As one of the first game genres to embrace VR, sim racing has been successfully transitioning from the ‘very early adopter’ stage (using Oculus development kits) to the ‘early adopter’ stage (the first-generation consumer headsets). Now that the majority of PC racing sims support VR, there are several compelling options to try.
Update (5/3/17): Complete overhaul to listing now that consumer versions of the Rift and Vive have launched and most major sims have added VR support.
From mid-2014 until early 2016, when the Rift DK2 development was essentially the only hardware option, software support in racing simulators was frankly a bit of a nightmare. Since then, the situation has improved, but each software solution featured here is still considered a work-in-progress.
The HTC Vive launched on April 5th 2016, a week after the consumer Oculus Rift. The headsets shared similar specifications and, for seated games like racing sims, should have delivered a very similar experience. However, that was definitely not the case. In terms of getting development kits into the wild, Oculus had more than a two-year head start, the effects of which are still apparent today; at launch, the Vive was poorly supported by racing sims, and in some cases remained totally unsupported for months. Assetto Corsa, for example, was functional on the Rift DK1 in 2013 and had solid consumer Rift support in May 2016, but only received Vive support in March 2017.
The situation continues to improve; with the exception of Automobilista, every PC racing sim (in active development) now has some form of VR support for the Vive and Rift. Below are our top five recommendations for racing simulators with an excellent VR mode. Please note, the list is weighted towards the VR implementation, not the ‘simulation value’.
5. RaceRoom Racing Experience
This ‘free-to-play’ sim (most content requires purchasing) once featured an experimental DK2 mode, but it soon disappeared along with any sign of VR support for months. During this period, the studio endured a major transition, changing from SimBin to Sector3, and RaceRoom itself evolved into a rather different product, leaning much more towards realism.
VR support in RaceRoom landed for Rift and Vive in January, and Sector3 pretty much nailed it immediately. Performance is strong on both headsets, the menus and HUD work well, and a world scale adjustment is a welcome feature. The biggest downside to RaceRoom’s VR implementation is the steering animation being limited to 180 degrees. iRacing suffered from this problem too, and has since reworked the rotation animations across its range of cars, so hopefully Sector3 can do the same.
With its incredible audio combined with some excellent AI, RaceRoom is already a very compelling option for VR racing. Hopefully the VR mode will eventually be made available within the game’s menu, rather than having to set a Steam launch option.
4. Project CARS
Slightly Mad Studios’ experimentation with VR during Project CARS’ lengthy development was problematic to say the least. However, the finished product is stunning, with native support for Rift and Vive. Make no mistake, this is an extremely demanding graphics engine, and arguably too much for the minimum spec VR PC. To get the most from Project CARS in VR, you’ll want at least the performance of a GTX 1070 GPU, particularly with a Vive (which doesn’t have the benefit of asynchronous space warp to deal with frame drops).
Let’s be honest, a significant chunk of the simulation crowd doesn’t have many positive things to say about Project CARS’ physics, but it’s certainly competent and entertaining. And with a seamless VR implementation, quick-access seat position and world scale adjustments and some of the most detailed interior views of any racing game, this is a great pick-up-and-play VR showcase if you have the appropriate hardware. The ‘wow factor’ is strong with this one.
3. Assetto Corsa
Assetto Corsa’s combination of slick visuals and sublime handling meant that even in the DK2 era—where no in-game menu system meant a limiting and painful setup process—it was still worth trying. Since May 2016 however, the Rift has enjoyed much-improved support, and now Vive owners don’t have to mess with unofficial hacks for support as the game now natively supports OpenVR. Initially, the output on Vive appeared to have world scale problems, but developer Kunos Simulazioni have since added an IPD slider in the OpenVR ‘app’, which resolved the issue. However, the rotational audio found on the Rift is not functional on OpenVR.
Today’s VR experience on Assetto Corsa is fairly painless. Unfortunately Kunos aren’t planning to implement a proper VR menu system, so you still need to launch the sim from a desktop view (although it is possible to operate this from a virtual desktop app). Once you’ve loaded a track, Assetto Corsa delivers a stunning VR experience, with smooth performance even on large grids, and excellent steering animations across all cars. The game’s public lobbies are very popular, making this the obvious choice for those looking for a quick race against human opponents.