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Opinion

DriveClub, And The PS4's Fight For A Racer Of Its Own

"There's never been a console before that has had connectivity at the core of its hardware design."

DriveClub doesn’t have it easy. It’s not the only racer to launch on Sony’s new PlayStation 4 later this year, and it faces competition from within: Polyphony’s Gran Turismo 6, which will release on an existing platform around about the same time, no doubt with considerable marketing. But against EA’s flashy Need for Speed and the promise of Ubisoft’s lovely looking The Crew, Evolution’s plucky, brave community-based racer might just show the world that maybe, just maybe, there’s enough here from the boys in Liverpool to make this one stand out.

After all, despite Matt Southern’s February debut, where he revelled over the stitching in the fabric and the minutiae in the detailing, DriveClub isn’t for the hardcore. It’s for everyone, regardless of their ability to actually drive. And it’s for those that are as happy engaging in a rich community on their iPhone, miles away from a PS4. Indeed, as Col Rodgers, Evolution’s Game Director on the project tells me during a recent presentation, the game caters for “a group of people who expect more from a racing game than just needing to win.”

And he’s got a point. DriveClub isn’t all about your times, your driving skill, your ability to read the road ahead or even keeping your car on the road. “Think about any major sporting event,” says Rodgers, “the World Series, the EUFA Champions League – it’s all about teams, it’s all about clubs. Clubs bring people together – your friends, when they need you, and you can bask in their glory when they win. For the first time ever in a racing game, we’re going to give you the opportunity to do exactly that.” It sounds like a script, but he’s right – DriveClub is trying something different.

Rodgers explains that the concept has been brewing for close to a decade. It’s an ambitious design, and no-one’s ever done this before because “before PlayStation 4, it was never possible.” Rodgers cites the PS4’s built-in networking and community features – “there’s never been a console before that has had connectivity at the core of its hardware design,” he explains, before reminding us of PlayGo – the system integrated into the console that lets gamers start playing whilst the game is still downloading. “You’ll be up and running in minutes,” he says, presumably exaggerating the speed of most people’s connection.

But DriveClub isn’t limited to the PlayStation 4. It’s one of the first games to really push beyond the core device, with the Vita, smartphones and tablets all able to connect in and interact with your club and the wider game. The Game Director even confirms that you’ll be able to “watch your friends play wherever you’ve got an internet connection”, regardless of whether you’ve got your PlayStation 4 with you or not. That’s a bold claim, but it just goes to show that the game is reaching well beyond what we’d normally expect of a title in the genre.

This won’t just be an in-browser webpage, either. Rodgers says they’re putting out “support applications” for all the major mobile phone platforms, suggesting there’ll be dedicated apps that’ll connect into Evolution’s dedicated servers for the game, skipping around the PSN and dialing straight into your club, your community.

“It’s all about playing together,” explains Rodgers,” and it’s all about teams.”

And it’s not just about racing online, with the developers taking their experience with MotorStorm: RC’s addictive asynchronous modes which saw you competing for times against your friends’ ghosts, and everyone else around you on the leaderboards. They weren’t racing live, but it was just as good as, and everytime you beat them they got a message letting them know. For a good while, it was the only game I played, and that sort of connectivity suited the way I personally game more than anything ‘live’. DriveClub taps into that with huge success.

But back to the track. “DriveClub lets you do exactly what you want to do,” adds Rodgers. “If you want to aim for the apex, you go for it; if you want to slide around every corner, showboating for the crowd, you can do exactly that.” DriveClub’s set up for what Evolution are calling Face-offs and Overdrives, a series of challenges left around each course by the game’s designers and – crucially – other clubs. Overdrives can be anything from drifting around corners to maximum speed checkpoints, and they pepper each track keeping everything fresh.

Your success at these intermissions feeds into your ‘fame’ score – think Kudos - which is kept separate from the actual lap times but at the end of each event is worth just as much as your ability to finish first. “Every time you play, you win,” says Rodgers, “and there’re tonnes of ways to win.”

What hasn’t been discussed a great deal yet is DriveClub’s ‘service model’ system. When you buy DriveClub, you’re buying entry into a club, a pack of cars and a nice range of courses to drive and race on. But the game will only be partially complete. “We’ll make sure that the community grows,” says Rodgers, “and we’ll keep supporting the game. This won’t be a game that disappears from the shelves in no time at all, because it’s going to grow. We’ll feed new content to the game every week.” Rodgers mentions something called “DriveClub Live”.

