While there was a bit of an uproar when it was revealed that DiRT Rally for the PlayStation 4 Virtual Reality headset would ship with additional content not seen in the vanilla package, those fears can officially be put to rest, though they now indicate that sim developers might not know how to craft a compelling and innovative experience for this technology. Introduced as a PSVR exclusive feature, DiRT Rally’s co-driver mode was kept heavily under wraps in the lead up to the title’s release, with many sim racers speculating about Codemasters creating some sort of online co-operative functionality just for this specific segment of the userbase – one which put you in the passenger seat and tasked you with reading out pacenotes to your buddy of choice as they flew through Sweden, Wales, or Monte Carlo – but the reality is unfortunately much different, and significantly more ridiculous than anyone could have envisioned.
Codemasters made a Guitar Hero mini-game for DiRT Rally.
Instead of pairing you with a friend riding shotgun – also sporting a VR headset from the comfort of his own home – tasked with reading out complex strands of stage notes at a lightning quick pace from the virtual passenger seat to ensure your success on any of the game’s twelve stages, DiRT Rally’s co-driver mode asks you to hand your little brother the Dualshock 4 so he can play a shitty knock-off version of Guitar Hero on the main monitor, where him successfully hitting each note translates to the correct visual directions being displayed on-screen.
There was a huge opportunity for Codemasters to go out and create a memorable diversion that could potentially show off the unique experience a VR headset can provide under the right conditions, and instead they’ve straight up missed it by a country mile. Inserting a simplified version of Guitar Hero into a game most of us have already played to exhaustion, and designing the mode in such a way where it only applies to bystanders who probably won’t want to sit and watch you play DiRT Rally to begin with, won’t get people to rush out and pick up a copy of DiRT Rally VR. We already know that racing games are an incredibly unique way to showcase what a virtual reality headset can do at its absolute best, but we’re at the point where developers need to innovate and take things to the next level.
This certainly isn’t it. In fact, it’s perpetuating the stereotype of VR-based titles being more of a fancy tech demo than anything else, with developers struggling to find out what to do with this technology beyond the initial application of first-person viewpoints.
Above, I’ve linked a twenty one minute compilation of Giant Bomb co-founder and former Gamespot persona Jeff Gerstmann struggling to understand how virtual reality will retain a long-term appeal, as he demonstrates numerous fully-priced PSVR titles that just aren’t very exciting pieces of software. While some of his experience is hampered by technological issues that make him visibly uncomfortable during his trial runs, Jeff notes that after you get over the initial “coolness” of physically existing inside a game world and being able to look around at your own discretion, the decline in texture resolution and lack of exciting quirks to make it more than just an extreme first person view isn’t enough to offset the obvious cons of the hardware.
To combat this, developers such as Codemasters need to push the envelope and offer genuinely interesting diversions to their software that really justifies the existence of a purpose-built VR title. A Guitar Hero spin-off isn’t that.
Codemasters, listen up. Let us walk around the car in the service park to inspect the damage, and make repairs by physically kneeling next to the vehicle and ripping the bumper off, or changing a few tires if it’s needed. Make the user nod their head up and down to indicate to the official to start the count-down clock for each stage. Create a co-op mode, where you can invite a buddy to your offline session, and his ass is thrown in the passenger seat, where he can look at his lap and read out pacenotes – which would actually be of use in DiRT 4, as the randomly generated stages will be impossible to memorize and actually require someone to get good at co-driving should this mode exist. And on closed-circuit off road races, make it so mud accumulates on the visor of the helmet, requiring the user to either shake their head, or wave their hand in front of the censor, for the virtual avatar to rip away a tear-off.
This is all shit I’m just pulling out of my ass on a boring Saturday evening, but I’m sure a large portion of the DiRT audience would appreciate these little elements to a Guitar Hero mode that will be used exactly once before promptly being ignored for the rest of the game’s lifespan. Otherwise, if this is the kind of “innovation” we can expect from the VR generation, don’t expected it to last very long.