A new mod called REAL brings virtual reality to Grand Theft Auto 5, meaning you can finally visit Los Santos for fully immersive first-person bong rips in VR. The mod’s creators had to cut some corners to make the game compatible with modern head-mounted displays like the Rift and the Vive, however. Just an hour of gameplay last week laid me out sick for the rest of the night.
After about an hour of updating drivers and tweaking my headset, getting the software itself set up was remarkably easy. Step one was to start with a fresh install of GTA 5. I purchased mine on Steam. Then I downloaded the mod, which is completely free. I lost my old save file, so I grabbed someone else’s from a database online. After installing the mod, I was off to the races. You can find a complete installation tutorial, plus links to all the files you need, on YouTube courtesy of Virtual Reality Oasis.
After running a quick batch file to select the mod’s quality settings, I was able to start walking around inside Franklin’s endgame safe house on Whispymound Drive straight away. That’s where I found the virtual bong, all loaded up and ready to go. I spent a few minutes lounging around, watching in-fiction television programs, and looking through Franklin’s telescope. The experience was surprisingly authentic. It felt every bit like the other pre-fabricated penthouses that come with most VR headsets, just without the accompanying shovelware.
Then I stepped out the front door, put on a crash helmet, and took off on a high-powered motorcycle. That’s when things started to get iffy.
To create a stereoscopic 3D effect in virtual reality, you have to show each of a player’s eyes a slightly different image. To make it comfortable, a game needs to keep serving up those images at a rate of about 90 frames per second. Multiply by two — one screen for each eye — and you end up at 180 fps, which is a herculean task even for modest video games. For an open-world adventure game as complex as GTA 5, 180 fps simply isn’t realistic. So, the creator of REAL cheated with something called “alternate-eye rendering.”
Suffice it to say, the effect is not ideal. There’s a bit of lag between what the right and left eye is seeing. It’s especially evident when you look to your left or right while driving. Things aren’t quite as crisp and, occasionally, it felt like I was seeing double. Sitting idle doing bong rips in Franklin’s apartment was fine, but hitting top speed on the highway and turning my head to admire the view of the coastline left me wanting to barf all over my office. Add in the other little stutters and imperfections that come with hacking something like this into an existing video game, and it was not a comfortable experience.
But, it was remarkable while I lasted.
Leaning down over the handlebars of a high-powered sport bike in first-person, racing through oncoming traffic in VR, is incredible. I also earned a new respect for the artists at Rockstar Games, who created some gorgeous car interiors. There were also moments of deja vu, including my trip to the Los Santos airport inside a taxi. That facility is clearly modeled after Los Angeles International Airport, a place I’ve been through at least a dozen times over the years. Taking that trip in VR felt just like taking it in an Uber.
I was especially impressed at how well the mod handled GTA 5’s collection of aircraft. Turns out that the cockpits are realistically detailed and scaled to fit the player character. The visual experience is right up there with War Thunder, which supports VR headsets natively for its own aircraft.
But alternate-eye rendering definitely does not agree with me. After about an hour my stomach just couldn’t take any more. There is a way to disable the alternate-eye rendering, but at the expense of losing the 3D effect. I’m still not sure that it’s worth it, but I mean to find out soon.
What I’m most pleased with is that the mod isn’t a total conversion. It’s more like a new game-plus mode, one that gives me the ability to boot GTA 5 up with or without VR. I intend to spend a little more time in-game this week, queuing up little experiences across multiple save files. That way I can try skydiving, for instance, without the hassle of making myself sick on the drive back to the airport. Here’s hoping that folks use a similar strategy to reprise the game’s signature stunts, including the infamous Liquor Hole, in VR.