Publisher: Electronic Arts, Inc.
Release Date: December 15, 2016
Game Modes: Single
Control: Daydream controller
Need For Speed: No Limits VR is something I’ve been eagerly awaiting, and one of my main reasons for getting a Daydream View headset. I was a fan of the previous NFS incarnations, and arcade racing in general, so getting the chance to play it in VR was something I couldn’t pass up. The Need For Speed franchise stretches all the way back to 1994, and No Limits is both the latest in the series, and the first game created specifically for mobile platforms. The Android and iOS versions were released in late 2015, with this VR version being released a little over a year later.
The gameplay follows a pretty standard NEED FOR SPEED-style progression: you start with one car and are offered race events as jobs. As you complete each event you win cash, gain reputation points, and unlock the next event. There are 60 events in total, with 5 distinct types: street race, one-on-one boss race, high speed run, timed checkpoint race, and special delivery. There are 12 race tracks in total with locales ranging from city streets to countryside. Like other Need For Speed games, the tracks are not circuits. You race from one end to the other just once, no laps. And you’re not alone on these streets; in addition to the other racers, you’ll have to deal with civilian traffic as well as law enforcement that will ram you, setup road blocks, and drop spike-belts all in an effort to slow you down.
Despite being a familiar setup, the game is damn fun and very addictive. The racer and police AI definitely cheat, but it keeps the action focused in the area around you so you’re rarely miles ahead with nothing to do. There are 30 different cars to buy, ranging from the more affordable Mazdas and Subarus, to muscle cars, sports cars and supercars. Ken Block’s Hoonicorn Mustang is even available, letting you live out some of your Gymkhana fantasies in VR. The cars all have different handling, acceleration, and top speed characteristics, and it’s definitely noticeable, but this is still an arcade racer, so don’t expect simulation-levels of vehicle accuracy going in. Beyond the events and cars, there’s loads of achievements to unlock. There’s no multiplayer which was probably a smart move given the young age of the Daydream platform, but the online leaderboard is a very welcome addition, and gives you something to shoot for even after you’ve achieved gold medals in all events.
No Limits VR makes great use of the Daydream remote to control the cars. You point the remote to steer your car, swipe-up on the touchpad to use nitro-boost, and click-and-hold it to use the handbrake for drifting. It’s a limited scheme, but you always feel completely in control of your car, and nothing feels laggy or disconnected. I was a little disappointed to find out you’re always accelerating by default, and there’s no brake, but it ends up keeping the action fast, and this is an arcade racer after all.
The only issue I have with the controls is the same issue all Daydream games have: gyroscope drift. The rotational origin of both the headset and the remote (the remote especially) will drift to the left or right quite often, so you’ll likely need to press the re-centering button every 5 to 10 minutes. It’s nothing to do with this game specifically, but it’s very noticeable given the precision movements needed to drive well.
This game has the best graphics I’ve seen to date on a mobile VR platform. The car bodies are both accurate and highly-detailed, and have that triple-A shininess to them. But the real showstoppers here are the interiors; every single one of the 30 car interiors, from the Ford Fiesta to the Lamborghini Aventador, are modeled in painstaking detail. From the operational gauges on the dashboard to the center console and seats, it’s absolutely amazing. What’s more is that your driver is fully modeled too, so you can see hands turning the steering wheel, shifting gears (both paddles and stick), and even grabbing the handbrake. Unfortunately it’s very easy to miss this incredible detail because the action inside the car is both quite dark and completely secondary to the action happening outside.
Luckily the tracks are also a joy to look at. The road itself has a nice glossy look to it, again there’s that triple-A shininess. Opponents, traffic, and cop cars are extremely detailed, as are the roadside objects. The environmental detail drops off pretty rapidly once you leave the road, but you likely won’t notice, and the game struggles to maintain a frame rate as is. While the frame rate is perfectly adequate most of the time, you will definitely experience moments of significant slowdown, especially when your phone gets really hot. The slowdown doesn’t appear to affect the head-tracking much, so sickness isn’t an issue, but the speed of the gameplay is drastically reduced. The jitter and slowdown seen in my review video are excessive beyond what is normal because recording the video uses so much CPU power.
And while we’re talking about the graphics, here’s something odd: the mirror reflections are backwards. Normally, if you see a car coming up behind you and it’s moving towards the right edge of the mirror (from your driver seat perspective), you’ll see that same object pass you on your right side. Well it’s reversed here. It’s like the mirror is a screen for a camera facing backwards, and they forgot to reverse the image. The rear-view mirror is rarely useful and you’ll be too busy looking forward anyway, I just thought it was a strange oversight in a release from a major developer.
Sound design in No Limits VR is befitting of a Need For Speed game. Cars have distinct engine sounds, though lack the bass to really convey the power. Rock and hip-hop tracks dominate the music and are both high-quality and perfectly suited to street racing. There’s only so many songs, so you’ll definitely notice when the same song is playing again, but the races aren’t long enough for anything to get irritating. I do however recommend that you turn down the music and turn up the engine sounds, not because the music is bad, but because I think the music is drowning out the engine at the default settings. Just a personal preference.
Comfort & Immersion
Considering how fast this game can be, I was surprised to not feel any motion-sickness, or hints thereof. This can be attributed to a combination of three things; first, the Daydream headset’s field-of-view is quite narrow, even for mobile VR – 90 degrees in the Daydream View vs 96 or 100 degrees in the Gear VR. Second, those intricately detailed car interiors are quite intrusive on your vision, even though they’re not the focus. The cockpit model takes up well over 50% of your field of view, and in some cars (like the Aventador) you end up looking through a mail slot. This has the benefit of keeping most of what you see stationary with respect to the player camera, reducing the potential for motion-sickness. Third, comfort options allow you to further restrict your field of view by applying vignetting and adjusting your seat position. All three add up to something that should be playable by all but the most sensitive gamers.
And not directly related to VR comfort, but more general safety: your phone will get insanely hot playing this game. Daydream phones have quickly gained a reputation for overheating worse than the Gear VR, so this game isn’t alone, but it pushes the hardware harder than anything else in the Daydream library. So just a word of warning – your phone will be extremely hot after even 10 minutes of play.
Despite the restricted field of view, No Limits VR is well in the running for the most immersive mobile VR title, right alongside End Space and Omega Agent on the Gear VR. A big part of this is due to the amazing car interiors that really make you feel like you’re in the driver’s seat. The frequent re-centering of the headset and remote will break the illusion temporarily, but again that’s a hardware issue, and not the fault of this game specifically.
At $15 this is easily the most expensive mobile VR game I’ve reviewed. But it’s also one of the best. In terms of gameplay breadth, balance, graphics and presentation, this game is a AAA title. And that’s no surprise since it’s coming from EA, a AAA publisher. I don’t think we can call this the “killer app” for mobile VR, but I’ll go so far as to call this a must-have title for the Google Daydream. At this stage that may sound like thin praise given how little there is to choose from for Daydream, but I’d say the same thing if it were on the Gear VR. I’ve put about 10 hours into the game so far and I still find myself picking it up to climb the leaderboards, and it’s quickly approaching Minecraft or Vendetta Online for hours sunk into a single mobile VR game. If you dislike racing games or Need For Speed in general, this game might not be for you. To everybody else, I highly recommend No Limits VR. If you have a Daydream headset, you need to be playing this. And make sure to look for me on the leaderboards.
- Stellar graphics
- Precise and responsive controls
- Loads of content: cars, events, achievements, medals & leaderboards
- No multiplayer
- Occasional frame rate slow down