Six Months Of Driveclub – Where Next For Evolution Studios?

It’s six months to the day that Driveclub was released in the US, followed by a crushing wave of server overloads and issues which seriously hampered the game’s online functionality until early December. To say that it wasn’t the launch that Evolution Studios or Sony had envisaged would be a gross understatement, but six months on, the picture is thankfully very different and Driveclub is much closer to the original gaming idea.

It’s still not perfect, mind. Playing the game again over the Easter weekend it generally ran smoothly, but I did see my sever connection drop over a long period on Saturday, though some of these hiccups may have been partly due to the game needing tweaks to accommodate the PS4’s new Suspend/Resume feature and the resumption of a connection. It still feels like the infrastructure isn’t quite prepared for the fabled PS+ edition of the game, as a consequence, but for those that bought the game, it’s easy to enjoy the wealth of added content that has appeared over the last half year.

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Over a dozen free cars have been added since launch – five of which came from the Ignition DLC pack which was made free – with things like the BMW M5 sat alongside the exotic bronze of the Peugeot Onyx Concept, the VUHL 05 and the April Fools Day gift of the MotorStorm Wombat Typhoon buggy. There’s also eleven new tracks to enjoy, whether it’s the track that was added to each of the launch locations or the six gorgeous Japanese tracks that came at the start of this year.

They add up to a rather sizable amount of additional content, if you’re willing to dive in and explore them on your own terms or want to dip into the game’s multiplayer and challenges where they feature quite regularly. Alternatively, it’s with the paid DLC that the game takes your hand and gives you a guided tour of the game’s ever changing highlights.

In addition to the two DLC packs that were made free by way of apology, there have been eight sets of new tour events, some of which are themed around the DLC’s nineteen further new cars, new weather effects and new locations, as well as combining all of this with what’s already in the game. Returning after a few months away, there is an almost overwhelming amount of new stuff to play around with, but barely an inkling of which cars are new, free, paid, old or whatever.

A push in the right direction is very welcome then, and Evolution have been able to create events which really bring the game’s virtues to the fore. The car handling is as tight and responsive as ever, but each still has its own unique personality and characteristics that you have to adapt to. The wet and cold weather adds another dimension too, as there is a tangible lack of grip through corners, the tyres futilely spinning as you drift, and there’s an even greater sense of fear and terror as you hurtle along bumpy, winding roads in a hyper car, struggling to see the next corner or your competitors through the blizzard-like conditions.

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Even with other racing games on the horizon, it will be near impossible for them to eclipse the stunning graphics and the atmosphere which Driveclub captures and continues to improve upon. December might have seen the introduction of wet weather, but it wasn’t until January that they added rainbows and heat haze in hotter climes or March when they added the shimmering mirages in distant tarmac to accompany them.

It’s no wonder that I regularly interrupt my playing session to enter the photo mode and try to capture the lightning strike, the reflection in the standing water, the way three of my car’s tyres have lifted off the ground as I mounted a kerb. The freshly added replay function lets me get more bites of the apple, to try and capture that exact moment that I want.

Currently restricted to single player, the replays are set to be able to preserve online races in the near future, alongside the upcoming addition of private multiplayer lobbies and things like new ranks beyond level 50. But these features were shared by Evolution just prior to the announcement of the swinging cuts and layoffs at the studio over a fortnight ago.

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Reportedly, 55 members of the team – a number that’s in the ballpark of being half of the studio – are either being laid off or relocated within Sony’s Worldwide Studios, and it puts the future plans for the game and the studio in a very different light. Viewed from one perspective, it almost feels like a punitive action, taken in the wake of the months of server issues and the almost certainly missed sales targets – checking the leaderboards, over 1.3 million accounts have at least finished the first introductory race – and yet these also come at a time which makes sense given the general ebb and flow of game development.

While further DLC packs are planned for release from now until July, all of the 11 promised tracks have been released, most if not all of the upcoming cars will be near completion and the tour events themselves could be finalised as well. Creating new content didn’t finish directly after the game’s initial release and came as the now familiar long tail of the season pass, but ought to now be winding down with July’s finish line in sight.

That’s maybe at the heart of what Sony’s statement meant, when they said that “Evolution Studios will now focus on Driveclub as a service going forward.” If DLC continues to be released after July, then it will certainly be at a slower pace than it is at now, and the same can be said of the active development of the game’s features, with a focus towards maintaining the game’s presence.

