Available on the Oculus Store today (and via an update for the existing Steam version), DiRT Rally is the latest driving game to receive a VR makeover with Oculus Rift support. Originally drifting its way onto PC in April 2015, developer Codemasters took the plunge into rally simulation for the first time. The Early Access beta, which itself was unusual for the studio, resulted in plenty of community engagement and saw some experimentation, including early VR support for the Rift DK2, hence the huge anticipation for the official release supporting the consumer Rift ‘CV1’ headset. Launching into what looks like a giant grey sphere with a tyre tread pattern, it’s a promisingly polished start.


Dirt Rally VR Details:

Official Site
Developer:
 Codemasters
Publisher: Codemasters
Available On: Oculus Home (Rift), Steam (Rift)
Reviewed On: Oculus Rift
Release Date: July 11th, 2016


Gameplay

Samir, you’re breaking the car!” A phrase that often runs through my head as I fail to listen to my co-driver and wrap myself around a tree. Dirt Rally is hard.

One of the ultimate driving challenges, rallying is an intoxicating sport, captured by Codemasters better than ever before. Previous titles in the series leaned heavily on the ‘arcade’ side of the fence, being pick-up-and-play, gamepad-focused affairs. While that accessibility is not totally lost, this is a much more serious attempt at reproducing an authentic rally experience. First and foremost, this is due to the overhauled physics engine, which includes a brand new tyre and surface model.

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Traditional rally takes centre stage, with a straightforward career mode where you earn credits to purchase new cars, working your way through several classes of rally, including the unique Pikes Peak hillclimb event. You won’t find any Gymkhana here, but Rallycross is featured, using the official FIA licence, which makes for a compelling multiplayer component and welcome relief from the gruelling rally events.

Logitech G29
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While the depth of the handling is best enjoyed with a force-feedback wheel and pedals, don’t be discouraged if you’re stuck with a gamepad. The game still works well, with several driving assists available in the preferences menu, and you can select alternative cameras if cockpit view isn’t your thing.

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The excellent set of tutorial videos explaining the importance of weight transfer and car control is the best place for newcomers to start, but no amount of preparation can save you from the inevitable. One mistake and it could be all over. Persevere, and the sense of achievement is hugely satisfying. If you just want to dip in and out, the Custom Event mode allows you to drive a quick stage in any car—a great way to showcase the game to friends without having to work your way through the career mode to unlock the best cars.

For those who want to compare themselves to the very best, the pressure of the one-shot ‘Dirt Daily’ race is a great challenge, alongside other regular online events and the league system.

Immersion

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Firstly the good news: the HUD-less dream is here. Circuit racing without key information provided by a head-up display is a tough sell, but in rallying—which is essentially you versus the elements—it’s not a problem. You can enable the HUD if you must, but driving a sim without a HUD and not feeling compromised is a rare treat.

All cockpit-based simulation is a natural fit for VR, but having spent countless hours in circuit-focused titles like Assetto Corsa and iRacing, the novelty of feeling like I’m really in a car is no longer as exciting as it once was. Dirt Rally offers a much-needed alternative. Rallying is one of the most raw and dangerous forms of motorsport; the demands on the car and driver are far more varied than any circuit-based discipline, and the extreme environments in which the stages take place lend themselves perfectly to immersive VR.

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Heart-in-mouth moments are commonplace with the Rift. Thanks to the near-perfect representation of depth and scale, the stages come to life in a way that is simply not possible on a traditional display. Dirt Rally never got triple-monitor support right, so simply experiencing the game again with a proper field of view is a pleasure; as if I’m seeing everything with fresh eyes.

On a practical level, I can judge braking distances and place the car more accurately than ever before, and I seem to be able to read the camber of the road more naturally. Peering over the sheer drops to the side of the road highlights the madness of the classic Pikes Peak hillclimb better than one could ever describe, and the huge jumps of the Finnish stages are eye-opening to say the least. While the visuals lack the cutting-edge effects of other racing games like Project CARS and even Codemasters’ own F1 2015, Dirt Rally in VR still manages to impress due to the realism and scale of the environments. The audio deserves a special mention, being absolutely superb, and a key component in the experience.

