Taking Driveclub To The Track

Evolution haven’t had the easiest time over the last year of developing Driveclub. The racer was originally pitched as a PlayStation 4 launch title, it didn’t come as too big a surprise when it was delayed just weeks before the PS4’s launch, but the months-long communications blackout that followed would have worried many. Then the “re-announcement” trailer was marred by a disappointment at the locked 30 frames per second, not to mention the kerfuffle that surrounded the PS+ Edition of the game.

Yet, having gone hands on with the game after their months long media blackout, these outward struggles fade into the background. As you would expect from the direct capture videos that have been put out, the game is simply stunning to look at as you play. Each car is rendered in meticulously high detail, both inside and out, with light reflecting realistically of every surface in the materials-based rendering system.

The audio sees just as much painstaking care, with heavily miked up cars put on a dyno, taken out on track and on different surfaces, recording every possible sound the car makes is several different ways. It’s all then blended together, and the sound team was able to show off an impressively accurate simulacrum of the Ferrari 458 Spider that was sat in the car park outside.

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It’s an attention to detail that applies far beyond the cars and to all of the tracks, spread across five countries – Canada, Chile, India, Norway and Scotland – that, with an array of different locations and styles within each, have a dazzlingly impressive scope, to the extent that I’m sure that the majority of players simply won’t appreciate the scale of what exactly is being accomplished. Regardless of whether it’s a race track somewhere in Scotland, a road circuit that weaves up and down the sides of mountains in Iceland or a route that goes for well over 10 miles in a point-to-point race, the landscape stretches for miles around.

Then there’s the day-night cycle within the game, making full use of a powerful lighting engine in tandem with the dynamic cloud generation and other environmental effects to create some truly stunning skylines, which can look quite impossibly vibrant and colourful at dawn and dusk.

There are, admittedly, a handful of disappointing graphical points. Pending incoming rounds of optimisation, anti-aliasing wants to be improved as further effects are added. However, it’s the trackside spectators which, though a blur as you whizz by, have low polygon counts and stick out like a sore thumb when you look closer, even if they are a marked improvement on having sprites. It’s a minor complaint, but may indicate a point of diminishing returns in other areas.

Considering the lengths to which they go for graphical authenticity, their dedication to the cause is both admirable and impressive. Nobody will see the tops of the clouds, for example, and you’re unlikely to notice the different types of trees and bushes that grow on the sides of roads in India, or even truly appreciate the way that different altitudes effect the way the colour of the sunlight. No, these are all highly impressive elements that are being rendered in real time, but your focus will be on the action on track.

Much is made about the refresh rate in games these days, and if that is something that matters so absolutely to you that you will not play a game, then Driveclub is not for you. However, it is consistent and is rendered in 1080p with a rock solid 30 frames per second no matter what’s being thrown about on screen.

You can race with up to 12 cars on track, and there’s an array of 50 cars which range from hatchbacks to supercars and beyond to things like the Caterham 300R. From the handful of cars I was able to play with, the handling came out on the more accessible side of things, certainly. Whether a Ferrari F12 Berlinetta, Mercedes SLS AMG or RUF RT12R, all the cars were pretty easy to get to grips with, though the RUF naturally felt like it wanted to understeer.

Though they’ve worked from the manufacturer specifications, calculated aerodynamic forces, suspension travel and on and on, this isn’t meant to be an absolute simulation. In the interests of accessibility, it was explained to me that braking efficiency has been increased, while I found that drifting was relatively easy to control, even if I could also find myself spinning and facing the wrong way or hitting a wall.

While I generally played with my preferred bumper cam, a brief dalliance with a Thrustmaster wheel delighted me by letting me use a dashboard camera, an interesting halfway house between letting me play within the car, but not obscure half the screen with a rendered steering wheel.

Battling with the AI on Easy difficulty level was obviously more about trying to cut through the traffic on often tight and winding roads as quickly as possible, as the races see you starting at the back, but playing on Hard put the leader too far out of reach for me, needing me to get to grips with the cars and find the way through corners, as well as pass a more competitive pack of AI. Though not as brutal as MotorStorm, there were shades of this on show, with the AI jostling for position and more than happy to swap paint and expose the fairly subdued cosmetic damage and deformation.

However, getting to eager to bump your way through will lose you some of the Fame that you earn during an event. While it’s easy to try and bash your way through, there’s that elation of pulling off that sweeping move without contact and keep all of the points for an overtake. Fame will also stack up for things like drafting or doing well in the randomised dynamic challenges which appear during an event, to follow a racing line, score the most drift points through a series of corners and so on.

