How long can a game concept remain just that, without ever coming to fruition? Ten years, if you’re the ambitious Matt Southern, Evolution’s Studio Game Director – that game: DriveClub, the PlayStation 4’s first exclusive racing title and one that hopes to pin the console’s driving credentials from the start when it releases – hopefully – at launch later this year.
Evolution have been there on both of Sony’s last two consoles, providing two rather distinct takes on the MotorStorm franchise. The first showed the PlayStation 3’s ability to throw around a visually rich HD environment whilst paying special attention to the surface under those tyres; and RC showed that even a resolutely single-player game could capture the sort of ongoing, addictive, competitive momentum most multi-player titles only dream of.
And now, for PlayStation 4, the studio is back with DriveClub. Revealed at Sony’s February event in New York, Southern was there again, looking a little more tired than the last time he surfaced (Apocalypse) but still stoic in his delivery and message: DriveClub was the culmination of a decade of ideas and concepts, and it would transform the genre in a direction hinted at with the recent Test Drive titles: it would be all about car passion.
How? By ensuring that each and every vehicle received the utmost attention and care. By ensuring that players felt they’d earned (and thus, ultimately, possess and own) each car. And by taking the race off the standard online channels and making it centre around the concept of clubs and teams.
A lot of this, in the time it’s taken technology to reach the sort of levels Evolution were looking for as a platform, has happened elsewhere. Atari’s previously mentioned duo built in teams with some success, and the Burnout series of late has pushed freeflowing, freeform multi-player considerably harder than many thought it might. Steered by publisher EA, racing is already all about constant, evolving, real-time competition.
MotorStorm RC was the spark for how DriveClub would eventually come about. Evolution used the game to test their theories and capabilities regarding connectivity and social networking, building up knowledge and expertise with what the studio call “asynchronous challenge-based racing” across at least two platforms – PS3 and PS Vita. The experience gained from RC was invaluable, but little did we know we were all effectively test subjects for something bigger.
Over the last decade, DriveClub has been modeled into something grandiose. It’s now not just about the cars or the road, it’s about making everything connected, broken down into teams that can compete at any time. With the birth of the PS4, Evolution are now able to expand that idea away from just the console, with your statistics, club members and vehicles all accessible on tablets or phones, wherever the player is during the day.
This might not be for everyone, but it fits perfectly with Sony’s new ethos for the PS4, and that omnipresent ‘share’ idea.
Southern explains recently why he thinks DriveClub should turn the tide on why multi-player racers just haven’t really taken off on current-gen machines. “One of the big reasons we think why is because traditionally in a racing game there’s only one winner, whereas in a shooter – if you’re in a group and you suck – as I do – you can still have a really rewarding time,” he says.
“You can kind of share in the glories of better players on the same team as you; get perks, level up, get XP based on that involvement. We wanted to do the same thing with a racing game and make one that wasn’t about finishing first. Finishing first is obviously awesome, but racing with friends – not in the traditional sense of just online multiplayer, but in clubs – has always been the thing we’ve really wanted to do with it.”
Gearing up for DriveClub’s next-gen construction meant an expanded team in the Liverpool studio. Evolution now employ coders, designers and artists who have worked on the best racing games out there – WRC, F1, WipEout, Project Gotham Racing, the GRID series, previous MotorStorm games and – yes – Gran Turismo. That’s quite a line-up of talent, and hopefully it’s one that can bring Southern’s concepts to a tangible, enjoyable reality.
The video demonstrated in New York showed a myriad of screens, pop-ups and triggers all flying around. The game won’t be that busy, consider that an exaggeration intended to get across the idea that everything you do will be relayed around the world to your team members and other teams. Challenges will be set automatically, races will happen with or without you and the persistent world will evolve in a structured yet organic manner.
There’s even the option to have week-long tournaments, which will work in a similar way to how the time trials did in MotorStorm RC.
DriveClub has huge potential. If Evolution can bring their vision to players wholesale then surely they’ve got a hit on their hands. The visuals look great (and nobody can fault the modeling) and the engine sounds, something criminally wrong on most racers, sound meaty without being overblown. It’s impossible to get a grip on the handling from the short demo (Southern calls the physics engine “accessible and super fun but also extremely deep” which is promising) but hopefully that’ll be something we can try for ourselves soon enough.
Evolution call DriveClub “first-person-racing”. It sounds slightly pretentious, but I’m inclined to think they might just be right.