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Top 5 VR Racing Sims for Oculus Rift and HTC Vive

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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.

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


Photo courtesy Sector3 Studios

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.

 Photo courtesy Sector3 Studios

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


Photo courtesy Slightly Mad Studios

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).


Photo courtesy Slightly Mad Studios

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.

Project CARS

3. Assetto Corsa


Photo courtesy Kunos Simulazioni

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.

Assetto Corsa

2. iRacing


iRacing’s VR implementation has been through several phases at this point, being one of the earliest full games to support the Rift DK1, and has always delivered a solid experience. After receiving OpenVR support in September 2016, the sim has seen further improvements to the renderer, enabling MSAA, supersampling options, and most recently, post processing effects that include a sharpening tool that works much like SweetFX, tuned perfectly to benefit the low resolution of current-gen headsets. In addition, the driver body model has been significantly improved, steering animation goes through the full rotation for most cars, and positional audio for VR is now supported, with further audio improvements to come.


Photo courtesy iRacing

Dirt oval racing was recently introduced to the subscription service, to wide acclaim. As much of dirt oval driving involves an oversteer slide, you end up looking sideways as much as you look forward, so VR is ideal. Plus, mud starts to build up on your visor, which can be cleared with a ‘tear-off’ button, a convincing effect in VR.

Possibly due to a graphics engine that originated in the DX9 era, iRacing has a cleaner renderer than either Project CARS or Assetto Corsa, which is beneficial for VR; it always feels like I need to run those other two at higher supersampling levels than iRacing to reduce aliasing and achieve similar image quality.


1. Live for Speed

 By far the oldest product on the list (first seen in 2002), Live for Speed’s evolution has been painfully slow at times. In stark contrast, its VR updates across the last couple of years have been remarkably rapid—often industry-leading—implementing Rift and Vive support before either consumer hardware had even launched. And since version 0.6Q in September 2016, Live for Speed has featured stereoscopic mirrors, an effect first seen in Codemasters’ experimental VR support for GRID Autosport (but pointless as the mirrors were practically unusable). LFS remains ahead of the competition here – it is the only racing sim on the list with this feature.

Interior and side mirrors in all other sims render in 2D, essentially appearing like digital screens rather than reflections. iRacing goes one step of the way by moving the mirror view relative to head position, but they’re still not stereoscopic. It might seem like an insignificant feature, but the effect of depth in mirrors has a remarkable impact for a number of reasons.

Firstly, it helps to mitigate the low resolution of VR hardware; it’s hard enough to see distant objects in VR in the main environment, and certainly troublesome to see detail in mirrors (many VR users still opt to use a larger ‘virtual mirror’ as part of the HUD). Stereoscopic depth allows the eyes to resolve detail more easily. Secondly, there is the natural sensation of looking in a mirror—we expect them to work in a certain way, and it’s jarring when they don’t.

Due to the close proximity of the mirror itself, your eye’s convergence reflex is in full effect; when the virtual reflection is faked and appears as a ‘screen’, you’re having to look at the details as a ‘close’ object, messing with your focal distance in an unnatural way. In LFS, you look ‘through’ the mirrors as in reality, and focus on distant objects in the reflection in the same way as looking straight ahead.


The effect is so convincing that I genuinely feel a heightened sense of presence, particularly when leaning up to the rear view mirror and seeing my own reflection (wearing a helmet) making exactly the same movement. All VR racing simulators need this feature; unfortunately a mirror is one of the most performance-sapping elements to render. But once they do, ‘virtual mirrors’ on the HUD will likely be a thing of the past as they become completely unnecessary when the ‘real’ mirrors are so good.

Despite some of its dated visuals and fictional vehicles, LFS remains a very interesting sim as a VR showcase. After years of improvements, the software is very well-sorted; its system requirements are low, delivering convincing VR on sub-minimum spec machines, with a streamlined setup and comprehensive options to fiddle with. There are considerations for VR users not found in other sims, like a HUD-based keyboard (combined with a gaze-based pointer) for entering text, and a dedicated ‘walk’ mode intended to improve the experience of exploring the track environments in VR ‘on foot’.

