ON THE spectrum of racing games recently launched or coming in time for Christmas, with pure simulation (or reality) on the left and crash-bang-wallop arcade-style racer on the right, DriveClub sits right of centre ‒ perhaps what you’d expect of Evolution Studios, its creator and the team that also brought us the metal-crunching carnage, Motorstorm.
But if you like realistic handling from your racing titles, don’t despair; time spent with control pad in hand reveals that Evolution’s latest release is surprisingly rewarding for purists, and it’s thanks to some painstaking modelling of the real machinery on offer.
Let’s start with the basics, though. DriveClub is an all-new game exclusively for the Playstation 4 (PS4) console that takes the well-trodden racing genre further down the collaborative online multiplayer road than ever before.
At its heart is the opportunity for players to join, or form, a “club” of up to six real people. Twelve was originally envisaged but testing revealed being part of a club that large encouraged apathy among members. With a team of six, each player feels a sense of responsibility for its success.
Of course, when you first load DriveClub you’ll be an unattached outsider, or “free agent”, but can get started straight away. Soon you’ll be earning points and gaining fame, increasing your chances of joining a club.
Why not simply stay as a free agent, though?
“You won’t level up as quickly,” says Paul Rustchynsky, game director at Evolution. “Rewards, such as fame and unlocked cars, will take longer to earn.”
Essentially, if you’re good at the game and pro-actively help your club to progress, the rewards come quicker, in contrast to Gran Turismo, for example, where having the most virtual money allows you to progress faster (which, come to think of it, reflects the real world more closely).
DriveClub’s action takes the form of three game modes: Tour, Single Event and Multiplayer. Tour is made up of a number of grouped challenges around a particular theme (such as a VW Golf GTI cup), while Single Events comprise Race, Time Trial and Drift competitions. Multiplayer allows live racing with competitors via the Internet, of course.
Crucially, and unlike a lot of other games, points are deducted for hitting other cars.
Each event requires you to earn fame points by overtaking, staying full throttle for long periods of time, drifting around corners and so on. Crucially, and unlike a lot of other games, points are deducted for hitting other cars. After each race you can invite other players, or clubs, to beat your time, do a longer drift around a particular corner, and other challenges.
Video: Interview with Evolution Studios
Jamie Brayshaw, Evolution’s senior community manager, explains: “The track is always recording which car you’re driving, how fast you’re going, how many points you’re scoring, if you’re drifting, if you’re in control and if you’re on the racing line. It leaves your mark on the track, and presents a challenge to other drivers to beat.
“It means that if you fall behind, like I often do, or if you make a mistake that in any other racing game would force you to restart, you can still play to earn points by beating these challenges. On the other hand, if you’re an expert driver and are way out in front, you still have this extra layer of challenge.”
“The track is always recording your driving. It leaves your mark on the track, and presents a challenge to other drivers to beat.”
This sort of gameplay will sound like a big turn-off to the pure simulation crowd, and Driving errs on the side of the purist, yet Evolution has definitely made DriveClub rewarding for serious car enthusiasts.
How? For a start, the handling of the cars (50 are available from launch, with more being rolled out as downloadable content in the coming months, at a rate of one per month) is not tricky to master, yet each car feels distinct and faithful in its recreation of the real thing.
Rustchynsky explains that each car takes approximately six man-months to build, starting with the official CAD (Computer Aided Design), gearing and other raw data from manufacturers to which is added Evolution’s own information, accumulated from dynamometers (a device for measuring an engine’s torque and power) and track tests.
When pushed, Rustchynsky revealed that the team had been unable to drive around 10 of the cars, but that almost every one of them was tested on a dyno. On that score, he flew out to the US to hook up the monstrously powerful Hennessey Venom GT at an independent testing facility close to the factory, while professional drivers provided real-world feedback.
Engine sounds have also received careful attention, with Rustchynsky encouraging players to invest in a proper home cinema surround sound system, and then crank up the volume to feel the true benefit.
In terms of the graphics, while the vehicles are stunningly brought to life with photorealistic polish, this level of detail is not uncommon these days and indeed, on next-generation consoles such as the PS4, it’s expected.
DriveClub goes further than most rivals, however, with the interiors of the cars also lovingly brought to life (only Project Cars has impressed us more in this area). There are working dials, and we even noticed the fingers of our driver’s right hand lifting up off the back of the wheel on certain corners, leaving only the index and thumb to grip, indicating a featherlight touch. He was as cool as Kimi Räikkönen, apparently. The short, first-person view of him climbing into our chosen car was also a nice touch.
By today’s high standards the visuals couldn’t be described as ground-breaking. Refreshingly, though, and reflecting how DriveClub isn’t simply trotting out the same old racing game experience, the locations span mostly untapped regions
The tracks, which comprise a number of racing circuits but mostly re-imagined versions of some of the world’s great driving roads, look detailed, crisp and luscious but again, by today’s high standards the visuals couldn’t be described as ground-breaking. Refreshingly, though, and reflecting how DriveClub isn’t simply trotting out the same old racing game experience, the locations span mostly untapped regions such as Norway, Scotland and Chile, which all have their own distinct character and challenges.
While playing the development version of the game, which previews a number of updates (including wet and snowy weather) that will be coming to DriveClub via a free download following its launch, we noticed a placeholder location and asked Rustchynsky what was on its way. Was it for another UK territory, perhaps, in addition to Scotland?
“I can’t say,” he replied, “but put it this way: in earlier development versions of the game we called Scotland ‘UK’, then came the devolution vote, which could have seen Scotland split from the rest of the UK, so we had to just call it Scotland.”
The Welsh, English and Northern Irish hold their breath.
DriveClub is available to pre-order and is released on Friday, October 10 (tomorrow).