GT Sport: A VR racing champion
PS4 versus the Pro in full VR mode
Polyphony Digital have been away for a while but came smashing back in a dual release on PS4 and Pro which I covered in detail last week. But this was not the only extra work that they have been working on, Virtual Reality is now a key USP for Sony and yet again we get 2 flavours on the Playstation family.
But what sacrifices have been made to achieve the VR dream? Is this a shadow of the full game? Does the Pro enjoy any benefits like the full game? So many questions and I try to answer them all below and in the video.
What is on the Menu?
The game has its own little mode tucked at the bottom of the Arcade menu
that triggers the VR option, from here you have 2 options racing or
admiring your cars in a virtual showroom...but it shows the first
cutbacks here. Instead of a grand white palatial showroom, with light
beaming in, soft shadows on the floor. We are hiding our collection away
in the basement, with only a spotlight and children allowed to view.
Height can be a regular issue in many games, here it is also, as you
peek into the car window like an 8 year old. You cannot open the doors,
start the engine or even look under the hood. Just a simple stare at
your chosen car which can have the lights turn on and off, which
includes the interior dash, but you can only see from the outside...on tip toe!
It does give us our first view of the resolution sacrifice from the base game, again the output I can grab here is capped at 1280x720 and this is the pixel count limit we can achieve on both versions, we have other ways to surmise the resolution using he AA steps, but it would be far from accurate. That said, what I see here is a game that looks to be rendering approximately around that 720P mark on the base PS4 and likely around the 1080P or slightly higher on the PRO. You can still see shimmer on edges and breakup at times on both, but this is significantly reduced on the PRO. Also texture clarity, lighting tones, specular maps and normals are all rendered at a higher resolution, which is evident here in the texture comparisons, notice the clearing gradient on the Lexus logo and the normal map divide on the door frame that splits the logo up horizontally. This extra resolution and sampling rate can also be seen on the details such as the fuel cap, front grills and alloy wheels. The resolution may be lower, but the models still exhibit all the intricate details from the full game including the gloss of the orange metals and matte diffuse of the carbon fibre weave. I know minor but I also like how they modelled the light bounce from the headlights on the floor as you can see the mutli-coloured lens tint giving a rainbow effect on the floor.
Staying on Track
So we can chalk up the first win to the Pro, resolution and thus detail improvement but it must be said that even the PS4 version runs at a higher output than I first expected, coming from the game into VR you clearly need to prepare for the higher aliasing and blur that accompanies that, but it is still a decent use of the hardware on show, but what about the races and them their tracks?
Hopping into the Mitsubishi lancer rally car we can instantly admire the bucket seats, roll cage construction and fuel, engine mapping controls. All the details are present, from the Go-Pro camera mounts to the spot welding marks. Looking down at your firesuited driver avatar and buckle is very convincing, those suede Alpinestars looking good. And this is all on the Base PS4, just like the full game the team have not sacrificed the smallest touch on the models and interiors so you get a convincing experience once you are strapped in. Again the lower resolution can make some of the objects shimmer and distant parts can also fade in and out of existence if they are a thin fence for example, but it does a very impressive job of keeping a close lock on the main game. Lighting is a close match with light bouncing into the cockpit and over the surfaces if a little less accurate due to the lower pixel counts. A cold, mist can hang in the air on some tracks, but I think this is something that is added or enhanced on the PRO model, with me not seeing it on the base PS4, but you cannot rule out some dynamic touches like this but alpha effects would be an obvious win on the Pro model with a wider bandwidth and more ALU’s. As you move around the cockpit of the car you also find one of the small frustrations that crops up on both models, zoning and fade out. You cannot lean too far in cars, as the camera tracking fades the screen out and this includes leaning out of car windows or standing up in convertibles, understandable from a racing point of view but would have been nice to turn this option off if possible. It can encroach on racing at times though as by nature you move in your seat as you turn and this can fade the screen. I have got my camera set-up high, above the screen and I do not get this tight zone on other VR titles but if I manage to improve this I will update here.