These naturally tie back into the more social aspects of the game – more on that shortly – but I came away from my time with Driveclub quite keen to see and play more. The graphics engine, the variety of locations and the depth to the details in every aspect of the game is impressive, with further graphical effects and refinements still to come, while the core driving experience was easy to pick up and play, but over time will hopefully also be able to offer the depth and nuance that the more vocal racing fans demand.


Come back over the next few hours where we will have more post on Driveclub that focus on the dynamic menus and social side of the game, as well as sitting 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.

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22 Comments

  1. I’m stuck in a limbo between this and Projects Cars at the moment….Decisions Decisions!!

    • Buy both! And don’t forget The Crew too.

  2. This is beginning to once again sound quite promising. Hopefully I’ll be flying past the spectators too quick to notice if they look a bit pony. From what I saw of the 1080 Canada video they released, the graphics look great.
    Glad they’ve got a buyer view.
    Hopefully by the time this is released, the PS4 will be able to play MP3s etc so I can have my own soundtrack on the car stereo.

    • *Bumper view. If I could beat the prediction / spell correction thing with an axe, I would!

  3. Not sure I’ll play Driveclub but I’m still fascinated by its concept as a social racer. That and the lovely graphics. :-)

    • Must be worth a pop if you’re on PS Plus. Even if you haven’t got a PS4 at the time, you can save it to your download queue… Do it!!! :)

  4. I would rather have a locked 30fps than a dynamic frame rate up to 60 fps.
    Looking forward to every bit of info for this.

  5. Sounds excellent, one game I’m actually really looking forward to!

  6. Great write up!

    How did the handling feel in relation to PGR 3/4? I loved the handling in those games and had just enough weight to make it satisfying but not cumbersome.

    • Sadly I’ve never quite managed to get around to grabbing a 360, so I can’t make that comparison. It’s always hard to discuss handling, but the cars generally seemed to handle very well. If you want it to go somewhere it will but, importantly, even with the enhanced braking you need to get your braking point right, or you’ll find the car’s momentum dragging you into a wall or off the grippier parts of the road.

      • Thanks for the impressions. Seems to get better each time they show it, can’t wait.

  7. You see, that’s what I love about TheSixthAxis.com, the honesty and integrity. You post a disclaimer right there at the end of the article noting travel and accommodation expenses have been paid for by Sony. This declaration in no way detracts or brings in to doubt the integrity of the article or the wider site, it actually affirms the identity of the site, the community and the culture.

    Nice write up Stefan. Thank you. I’m getting really excited now about DC.

    • Well said… +1.

    • To be fair Eurogamer does that aswell, nut I wouldn’t say it rivals TSA when it comes to writing, at all. Comments sections are complete contrasts aswell.

      • Just to clarify, I meant to say ‘but’, not ‘nut’ :/

  8. After the redent trailers and what has been said, I’m no longer concerned about what 30fps will ‘look’ like. However, how it feels and responds is another matter.

    • It’s like that pretty girl everyone fancies… She’s pretty and everyone’s asking her out, but after a few dates they dump her and move on. A game needs to look great (mostly) to get the customers knocking on the door but it also needs the personality, the quality and the depth, to keep the the interest and win public opinion. It’s sounding like DriveClub might just have the looks and the personality.

  9. Now the mention of a wheel is what I find most interesting. As the owner of a fanatec csr I’m hoping to god that my wheel works with this and all other driving games on ps4. The whole xbox one not supporting a forza branded wheel was one of the reasons I sacked off the xbox otherwise I’d have both consoles by now.

    • They’re only talking about Thrustmaster at the moment, but will have more on wheel support and other manufacturers in the future. Chances are they’ll be supporting most if not all those that are commonly usable on PS3, but we’ll see.

      • I have all digits firmly crossed. I won’t be hacked off at this sarge like I was when it became apparent that forza 5 wouldn’t be compatible with my fanatec, especially as I clearly bought the better system for me. It would be nice though and to be honest as there is a USB port in the PS4 I don’t see why it wouldn’t be possible for the fanatec to work. Time will tell…

  10. This is going to sound a daft question but what type of racer is this when you play? Does it play like a sim or a fun racer? I am really interested in this but I was bored by Gran Tourismo (and more importantly rubbish) but I love need for speed / Burnout type racers.

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