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.
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.