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A damn shame then, that this wonderful immersion has an Achilles heel: the animation of both driver and steering wheel. For a start, the driver animation only steers through 180 degrees, i.e. a quarter turn to the left and a quarter turn to the right. In a game where some cars have 900 degree steering locks and beyond, this doesn’t make sense unless you are totally disconnected from the cockpit experience, i.e. with a gamepad. If you’re using a wheel, your own hand and arm motions rarely line up with what you’re seeing in the headset which can be unnerving.

The game offers a ‘wheel only’ option as a potential solution, which removes the avatar body entirely and leaves the wheel, which can then rotate the correct amount. Unfortunately, it seems to be tied to a separate animation system, which not only bounces around with a significant amount of elasticity, it also runs at a lower framerate from the rest of the scene. Unlike the majority of driving sims, where the virtual wheel represents a direct, 1-to-1 input of the controller, Dirt Rally’s virtual steering wheel has a life of its own, a reminder of the series’ gamepad-focused, arcade roots. As such, I have no choice but to drive with both virtual body and steering wheel disabled, as the animation is so distracting. This was acceptable on a monitor—I always disable the arms and wheel as I can see my own—but in VR I need at least a virtual wheel as a reliable, responsive reference, and Dirt Rally fails to deliver here.

Comfort

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A new warning screen on startup describes ‘comfort ratings’: Comfortable, Moderate and Intense, the very same ones used by Oculus in their store. Codemasters have applied these ratings to every rally stage in the game; those with fewer bumps and elevation changes—such as the smooth asphalt of Monte Carlo—are rated Comfortable, whereas every stage in Finland is marked as Intense. An interesting idea, and useful for Custom Event mode, but if you’re going to play the career, you have to be prepared to deal with all three comfort ratings immediately. For me, any cockpit-based game is comfortable enough in VR, and Dirt Rally is no exception. The stages with massive jumps only increase the thrill, but I can appreciate that it might be tough to stomach for some; the Finnish stages can feel more like a rollercoaster than a road at times!

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Oculus' 'Rift' VR Headset, one of many to launch in 2016
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Dirt Rally offers five graphics presets, along with an automatic option which should select the most appropriate preset for your hardware, but it seems to be a touch ambitious. If the effects of Asynchronous Time Warp don’t really bother you, then it might not be an issue, but I only feel fully comfortable in VR when the framerate dips no lower than the recommended 90fps, particularly in driving sims. On my system (i7 4790K, GTX 980), it selected the ‘High’ preset, and this definitely does not hold 90fps consistently on the Rift. Selecting ‘Medium’ instead was much better, but at the expense of a huge drop in graphical quality, which was due to the ‘Shader Quality’ option dropping to ‘Ultra Low’. You’ll likely need to spend some time in the ‘Advanced Options’ in order to find the sweet spot for your system. It’s good to see MSAA being present and functional too. 4xMSAA is a huge win for VR image quality.

The giant tyre tread sphere with floating menu is a comfortable place to sit between races. The game wasn’t built for VR from the ground up, so anything that isn’t in a cockpit renders on a flat, floating screen in the middle of the sphere. This means the main menus, tutorial videos and replays all look correct (if not immersive); nothing is distorted or difficult to read. In the HUD menu, you can enable a few potentially nausea-inducing options, including ‘dynamic replays’, where the replays are presented in full VR rather than on a virtual screen. One essential option is ‘Vehicle Camera Motion’, which I have set to On, as it affects the cockpit movement relative to the world. I would have preferred this to be a slider, rather than a toggle.


road-to-vr-exemplar-ultimate-by-avaWe partnered with AVA Direct to create the Exemplar Ultimate, our high-end VR hardware reference point against which we perform our tests and reviews. Exemplar is designed to push virtual reality experiences above and beyond what’s possible with systems built to lesser recommended VR specifications.

REVIEW OVERVIEW
Gameplay
9.0
Immersion
7.5
Comfort
8.5

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  • John Smith

    Sounds like a great game. Thanks for the review.

  • Craig Winston

    Great review! I’m sure Codemasters will be sympathetic to feedback in this first release and hopefully address the steering wheel animation(s). Can’t wait to try this again this evening with the new patch. My CV1 is getting dusty :)

    Perhaps I’ll post a review based on the above PLUS how it works with my motion sim. VR + Motion plus a great VR racing title is pure gaming nirvana!

  • Michael Davidson

    Needs to be on the Vive as well; natively.