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Evolution are close to checking off all the major items on their to-do list, but there are still certain elephants in the room, with the PS+ edition of the game first and foremost, but also elements that fell by the wayside during the final months of development. There was, for example, a What’s New-like element below the menus to show your friends’ activities, and the intention was that you would book yourself in for a multiplayer event well ahead of schedule and then go and do other things while you wait for the lobby to open and a notification to pop up, whereas you currently have to sit and wait.

While the game and the developer’s future aren’t entirely clear, let’s not forget that Evolution have been in this position before and managed to come back strongly. MotorStorm: Apocalypse struggled when its fictional earthquake wracked city suddenly became all too realistic just a week before its planned release, with the tragic events of the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami. Sony kept faith with the company though, and MotorStorm: RC went on to proved some of the concepts that form the basis of Driveclub.

In the shadow of its dismal launch, Driveclub itself could become Evolution’s testing ground. Some parts of the game don’t quite gel as well as others, and the titular clubs haven’t really come into their own – individual challenges can attract hundreds of competitors, but club challenges seem to struggle to reach double figures, in my experience. Similarly, I’m left wondering what would be possible if users were able to tailor every detail of a challenge, from the Face-Offs that appear to the scores to beat and conditions of success, going beyond the relatively simplistic high score chase which challenges ended up being, regardless of how compelling and addictive that single hook can be.

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Of course, it’s impossible to know what Evolution and Sony have planned after the current stream of DLC and updates slow in July, but it’s my hope that they can push on and continue to develop their ideas, even with a smaller team to execute upon them.

A Motorstorm game in the Driveclub engine wouldn’t go amiss, either.

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27 Comments

  1. It would not be surprising to see Evolution go under. This is the second time they have had a botched launch or game (Motorstorm Apocalypse was not the sequel Pacific Rift deserved).

    Sony have shut down studios for a lot less such as Zipper Interactive and Studio Liverpool (merged with Evolution but it effecitively killed WipEout for the time being).

    I think they will survive because despite the horrific state it was in the game has sold quite well but how much of that will count for against the costs of updating and maintaining the game is another thing enitrely.

    • I find it hard to agree with your first statement – Whilst I have enjoyed all of the motorstorm games to an extent, he majority of fun times I had with them was in Apocalypse. Granted, that was mostly to do with having a regular group to play with online rather than just randoms, but the track deformation & racing itself I found the most enjoyable in Apocalypse. The ‘story’ was poop though, but there is another argument for story campaigns in racers anyway.

      Not saying you are wrong of course as it is all opinion at the end of the day, but for those that didn’t enjoy Apocalypse, you will find a group (of potentially equal size, but likely slightly lesser) who did.

      • Not necessarily saying it was a bad game as such. In comparson to Pacific Rift, it was weaker imo. The circumstances surrounding the launch botched the game. It was pulled from Japan doe to the Tsuami, delayed worldwide and no real marketing behind it.

        It might be the way in which someone corporate in Sony sees it. I certainly hope not however.

    • I know a lot of people that really enjoyed Motorstorm Apocalypse, such as young Forrest there. It was a major departure from the first two games, but then Pacific Rift was criticised for not feeling quite the same as the first game, and if it had been another mishmash of hellbent racing in exotic climes, it would have been criticised for not being different enough.

      I also think it’s very unfair to call it a botched launch, when it was a huge natural disaster which suddenly put its theme of city destruction in a very different light and saw Sony delaying or cancelling its release entirely out of respect for those affected. You can’t pin that on either Sony or Evolution, but it did have a serious impact on the game’s sales figures that would have been much rosier had the game come out six months earlier.

      • Brownie points for using the term “young”!

        Meant sarcastically I suspect. Which is fine, just happy it appeared. ;)

    • this isn’t really for you, but I don’t see where or how I can make a comment on this site.

      “taken in the wake of the months of server issues and the almost certainly missed sales targets ”

      the game sold 2 million copies, didn’t hit it’s sales target?
      it outsold fh2, yet I’ve yet to hear anyone talk about it not hitting any sales targets.

      • Place for new comments is right at the bottom, below the other comments.

        But, when you say the game sold 2mil copies, was that at launch, or to date? Not so impressive if it’s sold 2mil to date. This was supposed to be a system seller/forza killer & due to issues, it hasn’t been unfortunately.

