It’s long been known that an experimental version of Driveclub had been used internally at Sony Computer Entertainment (SCE) to showcase the PlayStation VR hardware to external developers, but it wasn’t until earlier this year that the platform host decided to offer a playable build to media. At PlayStation Experience, San Francisco, this weekend SCE has gone one further: offering the public a chance to get hands-on with a brand new build of the videogame.
While still insisting that the PlayStation VR version of Driveclub is still a technical demonstration and nothing more, the experience feels as though a lot of work has gone into getting it just right. The handling is tight and responsive, the car feels weighty and collisions are given just enough oomph that they’ll interrupt your driving line but fall short of sending you spinning. It’s a very different way of playing Driveclub, and it arguably is what Evolution Studios’ racing experience needed to separate it from the pack all along.
Playable only in first-person, as might be expected, the preview build available to VRFocus featured just one track and one car in a race with 8 on the track. The car was most likely chosen to enhance the feeling of immersion, being an open-top vehicle with no windscreen or mirrors, it allowed for freedom to look in all directions and actively encouraged the player to check their driving line against other vehicles alongside as they come into a corner.
The feeling of speed was genuine and acceleration isn’t a problem as the player is grounded by the fact that they are in a vehicle; the mind automatically connects changes in speed to that of the car and not the player’s own momentum. Indeed, on a hectic corner which saw VRFocus involved in a mighty pile-up, quick reverse and acceleration back onto the track offered no discomfort whatsoever. Turning to look over the shoulder for an open space to reverse into and then quickly back onto the track while accelerating forward felt as natural as it would in a real vehicle.
This is where Driveclub truly shines in virtual reality (VR), of course, emulating the feeling of being in a fast-paced race that players might not otherwise ever be able to experience. Taking the tight driving line and passing 3 rivals as you exit a corner takes your breath away, genuinely feeling like a skilful achievement opposed to a sneaky manoeuvre you’ve mastered through the 1,000 other racing videogames you’ve played. Project CARS was a wonderful showcase of VR’s potential to enhance racing videogames, but Driveclub‘s efforts are far more accessible and quick to reward.
Since Driveclub was first officially revealed as a title that supports PlayStation VR, SCE has announced that a version of Gran Turismo is in development that will do the same. Whether or not the lack of confirmation surrounding the potential release of VR edition of Driveclub is related to this is currently unknown, but were work to be halted on the VR support it would surely be a missed opportunity.