    • Andrew Jakobs

      It’ll come, don’t worry, it takes time to implement the VR system, now they have the Oculus one running and with that most VR related UI/problems solved, it won’t be that much work to get OpenVR running..

    • TwiTch

      Agreed

    • Omry Yadan

      room scale driving?

      • Raphael

        Uhhh, room scale driving makes no sense. Are you not aware that you can be seated with Vive as well?

        • Omry Yadan

          It was a joke, may it rest in peace.

    • Muhammad Jihad ✓ᵛᵉʳᶦᶠᶦᵉᵈ

      Great feedback, I’m sure they didn’t think of that.

    • Francesco Kasta

      I own a Rift but I agree with you, I believe “exclusive deals” only hurt the consumers.

  • Simon Wood

    Great review, look forward to owning a VR headset when I can experience this sim (and others) for myself.
    Given that the gaming wheel will not be position tracked into the games cockpit, how ‘dis-orientating’ is having an on-screen render in the wrong place? Some level of mixed reality would be great, with background removed with depth sensing or green screen tech.

    • Betta Lines

      Thanks Simon. If you enable ‘vehicle camera motion’ (which prevents the cockpit swimming about relative to your wheel position), combined with re-centring the tracking, and using the ‘seat position’ controls (which really just move the first person camera and not the seat), you can have it set up so that each car’s virtual wheel lines up near enough with your own. This should be pretty effective (as it is in other sims), but sadly in DiRT Rally the wheel does not animate correctly, making it distracting and a poor reference. Removing the virtual wheel entirely is far less distracting, but it makes matters quite challenging in the cars that require a lot of steering lock when you glance down to see ‘where you are’ in the rotation.

      It is a general problem for cockpit-based sims, particularly when it comes to animating the hands beyond the first 360 degrees or so, but at the very least we should be able to get the virtual wheel itself animating 1-to-1 with our inputs.

  • PianoMan

    I have this and the Vive, has anyone tried it using Revive?

    • Trooper Gooner

      Yeah sadly no joy yet. I tried the Steam and Oculus standalone but both done nothing. I’m sure LibraVR will have it sorted in a few days.

      • random access

        You must be doing something wrong. It works perfectly on Vive with newest Revive (0.8.5).

        • Trooper Gooner

          Thanks Lemon, I’ll give it a go again. Sorry Stu for wrong info.

        • Lucidry

          I am trying to use revive, and am successful but constantly get ‘your oculus headset is not being worn’ unless i’m constantly slightly moving my head around. do you know if there’s a setting for this anywhere to help this from coming up?

    • me

      Yes and it’s just awesone, no motion sickness at all for me

  • Rift Racer VR

    With the preset on “high” it should be holding 90FPS though, it just seems to be using less GPU instead… weird. AC used to do the same.

  • badgixxer

    lowering how many degrees your race wheel turns fixes the wheel animation i have mine set to 300 on a fanatec swb v2 and its perfect now. the onscreen wheel now turns with my FSW at the same rate now.

  • Frank Zappa

    Dirt rally works using the Vive, watch ” GamerMuscle” utube video tutorial on how to set it up. I use a rift but this utuber owns both He is a really helpful good guy. Also don’t worrie about cockpit driver and steering wheel it works great for me maybe u just need to setup your wheel rotation and calibrate your wheel in game, a smaller wheel rotation will help you a lot if you don’t have an e brake! U can map an e brake button though. Native support would be good though. Thanks for the great review m8! Oops I should have read earlier comments it looks like most of this has been covered.

  • Muhammad Jihad ✓ᵛᵉʳᶦᶠᶦᵉᵈ

    You’re lucky on being comfortable with any cockpit game, that’s not even close to my experience. The smoother games run however the better luck I have, for example Project Cars just doesn’t run well, I have 3930k proc and 2 970s in SLI and that game will make me sick in about 10-15 mins, meanwhile iRacing, on the same track, same class of car, I can play it for easy over a half-hour with everything maxed out and it doesn’t bother me. iRacing runs a rock steady 88fps on my system, for Project Cars I’m not sure what it’s running but it’s not at 90fps, I know that much, and it makes me want to puke. So basically a hint to those that do play anything with VR, always take higher frame rates over graphic quality if you get sick.

    • Buddydudeguy

      You use SLI and wonder why it doesn’t run well? SLI isn’t even supported for VR, you’re left with a single, 970 which is entry level VR.

