo Sport - Nurburgring
- Project Cars 2 - Classic and Modern Le Mans in changing light, Nurburgring in changing light
- Project Cars 2 - Indycar at Long Beach
- Assetto Corsa - Any Ferrari F1 car at Spa