It’s been about a year since I’ve played upcoming PS4 racer Driveclub. It debuted at E3 last year; I found myself rushing to my PlayStation appointment to get my hands on it. I can’t tell you how disappointed I was with my first experience. It wasn’t at all like the big, shiny, socially connected next-gen racer I expected from the pros at Evolution Studios. I chalked the rough experience up to being early in the development process, but the reality was that it wasn’t that early — the title was expected at launch.
Since then, the title missed launch, was delayed, and is now slated for an October 7 release. It sounds like they’ve done a lot to Driveclub since that first showing. And I guess that work payed off. After my first hands-on I’m pretty sure I’ll be playing it regularly later this year.
Developer: Evolution Studios
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertaiment
Release Date: October 7, 2014
I played a challenge race sent directly from the game’s director. He had just finished a race and used the post-event prompt to instantly create a challenge for his friends and opponents. Though you can create challenges like this at any time, it’s pretty neat to be able to do so off the back of a race. Imagine feeling especially good about your times and being able to use your performance a challenge to all others. You can also search through your race history and start a challenge from any past performances.
I took on his time in an Audi V8 R10, racing around a nice looking mountain/forest course against other AI opponents. I found that the racing feel sat heavily on the arcade racing side, being less fussy with turns and braking than a sim racer. It feels something like a forgiving sim racer with all assists switched on, so you won’t have to worry about spinning out much. But I appreciated that its roots are still grounded in realism somewhere, at least enough so that it won’t disappoint fans of, say, Gran Turismo or Forza. I also enjoyed that Driveclub has nothing in the way of racing lines available as an assist, though those used to following them might not be as pleased with the omission.
It wasn’t long before I raced past the AI pack in my first time around the track. Evolution says that they’ve spent a lot of the development time on the game’s AI, working to make it dynamic and aggressive. I was only able to play a few races, but I found it almost too easy to take positions, blowing past all but the top three or so racers. Granted, I was driving an incredibly fast car. I’m glad to say that I had no issues with locked trains of cars, and that there was no evidence of rubber banding in the top positions. I’m really not that worried about the AI anyway as I’m hoping to take on other real racers.
A bit down the road, the track threw a curve at me — literally. A short length of the course called a challenge zone had me trying to drift through it for score. I didn’t know it was coming up, but was more than ready for it the second race.
Driveclub constantly scores racers, with point notices going up with just about any action. Overtaking a car for position gets you 500 points, for example. But going off-track will dock your score the same amount. Vehicle impacts seemed to range from 100 points up to 600 or more. And in that second time around, my drafting attempts were adding to my score with smaller numbers. So you’re racing for time, as always, but you’re also racing for score.
It sounds like the bulk of the work put into Driveclub is on its social and connectivity sides. Evolution is aiming for immediacy and seamlessness with online play. They want it so that it’s as easy as possible to connect online, join friends, create clubs, and race the day away.
We got a full walkthrough of the Driveclub dash and online features, and it looks like the options to connect and play are pretty robust, but we’ll have to get it in our office to really get a feel for how buddying up will work. We do know that all players are instantly put into a party, and that you’ll sat in one at all times. Through the game’s always active social hub you’ll be able to jump into an activity that interests you. With that running party already active, those in yours will automatically be prompted to join the activity you’ve chosen.
If you’re not out to create your own races or challenges, events will be suggested for you, putting you up against racers of a similar level, or against others in your club. A mobile app called My Driveclub will let you live stream the gameplay of your friends or club mates, All of your stats and placements will also be available in the app, giving you plenty of updates to keep you in the game even when you’re out.
You’ll be able to create and schedule events as you please, with the backend taking care of invitations to your party and friends. Through the event creation options you’ll be able to set locations, difficulty, opponent types, and much more. Even the time of day can be set, and through time lapse options you can even set the speed of how day turns to night.
I saw a custom day/night cycle in my test laps, complete with some pretty incredible lighting and reflections. The reflection of the track on my car’s hood was easily the best I’ve seen on a console — I could easily make out trackside features like trees and road markers. Driveclub runs at 1080p, with no scaling tricks. But it runs at 30 frames per second, a choice which Evolution Studios says lets them push visual distances as well as beef up physics and audio.
A couple of challenge races around a single track was enough to have me feeling better about that first showing at E3 last year. This version of Driveclub looks and plays much better, and has plenty of social connectivity hooks that I’m sure I’ll be getting into. I had a good time going up against other previewers last week — I quickly tuned into the driving feel and was able to place second by my second lap, and was happy to jump back in again to try to top it. If I got that much from just one challenge, I could see getting much more out of the full experience.