Driveclub is kind of a blemish on Sony’s recent history. The long-promised PS Plus version took ages to finally materialize, on top of the game being consistently delayed. Worse yet, the game’s underperformance and troubled development cycle led to Sony shuttering Evolution Studios earlier this year. The real kicker to all of this, though, is that Driveclub itself was kind of a mediocre game, with wonky handling and stagnant design choices holding the whole thing back. That makes Driveclub VR’s existence sort of odd, considering that it’s a toxic brand at worst, and an inoffensive one at best. However, this is a title that’s been in development for about a year, and effectively serves as Evolution’s swan song.
The good news is that Driveclub VR is marginally more enjoyable than its predecessor, purely on the strength of its gimmick: VR racing. That gimmick ends up going a long way, and it’s clear that’s what Sony hopes to sell you on. From the outset, the in-game music is muted for a more immersive experience, and the default camera is set to first-person. While I did turn the music back on, I only left first-person once for the sake of saying I’d done it for a review. Normally, I dislike cockpit view in racing games, but this is the first title where I preferred it to the alternative.
How much the first-person immersion has been nailed in Driveclub VR can’t be overstated. I practically had to relearn how to play a racing game, adjusting and compensating for this new perspective. Turning my head to anticipate the curves of the track, routinely checking my rearview and side mirrors, attempting to avoid crashing into other cars… it felt like a totally new racing experience. Props must be given to Evolution for not making this game a virtual vomitorium, as even at the fastest speeds and my worst driving I never felt nauseous or disoriented.
Now for the bad news—Driveclub VR is still, well, Driveclub. In terms of how cars handle, how the game progresses, and how challenges work, it’s virtually the same game, albeit with less content. You can still race through falling cherry blossom pedals, speed through Norwegian mountains, and go over waterfalls in India, just in VR instead of on your TV. Cars still handle the same, which is to say very poorly when compared to other racers on the market. The music is still the same generic, repetitive techno. After the “wow” factor of playing in VR wore off I was left realizing that I still had to play Driveclub, and I really didn’t want to.
It doesn’t help that one of the original game’s best features has been tampered with—the visuals. To quote Army of Darkness, “honey, you got real ugly.” Dynamic weather has been done away with, certain textures look like MS Paint scribbles, and every other car looks like a smudge from more than a few feet away. Some complaints have been made about PSVR’s graphical capabilities, but as someone who’s played RIGS and Arkham VR, I know what this thing is capable of, and Driveclub VR falls way below that threshold. While the stable framerate is a godsend, immersion was broken several times by just how hideous this game is. From Sony’s perspective, I can’t quite imagine how they’re proud of putting this out a marquee title.
Despite the amount of content still being significant compared to other VR games, and despite the thrill of first-person racing, Driveclub VR can’t outrace one simple fact—it’s still not a very good game. It’s not fun to play, the challenges feel based on luck rather than skill, and the whole package is a dry, unexciting affair delivered in a stale, uninteresting way. Hampered by some truly awful visuals to boot, it’s just not a very enticing package, despite being the only VR racing title for the platform right now.
Ultimately, Driveclub VR just got me excited for the prospect of a VR Gran Turismo at some point down the line. That is, you know, if Sony doesn’t forget about PSVR like they did the Vita. Or the Move. Or the Eyetoy. Or…