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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.