Viewpoint Games debut title, VR Karts, has arrived on PlayStation VR. This latest virtual reality title attempts to bring kart racing to the next level by placing you directly in the driver’s seat. But how does this mobile port fare compared to other much loved karting games?
Beginning the game in your kart’s garage, the lobby area of VR Karts acts as your gateway into the numerous modes available, and simply looking around the room allows you choose which mode you wish to play. Training, Championship and Online play are all laid out in front of you to allow you to jump straight into your first race and onto the starting grid. There is also the option to customise your kart and racer with a host of interchangeable colours, hats and googly eyes. Most add-ons are locked and unavailable until you complete races and earn the right to dress up your kart and driver with the many accessories.
Once you are onto the track, on the starting line and getting ready to race, you will start eyeing up the opponents all around you and soon realise how perfectly suited kart racing is in virtual reality. By using your rear view mirrors to see your opponents up close and personal to your rear bumper makes the experience feel extremely realistic.
But what does the game feel like once you set off? As with many other karting and racing games, waiting until the lights turn green to accelerate grants you a boost off the starting line. Scattered throughout the circuits are a variety of pickups in the form of speed boosts and weapons. Boosting allows you to speed up as you would imagine, but it also allows you to ‘drift boost’ around corners. It takes a little while to get to grips with this way of maneuvering though as too much boosting will send you hurtling off the course. If you are like me and normally drift at ninety degrees in every corner in Mario Kart, this game is going to take a little longer to perfect; however, this skill really pays off and it will reward your perseverance.
Simply speeding around the track to get the best lap time is not the only challenge in VR Karts. Rockets, mines and beehives are constantly sent your way to inhibit your progress during the race, as where would any good karting game be without a good selection of ballistics? As convention dictates, however, weapons are a two way street, allowing you to give your opponents a taste of their own medicine; just drive through one of the pickups in any of the tracks and wait for the mayhem to unfold.
To aim missiles, you use the crosshair in the centre of your headset. Simply line up your target in your field of view and unleash havoc, just be careful not to get too carried away and take your eye off the racing as you may find yourself driving into a wall, not that this ever happened to me…much. The selection of weapons is very basic with reversed controls, position warping and shields as well as the ones mentioned earlier. All projectiles can be avoided with a shield except the beehive; this unusual attack, which restricts your vision, was my least favourite. To rid yourself of this annoying weapon, you must vigorously shake your head back and forth, and this may sound ok, but when you have a PSVR strapped on your head that will undoubtedly bump around, this leads to a rather painful and unwelcome experience. And not to be a killjoy, but I do not think that any activity that forces you to shake your head around can be any good for your neck! This feature cannot be turned off, so anyone with a muscular neck issue, you have been warned!
Each of the many courses features long sweeping bends and rather tight corners that I expected to be able to take with my accelerator button mashed down. This is not the case however, as the handling of the karts feels very heavy, reminiscent of a real kart, unless you are drift boosting around. I came to appreciate this as using the brakes to take corners perfectly becomes a real joy, again, just like real-life karting, as you can clip an apex just right and speed away from your opponent’s less perfect attempt at taking the chicane. Whether you decide to take your game online or not, the AI in the championship mode is still a worthy adversary, one that had me on the edge of my seat as I battled for first position.
My time with VR karts was really fun, but there was one thing lacking, charm! As much as I enjoyed this title, there was always something missing. When playing Mario Kart, Crash Team Racing or Modnation Racers, there is a special quality that lends itself to making those games so fun and memorable. Maybe it’s the lack of local coop or lovable characters that failed to engross me, but this game made me realise how good one of those games would be in virtual reality. I almost got the feeling that the game was maybe trying to be two styles of karting game at the same time – realistic and arcade – whereas it should have arguably placed a little more emphasis on one style over the other. Overall, however, VR Karts is a great first step in a market that is just waiting to explode.