VR Karts is a virtual reality focused kart racer available from retail stores and for download from the PlayStation Store for the PS4. Viewpoint Games creates unique virtual reality experiences such as first-person shooter Ghosts in the Toybox. Can Viewpoint Games deliver a kart racer that captures the immersion of competitive racing at high speeds in virtual reality?
Tutorial mode is quite helpful as it comprises of 4 laps with the first lap allowing you to acclimatise to virtual reality racing at your own pace, while the second lap introduces A.I. controlled opponents and on-track collectable turbo boost power-ups. Before heading into the following laps; the player must learn how to fire weaponry at still and moving targets attached to balloons, alongside the final two laps of the tutorial that is essentially a two lap race against A.I. controlled opponents including everything that you have just learned about the gameplay. One brief misstep with the tutorial is that it refers to the action instead of the actual button that needs to be pressed such as pressing the weapon button instead of informing the player that the weapon button is in fact holding and releasing X; therefore the player will have to memorise the control scheme from the main menu, although barring that the player will most certainly feel equipped to begin entering races immediately after completing the tutorial.
Championships mode contains three championships including rookie, amateur and pro cups, although at first rookie cup is the only championship available until successfully winning the 4 race championship as you race against 5 A.I. controlled opponents before unlocking the amateur cup, while the pro cup is not unlocked until winning the amateur cup championship with each championship consisting of 4 races followed by a random cup.
Quick race mode allows the player to race on a single track from any track for anywhere from 1 to 5 laps against 5 A.I. controlled karts. Elsewhere, Time Trial mode allows the player to set their fastest lap time on any track within a group of 5 laps with turbo boost power-ups available to utilise strategically to improve your lap time, while there are no A.I. competitors; therefore it is the perfect mode for players to become accustomed to each track.
Kart design is appropriate as every kart looks exactly how a go-kart should with the usual aerodynamic profile. As the player always views their kart from a first-person perspective; the dashboard is designed with an amazing attention to detail as it clearly yet concisely displays your race position out of the amount of race competitors, the current lap within the race distance, your kart’s current speed, quantity of stored turbo boost via a light blue gauge and the current weapon collected to fire at an opponent’s kart. Karts have a wing mirror either side of them which reflects the track that you have just driven past, while importantly providing a view of any karts attempting to overtake your kart which can make the difference in pulling off a last second block. Wing mirrors also produce a rather amusing reflection of your customised character if you lean in towards either mirror when on the starting grid.
Players can customise their karts and characters with a range of 36 shades of colour to select from for a primary and secondary colour for your crash helmet, racer, kart and turbo boost trail, alongside 15 optional decorations to fit around or on top of your character’s crash helmet; 4 visor items and your choice of over a dozen horn sounds. There is more emphasis on kart design rather than character design, although crash helmet colours and decorations as well as visor items provides at least some personality for each kart racer.
Weaponry is approached as it should be in a kart racer as weapons are collected through power-ups that are scrolled through at random on your steering wheel’s dashboard until it lands on a specific weapon or power-up. Some weapons are fired backwards such as mines and spike strips which allows for strategic placement along the opponents’ racing line, while weapons fired from the front of your kart includes rockets, reverse controls, bumblebee nests that place the driver in the centre of a honeycomb with seriously restricted visibility and more besides. Certain power-ups can be consumed to specifically benefit your kart such as a shield to protect from incoming enemy weaponry and an extra turbo boost to top-up your turbo boost gauge.
VR Karts’ handling is how it would be anticipated for go-karts to handle as they are fast through the straights and capable of retaining the speed built up through the straights when cornering for as long as the precise racing line is achieved, especially when having learned to apply the power sliding technique around corners. Normal mode is fast enough, although if you are looking for your kart to be faster, then turbo mode is unlocked by winning the rookie cup in championship mode; therefore producing a faster consistent speed for your kart and every A.I. controlled kart even outside of turbo boost power-ups.
Track design comprises of bright, colourful and imaginative environments across the 12 tracks revolving around castles, temples and beaches such as a castle floating in distant clouds, driving along a part of a track that has clouds either side of it to highlight how far off the ground the race track is situated, hot air balloons and rainbows with some tracks taking place during the day and some at night-time as torches light the track. Every track is wide instead of feeling akin to a narrow obstacle course; therefore not only making for a more entertaining racing experience, but also one that allows players to experiment in finding the optimum racing line through the entry and exit of each corner such as a wide entry into a corner to slingshot your kart around an otherwise potentially tricky corner.
There are a couple of downloadable content packs including a free character customisation starter pack; while a further character customisation pack is available for £3.99.