“New tracks, new game modes, new cars,” he explains. He’ll later talk about the ability to actually change the core game itself, perhaps integrating weather conditions. For how long? “Throughout, ” he confirms, “for the indefinite future. If you’re interesting in socialising, and you’re interested in cars, DriveClub is the place to be.”

“Even though we’ve gone for the biggest and brightest now”, he tells me, talking about the car range on show during the demo, “there’s all sorts of stuff that we’re going to cover.” Hot hatches were mentioned, but the team wouldn’t be drawn on what was the ‘slowest’ car in the game. “And the game you buy on day one,” he adds, “isn’t going to be the same game you play a year down the line. It will have evolved a lot. We can make changes in the background, too, you’ll log on the next day and there’ll be something better, or bigger.”

That’s DriveClub’s angle. That’s what sets it apart from the sterile but perfectly balanced Gran Turismo – that connectivity, that social networking, that desire to be part of a club – the best club – and get that club to the top of the leaderboards. It’s akin to what Test Drive Unlimited tried to do, but several steps on, with everything much tighter integrated and with that all important asynchronous racing for when you won’t want to be (or can’t be) fully online and involved in multi-player. The game’s persistence will carry on without you.

“The PlayStation 4 is the most powerful console from a graphics point of view that’s ever existed,” says Rodgers. The team’s especially proud of their “accurately simulated clouds” and the realistic lightning. “None of this is baked,” he says, in perhaps a dig at Turn 10’s Forza 5. “Everything is live – if you want to be in a certain geographical location at a certain time of day it’ll appear exactly as it would in real life. Even the stars are correctly mapped in the sky.”

“We love cars,” he smiles, finally moving onto the topic we’re there for. Rodgers explains he’s owned over fifty cars in his eighteen years of driving – “including some pretty bonkers stuff” – and drops an anecdote about Evolution’s lead car artist rejecting a car model because it had the wrong screw on a floor plate. Hyperbole? Perhaps, but it’s a story intended to demonstrate that the studio are serious about accurately transposing these top end cars into a game with unwavering attention to detail. “Attention to detail,” Rodgers remarks with another smile.

And then there’s the final trick, the Trojan Horse that is the PlayStation Plus version. A ‘lite’ edition of DriveClub, which Evolution’s Paul Rustchynsky tells me will be “available day one” and will be “virtually the entire game except for some of the assets, it won’t necessarily have all of the cars and all of the tracks, but the online multiplayer, the asynchronous challenges, the single player campaign – it’s all there.”

It means that from the off the game will be populated by everyone with Plus (and of course, everyone that buys the game on a Blu-ray disk or from the PSN Store) – a huge launch day influx of gamers of all skill levels forming clubs, racing against each other and setting challenges. Offering the cut-down version of the game (albeit one with the actual core game intact) is a hugely smart move by Sony, getting the game onto as many PlayStation 4s as possible should hopefully cement DriveClub as the go-to racer.

Will it succeed? DriveClub’s betting is fairly spread out – it’s not just about a handling model, it’s not just about cars, it’s not just about amazing visuals and it’s not just about a social network: it’s about a blend of everything, with just enough of each to make it tick the right boxes. There are prettier racers, there are more realistic racers, but Evolution have aimed beyond such objective qualities and opted to make the game a wider experience, a social one, a long-term one. The vehicle, in the strictest sense of the word, is just that.

DriveClub releases alongside the PS4 this November.

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30 Comments
  1. Kamokazi-UK
    Member
    Since: Sep 2009

    Colour me interested.

    Comment posted on 26/06/2013 at 15:04.
  2. uncleniccius
    Member
    Since: Jan 2012

    I’m interested in this despite the mediocre showing at E3.
    Supposedly all of Evolution’s games have been like this prior to launch, and they become polished very late on.
    Anyway, I’ll play the Plus version and I might pick it up if I enjoy it, but other games (NFS Rivals is an example) are also looking great.

    Comment posted on 26/06/2013 at 15:05.
    • cam the man
      Member
      Since: May 2009

      I think UniSoft’s The Crew is it’s biggest rival.

