We all knew this was coming. It’s a story we’ve heard time and again in VR, but despite everything we still had our fingers crossed this might be the exception to an increasingly unfortunate rule. Sadly, Gran Turismo Sport doesn’t buck the trend; it’s an amazing VR experience without anywhere near enough content.
When Sport was announced two years ago, we dared dream Polyphony Digital would go the distance with PlayStation VR (PSVR). Now celebrating its 20th anniversary, the series, known for its pinpoint precision driving, stunning visuals and exhaustive options, played a big part in making PlayStation — and arguably all of 3D gaming — what it is today. How fitting it would be if Polyphony had managed to do the same for the early days of VR.
But, as we knew well before release, Sport’s VR mode offers just a slither of what you’d expect from a full Gran Turismo experience. What you get here is a VR Tour mode, allowing you to drive the game’s wide array of cars around a variety of tracks in one-on-one races against AI opponents. There’s also a gallery mode to view some faultless 3D car models because, y’know, VR.
Before we get into the obvious pitfalls of the lack of options, let’s first address just how fantastic it is to play Gran Turismo in VR, because it really is an expectedly transformative experience. Take everything you love about the series’ gameplay, which is finely tuned to the point of near perfection, and combine that with a genuine sense of actually sitting in the driver’s seat. Can you imagine something better suited to VR in its current form?
Picture it: the world fades into view, a stunning locale stretches out in front of you. The driver’s cockpit has been virtually recreated with lavish detail all the way down to the window adjusters on the doors. The sirens beep and you’re off, stealing quick glances at your rearview mirror as you battle your analog stick for control of every corner, your finger jumping up and down on the accelerator to apply just the right amount of speed. As you’re overtaken you shift your head to the side to see your competitor speed past and resist the urge to curse him like he’s a real human.
You don’t need me to tell you that the controls are razor sharp, with the slightest differences in statistics between cars making a world of difference on the track. You’ll be pleased to know, though, that there is a touch more accessibility to it all; players are asked to select a mode suited to their skill level before they touch the track, with beginner modes offering all the visual feedback you’ll need to eventually master each and every course and perhaps graduate to the more advanced settings. Gran Turismo has always been a wide-selling series without compromising its strict adherence to inaccessible detail, so it’s good to see that potential new VR players will find an easy starting point.
Basically, then, it’s just like real driving, only if you got to choose a new car every time you went to your garage. You’ll have to forgive the hyperbole, but it’s very close to being the culmination of a decades-long journey to make gaming as immersive and convincing as possible. It’s a strand of play Gran Turismo in particular has been striving towards since its inception, and the advent of new hardware has brought it incrementally closer until this point.
But it’s still not enough. For starters, Sport takes an inevitable big hit in the visuals department to get up and running in VR. It’s about on-par with Dirt Rally and a little better than Driveclub VR. That is to say textures are muddier and environmental details appear stripped back, though this may be more down to the extra focus VR affords.
It’s off the track that Sport really lets its VR support down, though. Though you can drive around all of the game’s tracks at various times in the day there simply aren’t anywhere near enough options included here to warrant a purchase for the VR support alone. Why the Tour mode lacks even a basic Time Trial option is beyond me, and the absence of any multiplayer support puts it far behind Driveclub VR. The game features a leveling system that unlocks more tracks as you rank up, but you’ll only earn a measly amount of experience points through the VR Tour mode, so you’ll have to play the standard game if you want to unlock everything in VR.
And so the circle remains incomplete. Gran Turismo Sport’s VR mode offers just a taste of what the series can do with PSVR that’s oh so tantalizing but leaves you wanting much, much more. It’s frustratingly close to realizing the dreams of so many motorheads to the point that it seems cruel to have released something so close and yet so far. Judging by comments from series creator and director Kazunori Yamauchi, though, we probably aren’t going to get the Gran Turismo VR experience we deserved on PS4. The full GT VR game we deserve is likely still many years away.