Evolution’s car culture racer might well turn out to be the PS4’s killer app at launch, but here in June it’s very much a work in progress. In fact, the build, clearly marked with a “35% complete disclaimer”, wasn’t much to go off at all – one track, a smattering of cars, clearly unfinished visuals. If this was going to be the catch-all day one release it most definitely needs more time in the oven.
Thankfully time is something Evolution Studios have on their side. The game, at least according to the developers I was speaking to, is under constant refinement. Things that didn’t look quite right in the current build would either be sorted by the end of the week or had already been ironed out in the previous few days, or so I’m told. A game seeing continual tweaking, a game perpetually building on its already solid foundations.
So whilst DriveClub today didn’t have the opportunity to capture the same degree of ownership and affiliation with the vehicles it has so accurately modeled, the arcade-like hurtle down a dusty Scottish track at least provided some indication of how it would play. Thrust into one of two clubs (set up specifically for the E3 press demo) players could then pick from a duo of high powered cars (think McLaren, Hennessey) and – after a cheeky snapshot of your visage – start their engines.
The build was set up to demonstrate the game’s asynchronous nature, and it also highlighted the way Evolution have ensured that every player – no matter what their skill level – can contribute towards the success (or, indeed, the failure) of their club. Lap times are important, as you’d expect, but so are the equally balanced Fame points, built up Kudos style from a sum of mid-race excerpts. Think average speed between two points, drift score around a corner, or your skill at a tight chicane.
All the while, your nearest opponent appears at the foot of the screen (with a photograph, remember) and your points from each section are weighed up against theirs. Coloured strips highlight who’s won (and who is winning overall); ghosts appear on the track all around you; competition is never more than a glance away. Imagine MotorStorm RC in expensive supercars and you’ll be somewhere near – it’s evident that the developers used RC as a blueprint, and the effect is staggering.
No matter what you do, or how you do it, it counts. If you’re not a great racer, perhaps you’re good at drifting; if you’re not great on corners, perhaps you’ve got no fear and will happily smash the average speed record for a given segment. This works so well because it continually remaps to your skill-set, picking relevant opponents at every junction. And at the end, you see not only where you are amongst everyone else, but also how your club has done as a result. Addictive? Yes.
Visually DriveClub isn’t quite there yet. The 30 frames per second framerate teases months of future development (although nobody wanted to really speak on record about the fabled number 60) and although the fictitious UK course offered plenty of high speed straights and tricky corners combined with an impressive draw distance, the game doesn’t necessarily scream next-gen. The textures are solid, the lighting is great when it’s called upon and the cars look fine, but I wasn’t necessarily blown away by the graphics on offer. There’s time for that, of course.
The handling is great, though – it’s solid at low speeds and terrifying at high, the twitchy nature of the physics meaning you’re kept on your toes throughout the race. The track offered provided plenty of challenge, not least because of the multiple challenges that occurred during the couple of minutes it lasted, but it also showcased a reliable, consistent set of mechanics and rules that Evolution should be pretty chuffed with. Yes, it’s an arcade racer, but it’s a good one.
Barely a third complete, DriveClub isn’t nearly ready for any kind of meaningful judgement. I really enjoyed playing the game, something I did repeatedly, and the developers hovering around the eight station setup were both confident and humble: Evolution have a great track record and I’ve no doubt their PS4 debut will be stunning a little way down the line. As it stands just now, it handles well with some rock solid club-based integration that’s already ticking all the right boxes – but it’s not spectacular, but there’s plenty of time for spectacle.