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Available exclusively on PS4First rule of Driveclub: Don’t launch Driveclub if you are not 100 per cent happy it is the best game it can possibly be. That was the running theme throughout the day I spent at the studio responsible for unconventional racers like the Motorstorm series for the PS3 and the more traditional World Rally Championship games for the PS2.
Watch the Driveclub gameplay trailer
It doesn’t take very long to realise why Driveclub didn’t make its scheduled launch alongside the PS4. It was ready, but the team at Evolution Studios were not happy largely with the social mechanics that underpins the game.
In the words of Game Director Paul Rustchynsky, “The quality, it wasn’t there. It wasn’t seamless, it wasn’t an invisible layer that made everything run smoothly and we would never want to compromise the game.”
Although a great portion of the extra refining time being used essentially build a social network on top of a game, other areas of the game have definitely been given a polish as well.
See also: DriveClub release date and rumours
There’s a team dedicated to hooking up 16 individual microphones onto each of the actual 50 cars in the game to have the most authentic engine sounds inside and outside of the car. Plus, there’s art team that spent months in India underneath blankets taking photos of scenery and meeting with a botanist to pick the right plants to put into the game.
This is truly a labour of love and a new generation console game in every sense.
Driveclub is almost ready and will be available in the UK on the 10th of October but what exactly is it?
Well according to Rustchynsky and the Evolution team it’s not a racing simulation game but an “ambitious, social experience, which is about building a community of racers“.
It’s a driving game that tries to find the happy medium of offering hardcore racing fans the gorgeous supercars and fantastic environments to drive around and at the same time create the kind of gameplay that will still make it accessible for people who prefer to jump in and out of races when they can find the time to.
It looks like there’s something for everyone. There is a single player mode so you don’t have to be always connected, allowing you to perform time trials, enter drift competitions or go through the campaign-style Tour mode without the multiplayer experience if you so wish.
But, this is a game that’s really all about driving with and against your mates in clubs. These clubs, which you can name and personalise team badges for, can either be open to anyone or private if you want to be picky about who is allowed on your team.
Initially Evolution Studios did plan to have up to 12 members to a team but this has since been knocked down to six. Teams can earn fame points and accolades giving you access to more cars and liveries for your club. If you leave the club though, you will lose access to all of the unlocked content so getting itchy feet can be costly.
For multiplayer action, there’s synchronous and asynchronous racing so you can drive against clubs and drivers at a later point. This is based around a slot based system where you book races in advance. The game also builds in a session manager which is essentially an ever-present party system. This can be open or private and members can join to race.
A big part of Driveclub is the challenges. Whether it’s drifting, drafting or recording a top time on a track you raced a week ago, you can send out challenges to individual drivers or go for some club vs club action.
Dotted around the course there are further face-off challenges like beating a top average speed and that can be against a previously recorded performance or another Driveclub member. All of your individual race history is saved letting you skip through right from the beginning to see improvements you’ve made.
Evolution has kept to the DriveClub garage limit to 50 cars, which include the Pagani Huayra, the McLaren P1 and even the humble Mini.
Evolution says five of the 50 cars included are based on career progression and there will be micro-transactions to unlock further vehicles. In our hands-on time, it suggested that it could be £1 per car but the studio says it has not decided on the final pricing.
As for the tracks, Canada, India, Chile, Norway and Scotland are the chosen locations with 55 race courses providing the variety in terms of terrain and conditions to drive in.
Yearning for ‘cinematic authenticity’, Evolution studios has gone to great lengths to make the courses and locations as realistic as the PS4 hardware will allow them to.
This means visiting each of the countries and painstakingly analysing the environments to recreate them in the game. Whether it’s reproducing lakes in Scotland or hill climbs in India, Evolution has gone to the kind of lengths you’d expect to find in an open world game.
Sadly, despite the efforts the Evolution team has clearly gone it, you can’t explore the locations by driving anywhere off the track.
Even more impressive is the dynamic weather and lighting conditions. You can drive at any time of the day, see the sun rise and the resulting glare through the windscreen or the clouds form when it’s about to get rainy. Evolution says these environments will change year on year so the game you play this year will be different to next year.
The main reason for the Driveclub delay though has been nailing the dynamic menu. This is the tiled-style interface which you’ll need to use to navigate the different modes including the social networking elements.
