I expected to see EA in VR in the near future, but not quite like this. True, the publishing giant already launched a short tie-in piece for Star Wars: Battlefront on PS VR earlier this week, but for its first full VR game it’s decided to skip that headset along with the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive. Instead, EA and developer Firemonkeys have partnered with Google and its new challenger, the mobile-based Daydream ecosystem.
The result is Need for Speed: No Limits VR, a port of a recent mobile game that will be launching on Android within the next few weeks. As you’d expect, the VR release offers a cockpit experience, letting you drift around city streets, taking on AI opponents.
Need for Speed VR feels decidedly like a PS2-era caliber entry in the series, which is meant in a good way. It channels the edgy street racing vibe of 2003’s Need for Speed: Underground, a game fondly remembered by fans of the franchise. You’ll never race by daylight, instead screeching along the tarmac by night, often amidst fog or rain, with licensed music tracks blaring in your ears. You have a hit list of gangs that you’ll take on, earning cash to buy better cars and kit them out with modifications.
Need for Speed VR is the second racing game on Daydream, following behind VR Karts. Whereas that title had you holding the headset’s motion controller horizontally, here you’ll still hold it with one hand, pointing it forward like you would do with many Daydream apps. To steer, you tilt it from side-to-side and to drift you hold down the track pad and do the same. Boosting is done by flicking the pad up, and you’ll refill your boost gauge by drifting, getting some air, or taking down cops and other rivals.
You’ve never played a racing game with controls quite like Need for Speed VR, and it definitely takes some getting used to. Even after several hours of play I found I couldn’t quite get the precision I needed for moments in which you effectively have to thread the needle, driving between roadblocks or avoiding other traffic. That said this is intentionally meant to be tricky to pull off, and it was just a matter of time before I was able to drift around corners at perfect angles, invoking a satisfying feeling anyone that’s played some of the most recent entries in the franchise will be familiar with.
Coming first in every event isn’t essential to progression, but you’ll get Need for Speed VR‘s best fun from pushing yourself. Getting a silver medal on any mode, be it a five-car race or time trial, is easily done, but going for gold requires you to get a real handle on the game’s mechanics. It’s the kind of experience that won’t punish you, but will come off as quite bland if you settle for anything less than the top prize.
What’s most damaging about the controls, though, is an issue out of EA’s hands. The Daydream controller can easily lose its calibration, and you might find after one hard turn that you’ll return your controller to the standard position and you’ll still be steering one way or the other. You can of course pause the game and recalibrate, but it’s far from ideal for a racing title, and I finished some laps with my hand at uncomfortable angles just because I didn’t want to interrupt my winning streak.
I ran into some technical hiccups too. It’s a good looking game for mobile VR but I can’t help but feel it comes at a price. The wide courses are often empty, with only the occasional van to halt your progress. At times you’ll have a handful of police cars chase you along with the other racers you’re competing with but, tellingly, I found the game would stutter when too many vehicles were on screen. At one point in the menu it outright crashed.
When everything is running smoothly, though, VR adds some nice effects to this Need for Speed title. I never once felt like I was truly sitting in my car, but I really appreciated some of the touches, like not being able to see past an engine that sat on the hood of one of my cars, or checking my wing mirror by actually looking up. I can’t help but feel like the VR effect would come across better in any other headset rather than Google’s offering with its narrow field of view, but maybe there’s hope for the future.
I haven’t seen all of Need for Speed VR yet, but with just mere weeks to go until launch, I feel confident in saying it will go down as a fun but flawed racer. It feels somewhat non-committal from EA, being a simple port of a mobile title and not a deeper integration with one of the most elaborate console games, but occasionally offers that simple thrill of pulling off a perfect drift before boosting past an opponent and taking first place. Hopefully there’s something a little more ambitious planned for later down the line.