Posted on May 22, 2014 AT 07:00am
The brake fast club
Racing games and I have a strange relationship. Here and there, I’ve fallen for a particular title: Sega’s Hot Rod and Sega Rally, Atari Games’ Super Sprint, Need for Speed III: Hot Pursuit on the PlayStation, Namco’s Ridge Racer franchise. Evident from my list, my tastes have generally skewed more toward the arcade-style racer. Hit the accelerator, forget you have a brake, powerslide around curves—you know, those kinds of things.
Start to drift more toward the sim side of things, and that’s where you usually lose me. It’s nothing to do with their quality or attention to detail; it’s everything to do with my utter lack of car knowledge. I can tell you a couple of makes and models of cars that I’m a fan of, and I know how to check to see if my oil is low—and that’s getting pretty close to the extent of my automotive expertise.
Still, sometimes racing games from that end of the spectrum catch my eye, which is what happened with Evolution Studios’ Driveclub. Part of the appeal of the game is its heavy focus on the social aspects of getting together with other racers to challenge each other; another is the fact that Sony promised a slimmed-down version of Driveclub free to PS Plus subscribers for the launch of the PlayStation 4.
Unfortunately, shortly before the console’s launch, it was announced that Driveclub wouldn’t quite make it in time for November 15th, 2013. When I (and numerous other members of the gaming media) had the chance to finally go hands-on with the game last week, its delay was the first thing the Evolution Studios team wanted to address. The bump to almost a year later was definitely an unfortunate need, but one that they promise will end up making for a better game.
Part of the need for an extended development schedule was Driveclub’s menu system. Everything about the user interface has been crafted to help connect players together—either in a general way or on a closer, more tight-knit club level—and getting that just right took time. Every menu comes to life with interconnectivity, as specific activity feeds connected to each menu keep players up on the accomplishments of friends and teammates, new challenges received, posted lap times to beat, and more.
Driveclub also offers other elements to appreciate about what Evolution is doing when you’re not in the driver’s seat of your favorite machine. For those who can’t stand the adrenaline cooldown between races, the team is keen on keeping load times short—so that players can stay in the driving action as much as possible. Another interesting element? One of the examples we were shown of the game’s social aspect, where players can craft a challenge based on a previous run. One member of the development team in the room placed a quick race, recorded his score, and pushed it out to all of us as a new available challenge. Even better, challenges can be crafted around any of your previous races—no matter how recent or long ago.
Then, of course, there’s the game itself. Evolution had more time to push forward the rendering tech for the game’s graphics engine, as well as improve the real-time audio on cars and trackside details to provide for a better (and more realistic) experience. When it came time to finally have my own go at a race (testing my might against that received challenge), it was evident that Driveclub certainly is an impressive game—both on a technical and design level. Yes, the game is 30 frames per second, a decision that has supporters on both side of the framerate argument. However, Evolution’s assurance that avoiding a commitment to 60fps was exchanged for higher visual fidelity and technical polish is definitely believable.
My race started in the early hours of dawn, and as I did my best to fly around the track with only a minimal amount of dings to my car, the sun rose in the distance, bathing the world around me in light. Well, some light—as there was a decent amount of cloud cover overhead. (An honest admittance: I have a strange fetish for weather in racing games. So, consider your work at integrating dynamic weather into the game much appreciated, Evolution Studios.) The team hasn’t just focused on how the game looks, to be clear. How it plays is also important, and one example of that is an effort to make the game’s AI drive smartly yet aggressively. Every race should feel different, the developer says, and that’s one step toward that goal.
My one-on-one time with Driveclub began and ended with that single race. All things considered, I thought I’d done pretty well—yet, admittedly, I was a little sad to see I’d only ranked fourth among the highest scores posted by the room of media types. It’s hard to really say how the full Driveclub experience with unfold once the game hits store shelves (and hard drives) this fall, because so much of that experience is based around the friendships, rivalries, and competitive spirits that will be born (and fueled) via online play. What I can say for sure is that my interest in trying out Driveclub is still strong—and I’m looking forward to getting a full chance to do just that come October 7th.
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