When you consider how well VR could work for racing games, it’s surprising to see how few racing games have come out for Playstation VR so far. VR Karts by developer Viewpoint adds a fresh new alternative to the lineup, though so far it’s only available in Europe.
Looking back at the first nine months or so for Playstation VR, we’ve seen Driveclub and Dirt Rally both get VR updates but haven’t really seen racers that were built from the ground up for virtual reality. Dirt Rally especially is amazing and Driveclub got better after it received a Playstation Pro update, but you can tell that VR Karts has features in it that only really work when played using a headset.
One of the criticisms aimed at Driveclub VR was how much the graphics had to be downscaled to make it work in VR (especially before the Pro update). Of course this is an effect of trying to downscale a AAA audiovisual experience into a VR game, and VR Karts takes a different approach. Instead of going for highly realistic visuals, you’re now playing in Mario Kart-like environments (sans mushrooms) – which does wonders for the game’s performance.
The visuals (and, obviously, karts) aren’t the only resemblance to Mario Kart. Powerups, boosts and crazy weapons are all accounted for, and used to great effect. This is especially true for the weapons, which include some really creative ones like the ability to plant a beehive on another player’s head for a short while – forcing them to peek out a tiny hole which severely limits their ability to drive. This could have been done without VR of course, but the experience and feeling of slight panic is so much better when immersed in virtual reality.
For the Playstation VR version (the game previously came out on Steam) you also have the ability to use the dualshock controller’s motion sensors/gyroscope for a steering wheel function without having to invest in a proper wheel controller. It evoked memories of the Wii controller for me and it was fun to play with, but I ended up preferring more the traditional controls that felt more precise to me.
Another fun twist in terms of the controls is how you launch your weapons at adversaries. It’s not just a matter of pressing a button to attack, as you have to physically target them by looking in their direction first. It’s a great use of head movement in VR (which also applies to corners and your rear view mirrors here), and immensely satisfying when you see someone overtake you and target him before he’s even properly done taking the lead from you.
Karts and drivers can be customized before a race, but don’t expect Rocket League types of customization here – even when you go for the DLC addon that adds extra options. Karts and drivers always look like color variations on the same basic theme with a few simple addons like bull horns – which I have no issue with as it probably helps performance. In that sense, as smooth as the game is, I would have enjoyed a higher sensation of speed – even if it wasn’t the default option.
VR Karts has both offline and online functionality, with the offline gameplay’s main draw being a variety of championships to compete in. It’s functional, it’s fun – but fairly bare-boned since the game lacks the personality that Mario Kart’s characters bring to the table. This is overcome to a large degree when playing online multiplayer though, as the feeling of driving against human opponents definitely elevates the experience beyond what the offline mode can offer.
What VR Karts is a little low on is content – but this is mostly relative to its price point. As one of the more expensive titles for Playstation VR, it seems lighter on content that similarly priced games – one of them being Driveclub VR. VR Karts has about a dozen tracks that are both fun and diverse and the gameplay is rock solid and tons of fun, but it would have been a better fit at 75% of even 50% of its current pricepoint. It’s a fun game, but I’m afraid gamers might be put off by the current price. I’d love to be wrong, since I’d be happy to race against loads of newcomers in the next few weeks.