The modes here are pretty standard fare. ‘Drive’ takes you into race mode, ‘Challenges’ helps you keep a check on club and personal race challenges and then there are sections for My Club, My Profile, Garage and Settings.
The developers claim you can move seamlessly between modes in a variety of ways and that’s largely true here. It looks like it might take a bit of time to get to grips with the core of social elements in the UI. For example, you can scroll down to quickly view activity from other Driveclub players and see the most recent fame points won for their club.
Click into these profiles and you can view PSN profiles, Driveclub profiles and even report a club for such indecent acts as defamation and drug references. Pressing triangle also brings a notification social hub giving you a place to see direct notifications from those involved in your club.
One of the nicest features is that no matter where you are in the menu screens you can click the DualShock 4 touchpad and it will take you right back to the homepage.
Companion apps are becoming part and parcel of games on new gen consoles. Most are pretty throwaway and you can live without taking up space on your phone or tablet screen. The Driveclub app which is going to be free on iOS and Android devices at launch pretty much has everything you can do on the game apart from race.
There’s an activity feed, a Challenge section where you can set up challenges and even forward them to friends. Before you accept a challenge you can study the tracks and identify the tricky bends. You can create and set up clubs, get push notifications but the most interesting feature is being able to live stream footage from another driver’s race from your phone.
So how does it play? Well it’s no Gran Turismo 6 but it then it doesn’t aspire to instil that kind of ultra-realism. All of the information about car performance comes from the manufacturers and influences car physics like top speeds. Braking times tip the balance back into the arcade racer court making it easier to handle particularly around tight corners. Collisions do not impact on the car’s performance either so while you will see damage on the car it won’t stop you from finishing in first.
We played it on Easy though there will be three difficulty options and once you can get to grips with the gear changes, which are controlled by the triangle and X buttons, it’s largely an enjoyable experience.
The more forgiving braking system will definitely appeal to the more casual driving game fans, but you can’t simply put your foot down and get through the course with ease. Driving through long straights with the more powerful cars has a very satisfying feeling.
L2 takes care of braking and R2 to accelerate with left analogue stick to steer though you can assign this to the D-pad or additionally use motion control. The Driveclub team had some input into the design of the DualShock 4 controller and the request to include the strongest possible gyroscope has really benefited the alternative method of steering. While it does take time to adjust, there’s a nice range of movement and is a surprisingly enjoyable option to steer with.
Playing through the time trials and single race modes, I wasn’t convinced by the long term appeal of the in-course face-offs that are easy to ignore and our brief time with the Tour mode was not enough to gauge whether this will be captivating enough for those thinking of staying away from online play. It does feel like most of the enjoyment will come from those online real-time multiplayer club battles that sadly we were unable to experience.
To look at, the extra work has really paid off. The cars look gorgeous inside and out. While you are not necessarily going to notice the grass swaying in the wind in the correct way, the vistas up ahead and beside the car as you drive are stunningly impressive.
It’s not all beautiful though. The spectators have clearly not been given the same love and attention as the rest of the scenery.
Driving at night or in the early hours of the morning is where the game excels visually and the dynamic conditions really do add another dimension to the gameplay.
Driveclub runs at full 1080p HD at 30fps, which the team says allowed them to deliver the detail on the cars and the lush environments. Frame rates on next gen gaming has been hotly debated but we can honestly say that from our time with Driveclub, it doesn’t suffer because of it.
Loading times are around 10-15 seconds so you are not waiting around to jump into different modes and that’s one of the benefits of working with the hardware in Sony’s new gen console.
First impressionsDriveclub is a game with lofty ambitions. Creating a game with such a strong social focus and trying to balance that with an enjoyable and rewarding driving experience is no easy feat. EA managed to pull it off with its Autolog feature in the most recent Need for Speed games but Evolution Studios is aiming to take the concept to the next level.
What I can say that it plays well and looks gorgeous with the attention to detail in places unprecedented for a driving game. The success of Driveclub truly lies with the success of online play, creating the right kind of team camaraderie for people to regularly invest time and keep races feeling fresh. The free DriveClub Playstation Plus edition that offers all the modes, a selection of cars and one course will go some way to helping that community to grow.
All the ingredients are there to make it the PS4’s first great driving game and well worth the extra wait to play it.
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