Driving Rain: Driveclub’s Weather And How The Delay Benefits Us All

Driveclub is the most astoundingly beautiful racing game I’ve ever seen. It’s easy to get caught up in the hyperbole of separately rendered layers of paint and realistically textured suede seat coverings. Those things – ostensibly, at least – don’t really matter to a racing game. But then you see the attention to detail up close, you witness the borderline obsessive care taken with making sure that everything is just right in this game’s world, and you realise that this focus has a purpose after all.

The development team at Evolution has come under some flak for the lengthy delay to their PlayStation 4 flagship title and with several other racers now looming large, it’s undoubtedly been a risk to push back the game. Especially when you consider that it probably would have been perfectly viable to release it at the console’s launch – albeit in a less complete fashion. So it was something of a brave decision, and probably a series of difficult discussions with Sony, that led to the delay.

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Again, it was the singularly focused desire to make it the best possible game they could that held up the game. Nothing was necessarily wrong with what they had at launch but they saw areas where they could improve it. They recognised the important aspects of what they had and they wanted to be totally sure that they got those right in the finished product. All evidence suggests that they have indeed got those important aspects just right.

This manifests itself in the new dynamic menu system which makes the user interface a kind of persistent live area that shows you information relevant to your place in the game and in your club, as well as among your friends and acquaintances. Driveclub is designed to give you pertinent information that encourages you to compete – either in multiplayer or in the full single player “Tour” mode – and then allow you to get to the track as quickly as possible. The load times between tracks are so fast as to invite accusations of witchcraft. 10-15 seconds sees you move from one gorgeously rendered circuit to another. That’s fast.

The decision to stick to 30fps rather than the smoother, more responsive 60fps that many racing fans would doubtless have preferred is something they obviously considered closely. They’re promising no noticeable visual difference and no input delay at the lower frame rate. The extra power they get to make everything look that much prettier was considered enough of a benefit to take the lower number of frames per second that they could work around anyway.

So it looks fantastic and they’re doing very smart things with the interface. You shouldn’t worry too much about the frames per second they’re pushing and you’ll be amazed by the load times. But the main purpose of the behind-closed-doors E3 presentation was to show off their new dynamic weather systems. And their almost unsettling attention to detail has permeated this aspect of the game too.

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There are ripples in the puddles as the raindrops strike the surface. You probably won’t notice that at 120mph but with the game paused and a developer’s build free-flying around the scenery, they appear. That free floating camera also allows them to show us that the rain is falling on the distant scenery in just the same way that it falls on the track. The whole world suffers the effects of whatever weather is occurring. That might seem unnecessary but a low sun and a freshly soaked distant mountaintop cause glints that can distract you just as much as the glare from the surface of the wet road.

They’ve made some sensible decisions that allow for accessibility in the gameplay too. The snow isn’t quite so dense as it would probably be in real life. So it’s still possible to drive at night time with headlights on and see something through the windscreen. That’s not quite in keeping with a 1:1 simulation of the real world but Driveclub isn’t trying to be that.

It’s trying to make the most precise visual representation of the racing experience in a way that’s accessible to a great many racers. Realistic snow blindness and dense snow build up on the road would make for an unusable game that nobody would enjoy. Inching around a track at 15 miles per hour doesn’t sound like fun to me, but racing around with some visual impediments and a slippery surface still sounds enjoyable.

Weather is altitude-responsive too. Starting out at points high in the Norwegian mountains will see you above the snow line. Racing a point-to-point down the mountainside will move you through the cloud, into heavily snowing sections and eventually to lower altitudes where the snow turns to sleet. And all of this looks even more stunning in the dark of night, with headlights catching the snowflakes or raindrops and glowing brake discs reflecting in the surface of the wet road.

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It’s not finished yet, they’re still building in lots of layers of particles and screen space so that the droplets that you see pooling and running on the car bonnet will also be striking the camera in external viewpoints. The wipers will push water around the windscreen realistically and that water will pool and flow, impending your view from the precisely modelled cabins that feature for every car in the game. But even in this unfinished state, the dynamism of the weather, the clouds closing in and the heavens opening, all adds to the existing beauty of the game.

The delay might have been frustrating for many early adopters of the PS4 but given the difference it has made to the interface and the way they’ve attempted to make the best use of the extra time to add even more details to the game, it looks like it will have been worth the wait. And they’re working right down to the wire. Although the weather system at launch is dynamic, rain and snow won’t be quite ready for release but will arrive in a patch shortly thereafter.

Similarly, the free-fly mode in the developer build was requested as a photo mode and they’re looking into the possibility of releasing that as a patch too. Driveclub looks stunning and plays brilliantly, they’ve made excellent use of the extra time they’ve been afforded but they’re obviously committed to making sure they take all feedback on board and continue to support the game with added features coming before the end of the year. I played several of the upcoming racing games at E3 this year and Driveclub was, by some distance, the most impressive.

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15 Comments

  1. Sounds good, but I do enjoy ramming people out of the way in these sort of games, that to me is where a lot of the fun comes in, so my question is, how well does the game handle that? Is it like there is an invisible force field GT style, or is there a satisfying crunch as you slam them aside? And does damage show on vehicle after a collision?

    • I do not want to play online with you…

      Collisions are fine and you can muscle your way through like that, but you’re just as likely to lose out and hit a wall or something. Damage is then applied dynamically, but it’s fairly light and superficial.

      • Sounds OK, look forward to giving it a go when it hits PS+. I’ll try not to ram too many people. ;o)

    • In the E3 eurogamer demo when the player crashed into other racers it came up on the screen saying they’d incurred a penalty. I think jostling is okay but full on ramming people is punished

  2. This is what I’ll be buying a PS4 for.

  3. After hearing the Giant Bomb guys say the game was “meh” several times now I had written this off. Might just pay it some more attention now, although Forza Horizon is still the game I’m dying to play

    • Well it was pretty meh before the upgrades. Everyone has been praising it now.

    • I love me some Giant Bomb and subscribe but racing games are not their strength…

      Saying that when I played this at Eurogamer I would have agreed, since then it has been looking great though.

  4. Project Cars looks a lot more fun than this. This feels like it’s going to look pretty and better for single player mode, and project cars for multiplayer.

    • I played Project Cars on PS4. Obviously still time to polish it but the build they had at E3 looked dreadful, close to zero anti-aliasing meant that there were jaggies everywhere and it didn’t handle particularly well either. It was more Grid 2 than GT5. Driveclub looked and played better by an order of magnitude.

      • That Shift DNA….

        I have the early access Project Cars build on PC and Assetto Corsa beats it into tiny tiny pieces.

  5. I can’t wait to see some footage with the weather effects, the screenshots look stunning. Hopefully the dynamic menu system doesn’t mean constant notifications while you’re driving.

  6. Absolutely ridiculous level of visual fidelity. By far the best looking racing game ever made (beats out Project Cars for sure, which takes second place). Just hope the handling is good enough, but recent reports say it’s great anyway.

  7. Getting excited about this again! I’ll not notice the 30fps

  8. My biggest bug-bear with the GT games is the ridiculously long loading times, glad Evo has this sorted.
    And the visuals look stunning.

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