Coming out of the hairpin at the reimagined Deep Forest Raceway, I have momentum on the Ford GT Gr.3 ahead of me. I duck out from behind its rear wing, moving left as we approach an innocuous-looking kink that leads onto the main straight.
We’re now alongside each other, and to check the ever-decreasing gap between the two cars, I instinctively look to my right, not with a press of a button but by moving my head. It’s at this exact moment the experience ‘clicks’.
This is Gran Turismo 7 in virtual reality with the upcoming PlayStation VR2. Here’s why it’s essential.
This is Sony’s second attempt at a VR headset and indeed, an implementation within a Gran Turismo game.
Racing titles, in theory, should make an ideal companion to the reactive three-dimensional environments, but on consoles at least, that has been a challenge so far.
The main hindrance has been raw horsepower. The original PlayStation VR from 2016 was somewhat held back by the console’s abilities and the headset’s resolution – despite requiring a separate processor box.
The superlative WipEout Omega Collection mode showed that Sony was on the right path with the technology, but it was one of the few fully-featured PSVR racing titles that was able to deliver upon expectations.
The previous Gran Turismo game, GT Sport, was only able to run VR within the confines of a siloed mode.
VR Drive, VR Time Trial and VR Showroom were clearly limited by the hardware. You could enjoy the trappings of one-to-one head tracking – looking at your mirrors to see your competitors and gaining a greater sense of elevation changes – but you were limited to just one other AI-controlled car on track, the career was off-limits and don’t even think about racing online.
Even the showroom was just a dark abyss and entering the car wasn’t possible.
With PSVR2, that potential is now finally realised, based on our limited-time test.
The full game, in VR
A quick caveat – in Gran Turismo 7, when using VR, you can’t race in two-player local split-screen, because understandably the PS5 itself doesn’t support two headsets simultaneously. Imagine the power needed to run that?!
Otherwise, it’s the full game.
Just going to say that again. It’s the full game. Unshackled, playable in virtual reality.
No limitations. 20 AI rivals in cars on track, every World Circuits career race, licence test, Mission, online lobbies and online ranked Sport Mode. Every car, every track and every time of day, sunshine or rain, the same home screen user interface. It works, seamlessly.
Witnessing the same Gran Turismo 7 we know and love, but now in VR without the hangups felt liberating.
Like Arsenal under Mikel Arteta, finally, the potential of virtual reality for driving games on console has been realised.
Running deep into a corner and then looking right to see if you can safely re-join is an extra level of immersion that is otherwise missing for a platform that is aiming to be authentic. The same applies to looking in your rear-view mirror or over to the radar map. Now picture doing that online, glancing over at your friends as you race side-by-side.
It’s also clearly a huge step up in visual fidelity when compared to GT Sport, where the level of detail was noticeably rough for anything further than 30 cm in front of your car – no doubt thanks to the eye-tracking-based foveated rendering in use.
Yes – technically there may be a slight dip in sharpness when compared to playing on an 83-inch 4K HDR Bravia, and I’m sure there will be plenty of analysis in the coming months to really pin that down.
But the appeal is more sensory, less pixel-counting, because the feeling you get from hurtling around the Nürburgring against a full field of cars is unparalleled for a device of this mould.
Streets ahead of the original PSVR
The PSVR2 unit itself is much more adjustable than its predecessor – working better with larger heads and those with glasses and a lot of hair, with the band satisfyingly clicking into place at the rear and the interpupillary distance (IPD) adjuster moving the displays left and right to match you’re the profile of your eyes.
It may remain resolutely tethered, but one simple USB-C cable is all that is required – mercifully it’s very long too. The breakout box is banished to the annals of time, as is the PlayStation Camera thanks to the four placed on the headset.
The Move controllers are also replaced by new Sense controllers – which seeing as you don’t wave around your arms to drive cars in GT7 are superfluous in this application. It’s gamepad or wheel only, here.
A passthrough mode is handy, allowing you to see your surroundings without removing the headset, and particularly useful when switching between the DualSense controller and a steering wheel peripheral.
Back to the game, and off-track, there is one new additional mode, the VR Showroom within your garage. Pick any car plus one of 12 locations, including the Café and GT Auto complete with mechanics working in the background, and you can view up close the obsessive level of detail in the car modelling, inside and out this time.
This is augmented by the 3D audio, earbuds are supplied with the headset, as birds chirp away in the background.
While we can’t show you what that looked like on video, we can say that we spent far too long ogling at the electric window switch of a Ferrari Testarossa. Someone at Polyphony Digital has spent an inordinate amount of time to make sure that one part looks good enough to showcase on a PSVR2 headset. A frippery, sure, but a staggering one.
Which in a way, summarises the whole of PSVR2.
A new yardstick for console VR
At the SimRacing Expo in Germany last year, I tried a high-end VR headset, powered by a PC running a PC-only subscription service. It was incredible. But the headset alone costs over €2,000.
Conversely, wireless headsets exist that don’t need a PC or console, but the detail provided by the PSVR2 is in a different league – that’s like comparing a Pixar film to a doodle on the back of a napkin.
As a value proposition, cost vs quality of VR, Gran Turismo 7 and PSVR2 offers something unmatched. It sits alone, proudly, within the VR market and delivers the sensory overload we’d expect from sitting in a real racing car, minus the smell of fuel or eye-watering cost.
Nevertheless, the $549 price of the unit itself, before the console needed to play with it, means in these inflationary times it could be relatively a niche experience.
But a scintillating, transformative, other-worldly one that we can’t wait to spend more time in when the free game update and headset launch on the 22nd of February…
Make no mistake, this is the apogee of Gran Turismo racing.
Do you have any questions about PSVR2 and Gran Turismo 7? We hope to answer them in our FAQ.