This is a minor quirk but one that did pop up occasionally in races, it also stops you admiring some of the details on offer in the game, such as when a plane goes overhead or a helicopter fly’s past. Even stopping to check out the very convincing track marshals across the circuits it all comes together as an intelligently managed cut-back to hit the VR targets. But on the PRO this is again all improved from the boost in res, details, shimmer and LOD view into the distance and one other big improvement....crowds. It seems the Playstation crowds only want to watch a PRO player in action with the PS4 only having a few dotted about the arenas and stadiums on the whole looking very empty. But on Pro these are rammed to the rafters with people everywhere, adding a bigger sense of occasion, if not scale, to the races which are a welcome boost. The higher detail factor also means that trackside banners, road surfaces and objects are all much clearer here than on PS4, as if you have rubbed your eyes when switching. Nothing is a revolution on the base model but all the small improvements add up to a more pleasing and convincing world to race in, which sadly has 1 big sacrifice identical on both models...rivals are limited to 1.
The full game is a real beauty, check it out in PS4 and Pro modes detailed above.
Where did everybody go?
This is an obvious concession for the higher fidelity and likely CPU resource that was left on the table but with the rivals also being, very poor and easy to beat you end up messing around, admiring the beauty or just sticking in a Qualifying lap. And at times you can have fun and battle for position, certainly the night time races can be fun if highlighting the weaker track details at times as I mentioned in my full analysis of the game last weekend. This lack of competition is the modes single biggest weakness as it loses much of the impact that the incredible VR experience already delivers from reaching an even higher level. It can be done, DriveClub VR had a clearer level of cutbacks on its VR experience but it did keep a decent grid size and driving level to battle with and this is an area that I really hope PD can update and patch in at a later date. Of course having a rammed 30 car endurance race is not going to be on the cards but as they use reprojection on the frame-rate here I would hope they have enough in the tank to boost to a 5-8 car grid and maybe even 12 on the PRO. This would raise the VR experience to a whole new level on what is already a simply phenomenal enhancement to the main game. As it allows you to drive and judge dept with far more accuracy, tracks I have raced on for real such as Brands Hatch feel so close to the real thing, in the game the fidelity, details and quality is higher for sure but it pales in comparison to VR as you can almost convince yourself on a cold Autumn morning in your house, that you are in the peak of summer, enjoying a track day with mates as the sun beats down on the tarmac. I would snap PD’s hand off if a bike pack was released, that would seal the deal on the best Driving VR experience I have enjoyed to date, the balance between car details and trackside ones is almost perfect..almost.
A material world
This VR world does not sacrifice the PBR materials the team have crafted, likely not only the best in racing but some of the best in games period. The soft fabric of the roof interior as light diffuses across the fresnel surface, to the high gloss of the dash that reflects the cockpit. Light reflections on the windshield or light strobe and bounce of light as you drive at night in tunnels the whole package is as neat, accurate and mind bogglingly intricate in VR as the full game itself. And the fact they have put all this hard work into the games visuals and presentation it takes on a whole new level as you sit in your Ferrari or Aston Martin for the first time and with a little leather spray you wonder how much more immersive the real thing could be. You can even have an out of body experience in the car and admire the cubemap reflections on the helmet which maybe a resource to far but shows just how in-depth they have gone.
I still am not impressed by the sound effects in the game now I have the full game to test more, they lose some of the roar, base and explosive exhaust rasp that many of the cars need, headphones are much better but this is still a weakness from the team both in sound library, mixing and processing that I hoped they would have improved as much as the other areas of the game, it is better but not the best on the market in this regard. It also has a decent sickness level for me; I managed around 1 hour of racing in one sitting before I had to pull the ejector seat. So if you are more suited to VR then I can see no reason to not spend even more time in the saddle.
Comparison of VR with PS4 on the left and Pro on the right. Use the slider to see the difference it offers. Notice the crowds on pro mode.
Post race review
This may have some obvious sacrifices to achieve the VR dream here but they are all worth it for the impressive results that are delivered, The PS4 does a decent job of keeping the main game alive in a world that is simply more accurate and immersive than a 2D display could ever achieve. And the PRO owners are again left with a title that uses all the extra power to boost fidelity, track side details, alpha effects and generally polish the experience to get much, much closer to looking like the base PS4 game in VR, it is just that lack of rivals that lets it down from becoming the champion it could be and we can only hope this is something they are working on to improve in later patches. The precedent has already been set on that score but for a fully fledged VR racing game PD have secured that on console with room to spare, this has been an enjoyable head to head to put together and one that I hope we will see grow further in time. It is not perfect and still has some of the same issues the base game has, but for now GTsport owns my VR headset and that says it all.