Virtual reality racing in an 80 mph wind tunnel is cheek-flapping good fun

My eyes were watering so much from the monstrous gale blowing in my face, my vision was becoming impaired, and I feared I’d soon lose control of my racer. A horribly messy end awaited if I shot off the edge of the insane race track, when the racer’s sleek bodywork would quickly end up a mangled mess, with me inside. Nothing made sense anymore. Tears were streaming down my face, yet I couldn’t slow down. When would this madness end?

It wasn’t down to me, but the man with his hand on the controls of the wind tunnel. I wasn’t in a real race, I was playing Radial-G on PlayStation VR. It’s a hyper-fast racing game which the development team decided would be fun to play in an environment simulating great speed.

The best virtual reality experiences are truly immersive, and what’s more immersive than having the wind in your hair while shooting along at breakneck speeds in VR?

At 80mph when you open your mouth, your cheeks flap about in a most unflattering manner.

I quickly discovered that the man in control of the machine enjoyed the role he played. At the time when I thought my eyelids would peel back over the top of my head, the tunnel was pushing out a continual 80mph wind. That’s close to its maximum of 100mph, and although I couldn’t see him, I’m assuming he had a gleeful, slightly crazed smile as he cranked the speed higher.

At 80mph when you open your mouth, your cheeks flap about in a most unflattering manner, and basic necessities like breathing become way more challenging than usual. Because this is all happening while you’re trying to steer your ship around the twisting, turning, tube-shaped race track in Radial-G, sensory overload isn’t far away.

Great group fun

Sounds horrid, right? It’s not. It’s stupid, laugh-out-loud, barking mad fun. No, it makes absolutely no sense — the game’s set in space for a start, where wind isn’t something you need to worry about — and the additional level of immersion from playing in a wind tunnel is questionable; but you’d be crazy to turn down the opportunity to give it a try should it arise.

If additional immersion wasn’t the outcome, what did it do? It’s more evidence that VR can provide a great group experience with the right setting and environment. I laughed, the people watching laughed, and everyone who had a go looked pretty silly in a highly amusing way.

Taking on your mates in a race while getting blown about, or just watching them react, is a brilliant weekend gaming experience-in-the-making. Make everyone dress up in billowy, loose clothing, and you’ve got enough Instagram fodder for weeks.

It’s stupid, laugh-out-loud, barking mad fun.

How about playing Radial-G? If you’ve played one of the many incarnations of Wipeout, then you’ll know what to expect.

You shoot along a cylindrical racetrack — it’s like racing on a giant, twisting, metal worm —and have complete freedom of movement around it.

It’s interspersed with jumps, drops, and other disorientating obstacles, plus speed-ups and even weapons that add to the frantic pace. We played more than once, and enjoyed it more each time. We recommend it if you’re keen for some VR racing fun.

Not just for PlayStation VR

Virtual reality racing games, or any VR game with incredibly fast movement, can induce motion sickness if it’s done badly. The team behind Radial-G have worked very hard to avoid such problems, giving visual anchor points in place of a horizon — which in real life stops us from getting sick, and does the same thing in VR — along with other indicators, to make sure we can continue playing without problems.

In a game that delights in turning you upside down, and has many epic high speed sweeping bends that end in a sheer drop, the complete lack of disorientation or dizziness when playing is impressive.

You don’t need a PlayStation VR to enjoy a quick blast in Radial-G either. It’s available for Oculus Rift and HTC Vive, plus Google Daydream. Showing how powerful the mobile VR experience is becoming, the team only had to make very small tweaks to the game for it to run on a Daydream-compatible smartphone. Just don’t expect the battery to last that long.

Radial-G has nine race tracks, seven racers, a selection of different gameplay modes, and a 16-player online mode.

Is a wind tunnel essential to the Radial-G experience? No, of course not. Kingston University splashed out hundreds of thousands of pounds on the one we were blasted by, and we doubt many players will be looking to do the same. May we suggest placing a fan on its highest setting in front of you instead?

Flippancy aside, we had fun with Radial-G and the wind tunnel, and love that VR is inspiring people to come up with new ways of upping the level of immersion, especially when it lends itself so well to group play. Who’s up for hiring out a wind tunnel and playing some Radial-G this weekend?

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