      Comment posted on 26/06/2013 at 15:55.
      • Kennykazey
        Member
        Since: Mar 2010

        Yeah, The Crew looks miles ahead of NfS.

        Drive Club sounds cool though, and I hope they deliver. I’d love some old sport and supercars too, like a Countach, E-Type, F40…

        Comment posted on 26/06/2013 at 16:48.
  3. three_leg_jake
    Member
    Since: Aug 2011

    This is a very interesting looking game and it is a clever move bundling it with the PS4. For a “social” game to have an instant critical mass of users is a great idea.

    BTW last paragraph, first line says “it’s just about a handling model”, I think there is a “not” missing.

    Comment posted on 26/06/2013 at 15:07.
  4. 3shirts
    Member
    Since: Aug 2008

    Lots of lofty claims and if they pull it all off, it will be amazing. I’m concerned that it’s all a bit Molyneux though.

    As for ‘up and running in minutes’ well, technically 240 minutes is still minutes! lol

    Comment posted on 26/06/2013 at 15:07.
  5. DJ Judas
    Epic
    Since: Aug 2008

    The only thing that gets me interested in a racer nowadays is if it’s not open world, or allows me to jump from event to event without having to needlessly drive between them.

    I’m not too sure if Driveclub is open world, but as long as it’s not forced, I’m in.

    Comment posted on 26/06/2013 at 15:21.
  6. ashw92
    Member
    Since: Aug 2010

    If Driveclub and most of the other great games shown at E3 this year have told me anything it’s that I really need friends…
    Still, Driveclub does look great really looking forward to playing it.

    Comment posted on 26/06/2013 at 15:30.
  7. KeRaSh
    Member
    Since: Nov 2009

    “and the promise of Ubisoft’s lovely looking The Crew”

    I’ve heard this a few times now and I really don’t see the appeal of that game. Visually it looked like a PS3 game and the chase scene wasn’t really interesting.
    Need for Speed will gater directly to the arcade crowd. I haven’t been interested in a NFS title in ages. Drive Club is pretty arcadey too, but the game seems to strike some kind of balance between arcade and simulation, which I like. The Club aspect is also pretty much up my alley. I’m not a big racing fan and I’m not a good racer but Drive Club will also reward people through other means besides winning races.
    I’m already sold on this game and GT6 will not sway my interest by releasing on the PS3. If there was a PS4 version on the table I’d be interested but the fact that Drive Club will be free but limited to PS+ members is a huge bonus.

    Comment posted on 26/06/2013 at 15:32.
    • freezebug2
      Member
      Since: Dec 2008

      Visually like PS3?
      Surprised by that comment after seeing the hands on video review. I thought the render was just about the closest to realism seen in a console game yet especially if that was actual gameplay video. The streets and buildings were realistic quality imagery alongside the highly rendered cars and if that runs at 60fps then wow!

      http://www.thesixthaxis.com/2013/06/17/hands-on-the-crew/

      Comment posted on 26/06/2013 at 23:07.
      • kanishou
        Member
        Since: Jun 2013

        Which video review are you talking about? The article you link to only shows the trailer, which is unfortunately all CG. I was quite disappointed when they showed the actual game after that trailer. The only thing I disliked about Ubisoft’s E3 showing was the amount of CG trailers. I don’t feel that this should be necessary anymore. Forza, GT and Drive Club trailers have basically all been in-game/in-engine. Yet people keep talking about how awesome The Crew looks, so I guess it still works. :/

        Not that The Crew graphics are bad, for an open world game it’s still impressive and suitably next-gen (drawing distance, etc). But not exactly mind blowing either.

        Comment posted on 27/06/2013 at 11:22.
      • freezebug2
        Member
        Since: Dec 2008

        Out of all the next gen racer in game/in engine CG trailers I’ve seen so far I found The Crew to be the most impressive eye candy, and better than anything PS3 released.
        I just hope these next gen racers don’t play out like Need to dash ‘The Runs’ or similar. ;)

        Comment posted on 28/06/2013 at 09:08.
      • kanishou
        Member
        Since: Jun 2013

        But The Crew trailer is neither in-game nor in-engine, doesn’t that make a difference to you?