  2. Driveclub is such an amazing game now, there are times where my breath is literately taken away, when playing it. Night run in a Zonda in cockpit view when it’s raining, is an amazing feeling and no other racer delivers such beauty and speed.

    I hope more and more people will pick up Driveclub, hopefully they can launch the PS+ edition soon and offer a fair priced upgrade, maybe even a complete edition with all the brilliant DLC.

  3. Great write up tef, i don’t think i’ve ever played a racing game which kept me coming back for more 6 months later and Evolution deserve praise for their continued support, despite the initial online issues. Not that i’ve bothered much with the online anyway.

    Going forward, i too am intrigued by the Driveclub as a service proposition and it will be interesting to see what exactly that entails.

    And don’t forget – your pictures (and anyone else’s) would be most welcome in the Driveclub Pics thread.. :)

    http://www.thesixthaxis.com/forum/bbtopic/driveclub-pics/

    • Good call… I need to get posting a few pics again when I get 5 mins. ;)

  4. Nice read.

    Along with the hundreds of hours I put into Terrorist Hunts on Rainbow 6 and defending or attacking M-com stations on BFBC2, this game is the best investment I’ve made since buying a console.

    If they release any content after the season pass expires I’ll be straight on it. Combined with what they’ve achieved with the weather & lighting effects, March’s events have some of the best looking races I’ve seen on Driveclub.
    The final races on the Lamborghini Events look amazing.

    I wouldn’t mind a new Motorstorm but I think I’d prefer a Rally Edition of DriveClub.
    One thing I do know is I’ll be gutted when the events stop coming.

    • They could do a cracking Rallycross game.

      • It would be epic. The thought of a track cutting through a forest with beams of light blinding you & mud flicking up on the windscreen would be insane. Especially with the added extra of damaged tyres and engines, including a petrified co-pilot gripping onto whatever ever he can when I fail to slow down for a jump and write my car off.

        Make it happen Evolution.

      • Rally CrossClub sounds like a great idea, or even DriveClub 2 !!!

  5. Does anyone actually think we’ll ever see the PS+ version?

    I think we’ve got another Ps3 x-game chat scenario on our hands where they say they’re working on it and then after ages they finally admit it’s never going to happen.

    To me, the layoffs all but confirmed Sony/Evolution aren’t that bothered about releasing the free version.

    • In a word (in response to your initial question), no. At least not in the form that we were supposed to get.

      I personally think that they will likely release the whole thing when servers quiet down a bit – Half apology, half arse-covering.

      • What form do you think we’ll see it in then? If we do see something, I’m hoping they expand it to include more tracks and cars than the original plus version.

      • Full game, possibly a bit of DLC thrown in for good measure?

      • Perhaps, but I think if they release the full game they’re likely to hold back the DLC in the hope people buy the season pass? No doubt Evo desperately want to make as much money as possible to stop Sony fully shutting them down.

      • Ah, yes – I think the same, but I know that there have been a couple of DLC bits & pieces given away to those that purchased the game (by way of apology for it being so broken at launch) that likely won’t be covered by the season pass now. Those bits were the bits I was referring to.

        Makes absolute sense to not include any other DLC in the hope that it generates sales. Sounds like they may need it!

    • To be honest I’m kinda hoping we don’t. There are already too many dicks online who only seem interested in causing mayhem at the first corner or needlessly trying to force you to crash or spin, especially when you’re on the same side in team events! Even worse is when they cause you to crash and end up in last in a race of one for the duration, then they quit the game so they’ve ruined your race then f#&k off!

      The influx of people from a free version would I fear cause a massive increase in such bad behaviour and completely ruin the multiplayer. The only way round it is to change the matchmaking so clean racers race together and all the bad racers can have their demolition derby.

      • We freebie racers won’t all be dicks, but I can see what you mean!

  6. To be honest I lost interest in Driveclub way before release when they waffled on about how many textures the seats have. I really don’t care about that, give me a game with amazing jumps and fast cars, we have Gran Turismo for the petrolheads, there was no need for a second “pro” racer franchise on PlayStation.

    • Waffle textured seats…you’re giving them ideas lol!

    • What?!!! You really should try it before saying that. Step the hell back onto the naughty step & stop speaking waffle yourself! ;)

    • I’m useless at proper racing games, unless I can barge my way past it’s no fun.

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