Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last year, you’ll be quite aware that Driveclub’s release hasn’t exactly gone to plan. Initially set to be a launch title, just a month ahead of the PlayStation 4’s launch it was revealed that the game would be pushed back to 2014. That delay turned out to be a lot longer than initially expected, but as Evolution Studios gradually started to talk about the game once more ahead of E3, it seemed that they were starting to win people over. The year-long delay might just have been worth the wait.
As reviews landed a few days ahead of Driveclub’s launch at the start of October, opinions were generally favourable. The very focussed approach of pitting you against other players’ record and challenges is a smart and compelling one, which combines well with a handling model that balances sim and arcade sensibilities. It wasn’t everyone’s cup of tea, certainly, and launched in the wake of the very well received and vastly more expansive Forza Horizon 2, but with the PS+ Edition also on the cards, it had the potential to win a number of people over that were still on the fence. At least, that was the plan.
Come launch day in North America on October 7th, Driveclub suffered from a fate that has become all too familiar in this age of constantly connected games. Just as with SimCity and Diablo 3, the Driveclub servers went offline under the weight of the general public, practically immediately. Taking to their Facebook page, Evolution rattled off quick fire updates on the situation. Outwardly, it seemed as though this could be down to the added pressure of those playing the PS+ Edition of the game and so this was quickly pulled from the store and blocked from connecting, restricting access to paying customers. However, as the week rolled on to include the EU and UK releases – today being the one month anniversary of the UK launch – it became clear that the issues were more fundamental than that.
The problems also seemed to have Evolution stumped. On October 8th, they announced a kind of ‘one in, one out‘ policy, October 9th came with an announcement of essential diagnostics and October 10th then saw server updates that allowed more players to log in, albeit with the core system of challenges and social updates disabled.
However, it clearly wasn’t simply a case of throwing more servers at the game – though bringing more servers online was something they were certainly doing – and as patches 1.03 and 1.04 rolled out rather soon after launch, the patch notes pointed to client side fixes required to reduce the load of each individual user, which had been compounding the issues. Whether server or client side, the game is still not running as originally intended.
It even came to the point where there was simply too much information about the game’s state floating around, to the extent that Paul Rustchynsky stopped replying to tweets on Twitter – though potentially related to a somewhat inadvisable reply noting that they were considering compensation of some sort – and Facebook updates were reduced in regularity.
“We know we have been quiet over the last few days,” they eventually wrote on October 28th, “which was because we wanted to offer you news when it has a meaningful impact on your experience of DRIVECLUB.” They continued on to state that “Our diagnostics show the majority of you are now able to get online and racing.”
Yet the game is far from out of the woods. Challenges are still disabled, of course, but while the “majority” can connect there were often a handful of comments to say that they still have issues. Let’s not forget that the PlayStation Plus Edition is also still missing in action. Eventually Shuhei Yoshida took to Driveclub’s Facebook page at the end of October to apologise and announce the indefinite postponement of the PS+ Edition. Since then, with Shu stating that time frames for fixes remain unclear, there has largely been silence.
But where does that actually leave Driveclub? During October, it was the most purchased game on the EU PlayStation Store – though it was 5th in the US and didn’t really set the retail charts alight in the UK – and though this was certainly helped by the cheaper price for those on with a PS+ subscription, a number of regular commenters on TSA have caved in and bought the game despite the troubles, many of whom have subsequently had positive things to say about it and happily played their way through the single player Grand Tour while waiting for more fixes.
The server troubles continue to be plain to see when you log into the game. The challenges system is still blanked out on the main menu, removing one of the key points that would have me returning to the game on a regular basis, and everything that requires a link to the internet is sluggish and prone to not working. Loading up my club and its status took me several minutes, for one thing, while trying to join a multiplayer race was particularly painful, with numerous disconnections and time outs before I could actually connect to a lobby.
With such problems, it’s difficult to see how they can conscionably push ahead with their original plans for DLC, with the Season Pass originally set to add cars, liveries, tracks and events from November onwards, none of which have appeared so far. The weather patch will almost certainly have been put on hold, as resources are shifted around. This all puts Evolution as a whole in a tricky position, with Driveclub already having been delayed for a year and at great cost to Sony, and sales almost certainly lower than they might have been with a smoother launch, the lack of a quick resolution to the game’s problems and sell through with DLC could have Evo’s existence hanging in the balance.
As with so many things, we’ll just have to wait and see what happens next.