        Actually gameplay looks like this:
        http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iuSvOYkBx24

        It still looks good, but nothing like the trailer.

        Comment posted on 28/06/2013 at 15:26.
      • freezebug2
        Member
        Since: Dec 2008

        Ops, yeah appologies mate I meant in game or CG trailers, The Crew being the most impressive to me so far in both areas mainly due to the open world aspect. It’s probably too early to judge anyway but gameplay will be the deciding factor anyway for me. ;)

        Comment posted on 28/06/2013 at 20:23.
  8. Zephyre
    Member
    Since: Aug 2009

    Love the idea of new content on a weekly basis, as long as it’s not paid DLC segmenting the community

    Comment posted on 26/06/2013 at 15:35.
    • cam the man
      Member
      Since: May 2009

      Evolution has a good record for not charging too much for DLC but hopefully there’ll be some free stuff too.

      Comment posted on 26/06/2013 at 16:22.
  9. bunimomike
    Member
    Since: Jul 2009

    The attitude, I find, to be absolutely exemplary. They want to create a racer that’s fun but because of everything that comes with it, not because of everything it is – if that makes sense.

    The game will probably live or die by the community aspect and it appears they’re onto a good thing so far but after launch will be the acid test. Fingers crossed the community (and game) gathers enough momentum to see it lasting for a good few years.

    I love the idea of it simply because it seems to embody not only the spirit of racing but all that comes with it (ie. meets, challenges, reminiscing, puffing of chests, etc.).

    In a way, I hope Drive Club is a huge lesson to the likes of Gran Turismo et al.

    Comment posted on 26/06/2013 at 15:41.
    • Bilbo_bobbins
      Member
      Since: Jun 2009

      exactly how I feel about it. I’ll definitely be checking it out early on. I just want it to freshen up the racing games that are out there and this seems to be heading in the right direction.

      Comment posted on 26/06/2013 at 15:48.
  10. JesseDeya
    Member
    Since: Jan 2010

    “DriveClub isn’t for the hardcore. It’s for everyone, regardless of their ability to actually drive. ”

    And I’m out.

    Disappoint.

    Comment posted on 26/06/2013 at 15:42.
    • Bilbo_bobbins
      Member
      Since: Jun 2009

      I don’t understand how that’s a bad thing?

      Comment posted on 26/06/2013 at 15:49.
    • KeRaSh
      Member
      Since: Nov 2009

      I think you are misreading this. The hardcore crowd is part of everyone. The way I understand it is they will have content and competitiveness for hardcore racing fans but they are also means to make this game fun and accessible to everyone else. You can get points for your team without having to come in first place and so forth.

      Comment posted on 26/06/2013 at 15:49.
      • JesseDeya
        Member
        Since: Jan 2010

        How am I misreading it? Alex says…

        “DriveClub isn’t for the hardcore.”

        I’m a hardcore racing sim fan. If they dull the experience down so that ‘anyone’ can drive it becomes Need for Speed. That’s a whole different proposition to what I was hoping/expecting.

        I’ll still try out the PS+ Edition, who knows – it may surprise me.

        Comment posted on 26/06/2013 at 23:11.
    • double-o-dave
      Member
      Since: Nov 2008

      Well if you’re thinking of getting a plus account you may as well give it a whirl. This ain’t no Dr Pepper ad, but whats the worst that can happen?

      Comment posted on 26/06/2013 at 16:11.
    • kanishou
      Member
      Since: Jun 2013

      I also enjoy hardcore racing sims, but I also enjoy fun games in general, and if it’s an authentic racing game then all the better. That’s why this isn’t competition to GT, I am certain that I will get and enjoy both equally. Like he said, Drive Club is for when you feel like partying with your favourite band, while GT is for when you feel like enjoying some meticulously crafted musical masterpiece. It’s nice to mix things up occasionally.

      It’s quite clear from their comments and the hands-on videos that they are not intending to dumb down the driving model to a point that the game becomes uninteresting to experienced drivers. They are going for “easy to learn, hard to master”, i.e. it’s easier to stay on track, but not necessarily easier to lay down good lap times.

      I also really like that they do all this without driving aids, so all drivers are always on the same page.

      Comment posted on 27/06/2013 at 11:35.

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