Cockpits and virtual reality are practically made for one another, with VR racing games delivering a sense of place and realism beyond anything you can experience on a flat panel. Many earlier VR headsets, like the original PSVR, were limited both by lower fidelity panels and hardware driving them. That makes the arrival of Gran Turismo 7 VR on PSVR2 exciting, with the entirety of the game now playable within virtual reality at a far higher level of fidelity. This no compromise approach has the potential to provide a truly killer experience, but does it deliver?
GT7's VR mode comes courtesy of an update, which also adds the fancy new Sophy AI opponents we'll touch on later. After installing the update and launching the game, it's not clear how to play in VR with the game just floating in space like other non-VR content - but once you begin a race or a select a VR-specific feature VR activates automatically. This approach is a little odd, but makes sense given that the game uses a gamepad (or wheel!) rather than the Sense controllers. The game seamlessly switches between 2D and VR modes as the headset is removed or replaced, so you can also take a breather when needed.
Once you sit down and begin a race in VR though, you might not want to ever leave. The cockpit VR experience here is sublime. Gran Turismo 7 already featured some of the most detailed cockpits in racing game history but I never used them in the base game because they occupy too much screen real estate, making it more difficult to see the road. In VR, all that changes and the cockpit suddenly becomes this natural place that beautifully replicates the sense of scale you'd expect from driving a real car. Everything is sized up perfectly - from the wheel itself to the various dials and LCD readouts, it's all meticulously realised. All the work poured into those realistic physically-based materials pays off big time - it's really striking.
This newfound realism also makes it easier to view and appreciate the track itself, which perfectly showcases the benefits of VR. From the Corkscrew at Laguna Seca and the banked curves of Daytona Speedway to the heart-stopping plunge and climb up Raidillon at Spa, suddenly, these tracks feel gigantic and imposing - and the racing feels much more intense. Proper depth perception made possible via stereoscopic 3D allows you to more accurately judge curves and the position of your rivals, the sense of speed feels boosted and turns feel exceptionally thrilling. Couple this with a racing wheel setup, as I did, and it quickly becomes one of the most immersive VR experiences you can have today.
In its native presentation, GT7 is 4K/60fps title, but the added demands of VR make that target unreachable. We're still dealing with a game console, after all, and GT7 now renders out two separate views, effectively split-screen while maintaining the frame-rate target.
The overall level of detail in VR feels remarkably consistent to the 2D presentation, but if you look closely you'll be able to spot areas where sacrifices were made. For example, overall track detail is slightly reduced, with less grass and more visible pop-in. There are also lighting changes evident, although this is difficult to judge precisely given that the 'social screen' output is tone-mapped from the HDR shown within the headset. Certain weather effects have also been altered. The rain particle system, for instance, sees a reduction in quality when used in PSVR2. Motion blur is also predictably disabled.
Beyond settings tweaks, there are also more significant changes to rendering resolution, with lower pixel counts that result in more obvious aliasing and pixelation. However, these changes are difficult to spot while racing, and overall it's a vastly improved level of visual clarity compared to the VR mode in GT Sport with the original PSVR. The benefits of stereoscopic 3D and head tracking more than make up for any loss in fidelity and I think most people will be happy with this.
GT7 also makes use of foveated rendering - and the implementation is interesting. Essentially, areas outside of your focal point are rendered at a dramatically lower resolution, closer to 240p than 4K I'd say. The pixel chunks become huge in these regions of the image, but you're unlikely to notice them with eye tracking enabled as the game renders what you're looking at in maximum detail. What's unique about this implementation is that eye tracking only influences the outside edges of the view - never the inside, no matter how far you avert your gaze. If you turn eye tracking off, then it's just the edges of the screen that will be rendered in lower detail.
Ultimately, Polyphony has done a great job balancing the game's visuals for VR and it serves as a demonstration of what a more powerful machine can bring to the table. With PSVR1, it was extremely evident that the sacrifices necessary to deliver stereoscopic 3D versions of games at a decent frame-rate was simply too much for the PS4 hardware. The sheer volume of cutbacks and quality reductions was simply too great. With GT7, the VR presentation even after its sacrifices still looks and runs better than 2D GT7 on a PS4 Pro.
So what about performance then? Unfortunately, there's no way to accurately measure frame-rates using the system's social screen output. From what I can tell within the headset, however, the game seems to run at 60fps rather than the 90/120fps found in some other PSVR2 titles. As a result, you might notice a double image effect on objects when moving around as the headset seems to be operating in 120Hz mode. The high brightness of the game also has an impact on overall clarity in motion - there is more visible persistence blur in GT7 than most other PSVR2 games I've tested. It's still perfectly playable but a native 90Hz option with further reduced visuals would have been worth testing.
Beyond the racing, there's a decent amount of other VR content. There's a VR replay system, which places you within the track allowing you to observe the race, automatically transporting you to the next spot after the cars pass by. There's also a mode allowing you to walk around the cars while closely examining each model from close proximity. This mode really highlights the amazing detail and materials work on display. This option is available for all cars, making it a great way to appreciate Polyphony's craftsmanship.
The other big feature added in the PSVR2 update is the Sophy AI. Available only in a select few races for a limited time, Sophy promises to inject increased realism into the AI driving model. In most racing games, including GT7, there's always a sense that the computer opponents are affixed to a pre-defined driving line and don't make mistakes, try different lines or otherwise react as other human opponents would.
Sophy delivers all of that - it makes mistakes, it reacts differently to your driving style and it behaves more like a human driver, someone that's taking the race seriously but not quite always nailing it. There's evidence of real trepidation and caution which I found utterly fascinating. You can even see small emoji above each vehicle that indicates their current feelings.
Coupling Sophy with VR results in one of the most immersive racing experiences you could imagine on console and I'm eager to see where this AI goes next. Definitely give it a shot, even if you're not playing the VR update.
Honestly, I can say the same about GT7 in general. The game has been tweaked and improved significantly since launch and is well worth playing - and if you have PSVR2 and a steering wheel, it goes from a title that's worth playing to an absolutely essential experience. It's light years beyond GT Sport's half-baked VR integration - and one of the best experiences you can get on PSVR2 right now.
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