The core driving experience is excellent, combining intuitive handling with strong force feedback. Thanks to minimal latency on the virtual wheel animation and the 1:1 head movement in the reflections, LFS achieves a level of body presence that is a step above all other driving sims, despite the fact that the driver model is presented in very low detail by modern standards. It’s not quite perfect, as the world movement relative to head position still looks slightly choppy – apparently due to the sim’s 100Hz physics update rate not matching the 90Hz rendering. But otherwise, it’s simply excellent. Seriously, stereoscopic mirrors is a Big Deal.

Live for Speed

Honorable Mentions

Dirt Rally

On the Rift, Codemasters delivered a spectacular experience, and one that translated well over to PSVR, yet it still lacks official support for the Vive. The Revive injector offers an unofficial solution, but it suffers from performance and compatibility issues. In addition, the steering animation problems were sadly never fully addressed, which is an immersion-breaker for some.

DiRT Rally is tough to compare against these track-based racers, and it ultimately depends on what aspect of the experience you value the most. Its sensation of speed and large world movement (due to the closeness of obstacles and undulating terrain) make for a thrilling roller coaster ride that can’t be achieved with smooth circuit racing. But if you value the sense of ‘body presence’ and visual steering feedback, then their animation system totally spoils the party. Not only does the steering animation only go to 180 degrees, but it also fails to represent the actual position of your steering wheel, both in terms of rotation angle and direct response, unlike every other sim here. Even if you disable the arms (which removes the virtual body entirely) to allow the wheel rotation to move beyond 180 degrees, the rotation is still inaccurate, animating at a lower framerate than the rest of the scene and using some unnecessary elasticity, making the virtual wheel appear to have a mind of its own, rather than being a direct representation of the wheel you’re holding.

At this point, when all the other titles are managing it, the lack of official Vive support is very disappointing, particularly when DiRT Rally’s Rift performance is so good. If you have a Rift, this is a great buy, offering a unique VR driving experience – but Vive owners may not have such a good time. Using a GTX 980 for example, the game runs comfortably on the ‘medium’ graphics preset on the Rift, but I need to be somewhere in between ‘ultra low’ and ‘low’ presets to achieve the same level of smoothness with Revive. Hopefully the upcoming DiRT 4 receives more attention from Codemasters in this area, although the developers have yet to confirm any VR support whatsoever, which is quite concerning.

rFactor 2


rFactor 2 suffered a major shakeup in its development, where developer ISI handed the reigns to Studio 397 in September 2016. The sim is highly regarded by enthusiasts, using a physics engine that evolved over a period of almost two decades. In the days of the original rFactor, the community was vibrant and productive, filling servers with regular league racing and creating vast numbers of mods (tracks and cars). rFactor 2 was introduced in 2012, with an improved graphics engine, new tyre model and many improvements to dynamic weather and surface simulation, but the complexities of the new physics systems proved to be a huge challenge for the modding scene. In addition, its visual presentation and pace of development compared unfavourably to Assetto Corsa, another mod-friendly title, and over the past few years rFactor 2 has struggled to generate enthusiasm from the wider sim racing community.

Recently, Studio 397 introduced DX11 and VR support in an open beta, which aims to improve general performance and enable more advanced visual effects. The good news is that it supports OpenVR, so Vive, Rift and any other OpenVR headset will work, but unfortunately, the sim is still extremely demanding on hardware, and the beta is causing problems for many users, myself included. As Marcel Pfister notes in his excellent mixed reality footage, he was only able to get acceptable performance with just two other cars on track. With various VR requirements needing to be addressed, an overall shaky performance and a lack of updated content to suit the new DX11 specifications, rFactor 2 is difficult to recommend for VR right now, but the future is bright.

Source: http://op-5-racing-sims-with-oculus-rift-support-virtual-reality/

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