NASCAR Heat 5 does not have native VR support, which is a shame, because racing games benefit so much from being played in 3D. Thankfully, it actually works fairly well in VR using VorpX, though you do need a very powerful computer to run it at a high frame rate.
One of the problems with NASCAR Heat 5 is the distinct lack of options for graphics settings. You can't change the camera FOV or disable effects like motion blur. This limits the experience in VR, but it still works well nonetheless. The game renders in true stereoscopic 3D, though there are some issues. Even with some compromises, only in VR can you truly see how steep the banking actually is on these tracks. It's a sight to behold.
In this guide, I will show you how to get everything set up, including overcoming some issues I experienced when trying this out. I will talk about both playing from the cockpit view and the third person chase view.
What You Will Need
VorpX - $40
VorpX is the program that can make a traditional 2D game render in stereoscopic 3D in a VR headset. I know VorpX has a mixed reputation, but if you are interested at all in playing older games in VR, especially racing games, it's an incredible tool. You can read my overall thoughts on the program here.
You will have to download the "NASCAR Heat 5 [bkoponen]" cloud profile in the VorpX Control Panel for this to work. To play in VR, all you have to do is start VorpX and launch the game.
NASCAR Heat 5 has a distinct lack of configuration options for anything in the game, which greatly limits our ability to tweak things for VR. There are no detailed graphics options, no ability to adjust the FOV and no ability to look around the cockpit, all of which could make the VR experience much better.
Because of these limitations, the game does not work in Full VR Mode, meaning that you can't turn your head and look around the car the way you can in a native VR game. Instead, you play in Immersive Screen Mode, looking at a large virtual screen. Thankfully, once you are actually playing the game, you hardly even notice this.
When playing from the cockpit view, as is most common in VR racing games, the most notable problem is the lack of FOV adjustment. If it had a wider FOV, you would be able to turn your head to look out the side windows, but this isn't an actual issue during a race. A bigger issue is the way the cockpit is rendered.
The cockpit renders in such a way that you have to almost go cross-eyed to focus on it. When you are focused on the track, you will have a strong double-vision effect of the cockpit. In practice, I didn't really find this to be much of an issue, but it stands out when you first try this out.
Since there are no detailed graphics settings, you are likely going to use the Low graphics preset to keep your frame rate reasonable. Unfortunately, there is no way to turn off Motion Blur, which really doesn't look good in VR. Running in Geometry 3D is very taxing for this game and, depending on your computer, you may not even get a playable frame rate in this mode.
The good news is that you can use Z-Normal and get very good results with no frame rate issues. You will notice some artifacts, especially around parts of your cockpit and some parts of the car in front of you. It's not ideal, but they aren't very distracting.
I did try to use the VorpX settings to force a wider FOV. While this works to a point, it introduces enough glitches with the shadows that I don't recommend using it.
Chase Camera View
Interestingly, playing from the third person chase view fixes negates some of the issues above. The FOV is not an issue in this view. It's naturally a very wide FOV and so everything looks fine.
Perhaps even more importantly, you can play in Z-Normal mode with even fewer artifacts. The track looks great, but the depth of your car is a little off. While actually playing, I didn't find this to be a problem. In truth, this is probably the best way to play the game for most people. There is no performance penalty with only minor visual artifacts.
For the best experience, you will want to use these settings in the VorpX menu.
|Immersive Screen Mode
|Geometry 3D / Z-Normal
|3D FOV Enhancement
These are already set in the "NASCAR Heat 5 [bkoponen]" cloud profile.
If you want to try fixing the FOV, raise the 3D FOV Enhancement to about 1.00. This will widen the FOV to about the correct level for most headsets. You will have to play with this for your specific headset, though.
NASCAR Heat 5 Settings
In Options > Gameplay:
The Car Identifiers don't look right in 3D and are quite distracting. The other HUD elements actually work just fine, though I would recommend turning everything off for the most immersive experience.
In Options > Display:
|Low (Geometry 3D) / High (Z-Normal)
The graphics options are very limited, so there really isn't much we can do to improve the frame rate issues. If you are playing in Z-Normal mode, you can easily set the Quality to the highest setting.
Better than non-VR?
Whenever I play a game in VR using VorpX, I like to ask if the gameplay is actually improved in any way by doing so, or is it more of an interesting experiment without any real benefits. VorpX isn't cheap and it would be easy to try to rationalize the purchase, even if the experience isn't that good.
For NASCAR Heat 5 (and most other racing games for that matter), having the depth perception provided by VR is undeniably a better experience than playing on a flat screen. I find it much easier to drive the car in general, but particularly when driving close to the wall. You simply have a greater sense of the width of the track and exactly where you are on it when playing in 3D.
It's annoying that the game is so limited in its options (forced FOV and motion blur, in particular). The VR experience could be made better with these options, especially in cockpit view, but it certainly doesn't ruin the game by any means.
If you prefer to play in the chase camera view, you will have a great experience playing this in VR. It is all the more engaging to see the whole world in 3D as you are flying down track.
Even with the limitations, I still really enjoy playing this in VR. The experience is more immersive, especially if you are playing with a wheel, and the driving is more natural. It's probably not worth buying VorpX specifically for this game. VorpX works better with the F1 and DiRT series. If you already have it, though, this is well worth trying out.
Let me know if you have any comments or questions.