By: Gentleman Jeb
I didn’t know what a Red Bull Air Race was until I was invited to check out the VR racing game at the San Diego stop of their 2017 World Tour. It’s been nine years since the last Red Bull Air Race in SD, so I was lucky that the races coincided with the recent addition of VR to the PC game. After watching the races in person and then playing the game, I now have a new appreciation for the sport and the authenticity of the game. In this case, Red Bull does give you wings.
Rules Replace Competitors
It’s important to know the rules of the sport before playing the game. For starters, these are timed races, which means that only one airplane is on the course at a time. Pilots fly their plane between double inflatable pylons and around single pylons in a short course. Since this race is against the clock rather than other planes, racers must adhere to a maximum speed limit of 200 knots at all times. This means that pilots have to shave time off their run by finding the most effective line as well as following strict rules to avoid time penalties.
For example, pilots must not only keep their airplanes level when flying between double pylons, but also stay above a height marker and below the top of each pylon. In addition, planes must be rotated so the wings are vertical when flying around single pylons. This is really exciting to watch as the plane is always rotating and zipping around the course. If any rules are broken during a lap, a two-second penalty is added to their time. Two seconds may not sound like much at first until you realize that the average 2-lap race around the course lasts around two minutes. During an official Red Bull Air Race, missing a gate results in an immediate disqualification. However, missing the gate in the game results in a penalty ranging from three to five seconds.
These rules are accurately transferred into the game, which adds to the difficulty of achieving a fast time with no penalties. Fortunately, virtual pilots go through an informative training period before being unleashed into real races. Also, the game controls airspeed, so all gamers have to worry about is steering their plane and turning it vertical and horizontal. Believe me, this is a never-ending challenge to take advantage of each plane’s handling when fighting the forces of gravity.
Seven tracks, including six real-world tracks and one fantasy track, were available when the game was launched in 2016. Several updates later, there are now eight official tracks and six fantasy tracks, including the North Pole and the Great Wall of China. Another new addition is World Championship mode, where players can choose any real-world pilot, select their plane, and then compete in the 2016 Red Bull Air Race World Championships.
However, the biggest addition to the game is VR support, and Red Bull Air Race the game is the perfect…err…vehicle to showcase VR potential. It’s one thing to sit in front of a PC monitor and play the game, but strapping a VR headset on lets players experience the game as if they were really there. I love how all I saw in VR was the course and my plane, so there were no distractions to remind me that I’m playing a game. Not only did it add to the excitement, but it also helped me focus on shaving seconds off of each lap.
A Perfect Fit
My first VR course was San Diego, and this course was set up exactly as it was in real life. It was surreal to fly a race in the game and then turn around and watch one in real life. Most fans don’t even know the details of the rules, so all they see is a plane speeding through the course. Conversely, I started focusing on the tricks that pilots did in real life, and then tried to replicate them in VR. Thankfully, this game is realistic enough that most of the tricks worked. I have to admit that VR spoiled me for this game, and I don’t want to go back to playing it on a standard computer monitor.
I also tried the online multiplayer in VR mode, which was even more exhilarating because up to twelve virtual pilots compete with each other at the same time. Since only one plane can fly through the course at a time, competitors are represented by “ghost planes.” This is a fun mode because you can actually race against other pilots without worrying about bumping or crashing into them. As a result, I was able to focus on the course with the added stress of seeing my competition in real time.
Anyone interested in playing the free game can find information and download it here.