The controls are appropriately mapped to the DualShock 4 controller with the control scheme consisting of holding R2 to accelerate; pressing L2 to brake; pressing O to engage a turbo boost; holding and releasing X to fire weaponry; pressing square to beep your kart’s horn; pressing the options button to reset head tracking; and changing the direction of the left analogue stick to steer your kart. Tapping the touch pad to produce a quit race menu, while vibration occurs when driving over curbs or being hit by an opposing driver’s weapon, alongside the light bar which produces a light tone of blue. Head tracking is utilised to aim weaponry at opposing karts, while optional gyroscopic motion sensing functionality provides an excellent alternative to the left analogue stick for steering. Despite accurate implementation of gyroscopic motion sensing functionality on the DualShock 4 controller; there is no PlayStation Move control scheme which is surprising as steering could have been mapped to the gyroscopic motion sensing, while acceleration would be naturally mapped to the trigger of the right-handed Move controller and braking mapped to the trigger of the left-handed Move controller with everything else remaining the same other than the quit race menu on the touch pad being re-mapped to the move button.
Graphically, VR Karts has a cartoony aesthetic that captures the imagination with its colourful track design which is complimented by wide tracks that increase the immersion of being in virtual reality as you have a sense of the space around your kart. Believable power-ups pack a punch, while excellent customised kart models feature an equally amazing steering wheel that displays everything you want to know during the race on the dashboard as the centre focus looking ahead from your kart as you zip around the tracks at a consistently fast frame-rate.
VR Karts’ presentation is immersive throughout the menus as each menu is layered in the sense of what you would anticipate from stereoscopic 3D. Your character is sitting in a trailer looking at the control scheme on a mobile device, while head tracking detects the particular area of the trailer you are looking at before pressing X to display that menu as menus are positioned to the left, centre and right of your character. Menus are navigated via the left analogue stick, directional pad and face buttons, although it does not include support for navigation via the right analogue stick and touch pad.
A friendly voice-over introduces each gameplay element within the main menu and tutorial, while sound effects include accelerating, engaging turbo boosts, power sliding around corners, firing weaponry at your opponents and kart horns that are complimented by ambience such as waterfalls and animals; accompanied by arcade themed music. There is no DualShock 4 speaker implementation which could have produced turbo boost and power sliding sound effects or alternatively the acceleration of an incoming kart that is attempting to overtake your kart.
The trophy list includes 12 trophies with 8 bronze trophies, 3 silver trophies and 1 gold trophy. Easier trophies include the Quick Learner bronze trophy for completing the tutorial and the Nice Threads bronze trophy for customising a character. Harder trophies include the Pro Star silver trophy for winning the pro cup and the Clean Sweep gold trophy for winning every race in rookie, amateur and pro cup championships. There are two online multiplayer trophies including the Making Friends bronze trophy for competing in an online multiplayer race and the Making Enemies bronze trophy for winning an online multiplayer race. It is estimated that depending upon skill and a good trophy guide to provide some helpful tips that it would take between 10 to 15 hours to 100% the trophy list.
There are no clearly defined difficulty levels in tutorial, quick race or time trial modes, although the difficulty curve is noticeable such as needing to beware of opposing karts trying pit manoeuvres on the rear of your kart to cause a spin or ramming your kart from the side to force you off your optimum racing line, while it is also important to avoid weapons positioned on-track by opposing kart racers and keeping an eye on your steering wheel’s dashboard as to if you have a shield power-up to prevent temporary damage to your kart. Each championship is undoubtedly harder than the previous cup as A.I. controlled karts increase their speed through taking more realistic racing lines through each track, while becoming more aggressive in using their power-ups such as placing and aiming weapons and engaging turbo boosts.
Online competitive multiplayer supports 2 to 6 players in which entering online multiplayer automatically searches for an online race before providing the chance to vote for one of two preferred tracks to race on, while the pre-race area also allows players to see their competitors vying for the online multiplayer race victory, alongside the ability to communicate through text. Online multiplayer gameplay is of the same quality in graphical fidelity, sense of speed and handling as the single player, although there is only the equivalent of quick races instead of multi-race championships.
For family and friends situated in the same room; the TV presents what the player is experiencing, albeit without the same quality of depth. There is no social screen multiplayer which is a missed opportunity as the kart racing genre is one of the most family friendly gaming genres and could have honed in on PlayStation VR’s grand pitch as encouraging social multiplayer experiences between PlayStation VR and the player using the TV screen.
VR Karts’ replayability stems from the unpredictable competitive racing action throughout the three championships, quick race and time trial modes, alongside online multiplayer races on 12 tracks with a multitude of power-ups and kart customisation that will collectively keep players returning for some time.
- Title: VR Karts
- Developer: Viewpoint Games
- Publisher: Perp Games
- System: PS4
- Format: Retail/PSN Download
- Cross-Buy: No
- Cross-Play: No
- Players: 1/2-6 (Online Competitive Multiplayer)
- Hard Drive Space Required: 1.34GB