Preview: Toybox Turbos on Oculus Rift

The Oculus Rift head-mounted display (HMD) is not a toy. The device’s second development kit (DK2) is laden with expensive technology, seemingly endless wires and enough health and safety warnings to make you think twice before using it. But that doesn’t mean the device can’t be used for playtime. Nowhere is this more apparent than in Toybox Turbos, Codemasters’ manic tabletop racing title that will soon be seeing VR support for its recently-released PC version. 

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As a throwback to a genre fondly remembered in these days of hyper-realism and strict simulations, the title transforms the Oculus Rift into its own virtual toybox of miniature cars for players to zip around messy kitchens and busy pool tables.

Anyone that’s played a tabletop racing videogame in the past 15 years will pick up Toybox Turbos like slipping on a pair of old, milk-drenched, cereal-filled slippers. Players swerve tiny ice cream trucks, diggers, milk floats and more around everyday environments where seemingly unremarkable objects are transformed into dangerous traps and obstacles. A course based in a laboratory is lined with paper clips to steer players in the right direction while a science fare-esque homemade volcano spits lava at you.  Elsewhere a kitchen table falls victim to a no doubt eventful breakfast time as players skid in milk and use slices of cake as ramps.

At its core this all makes for a refreshingly manic racing experience. With VR added into the mix, Toybox Turbos has the potential to turn from a faithful, warm-hearted tribute into a racing experience with something to call its own. Codemasters has smartly retooled its camera settings here, providing two new perspectives for VR players. The first is a much looser bird’s eye view that allows players to survey the entire track by looking around as the camera is pulled along to follow the vehicle.

In this perspective these delightfully childish settings come to life the moment you strap on the Oculus Rift. Toybox Turbos’ 3D effect is executed brilliantly, making the coffee mugs, test tubes and snooker cues tower above the tiny vehicles that race below, giving the player a convincing feeling of racing RC cars. DK2’s positional tracking also invites playful experimentation with the camera, enticing the users to lean right into the action or pull back to get a wide view of the course. Crucially, the camera control can even be used to the player’s advantage, risking quick glances ahead to check opponent’s positions.

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On a handful of occasions this freedom will work against the player though as the camera moves them into the middle of a stack of cards or through the tail of a dart. These instances are fleeting and only momentarily disorientating, but some work could be done to improve the situation such as making objects transparent should the player’s camera come into contact with them. Also jarring is the second camera type, the chase camera. This perspective positions the player behind their vehicle and keeps a much tighter grasp as you follow your car round the course. It’s still possible to look around, but the forced corners definitely cause an uneasy feeling. Luckily players can freely switch between these cameras, meaning they can stick to their own preference.

Elsewhere, Toybox Turbos shows all the signs of being a fully competent tabletop racing experience. Its controls are accessible and tight, meaning it’s easy to pull off sharp corners and weave between traps so long as opponents aren’t blocking your path. Within moments of playing you can find yourself biting your lip as you narrowly avoid an electric whisk or try to squash another vehicle with a mallet, one of the title’s many power ups. Variety comes thick and fast as the title serves up different modes from classic races to desperate drives to escape a blue wave of destruction, with vehicle selections swapping out for almost every event.

You could argue that it’s all been seen before, and it’s admittedly a challenge not to reference Micro Machines in almost every sentence, but this is an experience that recognises its inspirations with pride and combats the almost complete lack of entries in the genre of late, especially on PC and consoles. At their best, tabletop racers are brilliant party videogames. Bringing that experience to the Oculus Rift is something that few have done yet, although it remains to be seen just how multiplayer will stack up when using the kit.

Toybox Turbos looks to turn the Oculus Rift into a player’s own virtual toybox, then. VR integration will be arriving on PC in December 2014 though a specific date is yet to be announced. The title is also available on PlayStation 3 and will be out soon on Xbox 360. VRFocus will be bringing you plenty more coverage on the title in the build up to the update’s launch.

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