As we saw with the Gran Turismo series over the last few years, an overly complicated menu system can seriously hamper a game’s public perception. Considering that one of the primary reasons behind Driveclub’s year-long delay was their menu system and the social aspects that it ties into simply puts more pressure on it to deliver a experience that fulfils Evolution’s ambitions.
On the surface, its style has clearly been influenced by current trends in UI design, with a fairly flat and tile-based design, but this is really just a fascia to an otherwise easy to grasp layout.
In many ways, it feels like an operating system within an operating system. There’s enough in common that it feels like an extension of the PlayStation Dynamic Menu. It’s a feeling that starts with the rectangular tiles and continues with the ability to scroll down to a What’s New-esque activity feed dedicated to Driveclub news from your friends, before extending through to the ability to seamlessly return the front menu with a single press of the touchpad.
That front menu is nice and self-explanatory, with the Drive tile dominating the screen as the most important place to go, alongside the Driveclub Tour, time trials and online play nested here, but is then supplemented by Challenges and the tiles to quickly gain access to and control your club, profile, garage and settings.
Notifications that filter out the noise from the main activity feed to content and alerts that specifically focus on you, your challenges and your club live under the Social Hub on the triangle button, which also houses an in-game party system. Every player auto-creates a party at launch, for friends to join in and stick together more efficiently than using the PS4’s PDM.
It’s all in aid of shaving off as many seconds as possible, which is similarly apparent with the impressively quick track load times, with the brief car entry animation followed by just a 10 second loading screen. This brevity comes in particularly handy for online racing.
Rather than dropping you in to sit in a lobby and wait for other players to join you or for a race to finish, you can pick from a catalogue of upcoming races, whether seconds away or tens of minutes. While you wait, you can head off and play other races, challenges or whatever you fancy, with a pop up to alert you of the race’s start and ask you if you want to join in coming when it’s time, and if you’ve got a party or are racing as a club, you all get the same notification to bring you to the starting line.
The only proviso with all of this is the amount of time that we were able to spend with the game and that certain areas are still to be finalised. Creating a challenge was simple and intuitive to do, allowing you to pick from practically any event that you’ve driven in the game, set parameters for the length of the challenge and who will receive it, but it’s difficult to grasp how it really plays out over the course of a few hours, days and weeks, even if the immediacy of wanting to climb the timing leaderboards is apparent.
It’s also not entirely clear how clubs will really play out. Limiting them to just 6 players feels oddly limited, but there may be a method to the madness with shared objectives called Accolades, which could be racing a particular car or track or drifting a certain combined distance and earning your club Fame. Your effort are shared, with interesting twist is that 5 of the game’s 50 cars can only be unlocked as part of working together as a club, and with leaving a club losing you access to its unlocks and joining a high-ranked one will gain it.
Just as important as getting the game into peoples’ hands via the PS+ edition is to get them actively involved with the challenges and clubs and keep them active. As a lone wolf, you can always take part in the open challenges which are posted, but getting into an active club without knowing other players would be difficult, so the game will offer suggestions for clubs to join, people of a similar skill level to challenge and so on.
Meanwhile, when it comes to the companion app, another key selling point for the game, it looks to do a good job of replicating all of the necessary functionality to view your activity streams, receive notifications, interact with challenges and manage your club and profile. It even goes beyond the game, in allowing you to view a top-down map-based replay of a player’s race and quite uniquely has support for watching player streams built right into the app, but then other features like being able to pin a challenge or notification so it doesn’t get lost seem to be waiting in the wings to be added.
While there are certain rough edges and elements which Evolution weren’t willing to show off – the livery editor, for one – it shows a lot of promise for delivering on that original vision that they had. It’s impossible to really know how much has changed over the last 9 months, but right now, it feels like they’re getting closer to that finishing line.
This is our second post on Driveclub today, with our first focussing on the graphical prowess of the game and how it felt to take the cars on track. Come back later for an interview where we sat down with Simon Barlow, Design Director on the game.
We saw Driveclub with Evolution Studios on a trip to Liverpool, with travel and accommodation provided by Sony.