      • Muhammad Jihad ✓ᵛᵉʳᶦᶠᶦᵉᵈ

        You need new info buddy, SLI has been supported in VR since about a month or two after the Rift launched and Nvidia updated its drivers. Additionally you can see the difference by just turning it off. Now does Dirt support it? I’m not sure I haven’t tested it both ways, but many titles do – but it’s up to the title. There is nothing about VR, and I’ve had the Rift DK1, DK2 and now the retail one, since the beginning kiddo.

        • Buddydudeguy

          Big whoopy I stand corrected. And it still depends on the game. Obviously that’s going well right? Get one good card.

          • Muhammad Jihad ✓ᵛᵉʳᶦᶠᶦᵉᵈ

            I’ll work on that while you work on chocking on a big black pekka.

            God bless.

          • Buddydudeguy

            “pekka”? lol ya gutter trash piece of shit American. That all you got?

          • Muhammad Jihad ✓ᵛᵉʳᶦᶠᶦᵉᵈ

            Oh, you’re some third world homo. What country are you from? I want to customize my insults in response.

          • Buddydudeguy

            Somewhere where we don’t talk like we have a dick in our mouth. Blocked.

          • Muhammad Jihad ✓ᵛᵉʳᶦᶠᶦᵉᵈ

            Blocked. HAHA. What a fruit.

          • sdrawkcab

            you both sound like morons. Shut the fuck up and get back on topic.

          • Muhammad Jihad ✓ᵛᵉʳᶦᶠᶦᵉᵈ

            Another angry nerd. LOL!

          • sdrawkcab

            Maaaaaan, Jihad really handed me my ass with that zinger!! Listen folks, you don’t want to mess with a guy like Jihad. He’ll really give it to you good if you negatively comment to him!! Killer, bro.

          • Coco

            A sli 970 rig is a pile of dump for VR, hard luck.

  • Muhammad Jihad ✓ᵛᵉʳᶦᶠᶦᵉᵈ

    Just bought this for the Rift and I could not disagree more on motion sickness… wow, I played it for maybe 3 minutes and I’m ready to puke. The game runs smooth, I don’t think it’s a performance issue, but ugh, wow, ugh. I get super super easily motion sick but this was amongst the worst I’ve encountered with the CV1. I’ll have to go through and really play with the settings to turn on the comfort settings, but I wasn’t expecting that. Ugh, I need to go lay down for an hour or two.

  • Muhammad Jihad ✓ᵛᵉʳᶦᶠᶦᵉᵈ

    One more note, I was having issues launching this game, it just kept crashing. I could have sworn the instructions said NOT to launch it via Steam VR, but if I did not it would just keep crashing and crashing right after the first load screen. I also have a 3440×1440 monitor, so I took two steps to get it to launch, change the resolution to your typical 1920×1080 AND launch it via Steam VR, then it finally worked.

  • PianoMan

    Any one manage to get this working using Revive and the injector. I’ve followed the instructions to the T, but simply doesn’t work.

  • Raphael

    Review makes no mention of lack of vive support. Disappointing.

  • geogan

    I just got this game yesterday and first time i tried a stage or two, I felt very nautious and pain in the head very quickly. I knew it was to do with framerate. So i did the benchmark test which runs a full 7 minute stage in autopilot – the problem is you have to keep VR headset on while this is running which means I had to close my eyes in headset as this is even more sickening than driving yourself! – and it turned out I was only getting about 40-50fps average with peak of 80fps in Ultra setting. This is on overclocked Gigabyte GTX1070 Xtreme Gamer card. So I changed setting to High and re-ran benchmark – this time the average was about 88fps with peak of 90fps ie. maximum framerates more or less. Much better. I have done two rally stages in Greece with Subaru WRC car and I didn’t feel headache at all with this setting. Also using Logitech G25 wheel BTW. The mixture of wheel/pedals/VR view is so realistic its amazing. Impressed with quality of graphics too at High setting. Only thing I noticed I didn’t like so far was wheel animation as review said. Yesterday it was looking like the wheel wasn’t moving at all no matter how much I turned my real wheel – it wa only going about 5 degrees left or right. Today it seems to be going to 90 degrees, but still not matching my movement like other games I use like Raceroom. I will continue… didn’t change any of the VR settings yet or see VR replay yet…