Developers: Evolution Studios
Publishers: Sony Computer Entertainment
You think of Evolution Studios and MotorStorm is the first word that springs to mind -- the series with which the British studio made its name, combining searing speed with vehicular combat, diverse racing arenas with multiple routes to choose from, and real-time deformation. So it is that when we consider Evolution, we think of raucous arcade racing, with an emphasis on spectacle and frenetic engagement.
So sitting in front of Driveclub feels a little sterile at first. After all, in Sony's corner we already have Gran Turismo, Need For Speed, and everything in between. Here's yet another driving game with social features woven into the fabric of the experience, standing on the shoulders of Autolog.
But, we are told, this is a game with friendly interaction baked more intrinsically into the game than any that have come before it, and actually our brief hands-on time with the game does feel that way. We're given a couple of tracks and a couple of cars to play around in, and there'll be highlighted sections of the track that beam in data from the friends list that's been constructed. At the start of the demo, we're encouraged to take a picture of ourselves with the PS4 camera, and then constantly bombarded with challenges as we work our way around the track.
There are two teams -- one for each of the two cars available -- and besting your nearest rival in any of the challenges earns you points for your team. It was a shallow example of the sort of team-based dynamic that the game hopes to exhibit upon release.
So, what's the top speed you can get your car to hit along this straight? How accurately can you drift around that hairpin bend? How spectacular can you make a crash on this particular corner? How fast can you complete a single lap? There are races within races, and the constant social feedback all goes a little Inception and you find yourself almost forgetting that you're in a standard race, instead finding yourself sucked into a world of micro-challenges.
The game looks very pretty indeed, if not quite as stunningly next-gen as the Forza 5 footage that we've seen, with the cars themselves pleasantly stealing the show, though it has to be said that the track-side detail was a little lacklustre. Those who grumbled at the lack of cockpit cam in GRID 2 will be pleased to note that Evolution have stuck in a dizzying array of camera perspectives into this racer, including one that puts you directly behind the wheel.
That being said, handling proved a little problematic. It might have been the supercars that were on offer to race, but we never felt once like we were in total control. Of course, it's important to note that we really didn't have that much time with the game, so it might well have simply been a case of acclimatising to a new balancing model. What is clear is that Evolution haven't just reskinned MotorStorm with proper cars. Driveclub slots in between the likes of Project Gotham and the more arcade-y settings of Forza in its efforts to ensure each car feels distinct, but having been playing GRID 2 and Need For Speed: Most Wanted a whole bunch over the past few weeks, I found that some adjustment was in order.
I'll say it now, I loathed the motion controls. Driveclub will offer gyroscopic control via the DualShock 4, but I found it supremely twitchy and quite why anyone would want to play the game that way is frankly beyond me. Driveclub is a game of fine margins, and replaying tracks to shave milliseconds off of your times and best the feats of your friends. The DualShock 4 might well offer such precision from a technological standpoint, but I found the experience far too frustrating to warrant closer inspection. If you really want a wheel, buy a wheel.
So what, then, can we say about Driveclub, based on our short demo? Well, it's a racing game. A rather shiny racing game. It's liberally peppered with micro-challenges that we rather love. Yes, social features are awesome, and we could use more of them, leveraging healthy connections to the cloud to sprinkle games with more asynchronous multiplayer features. Driveclub certainly seems on course to deliver a more connected experience, though we'll have to wait and see to really assess the extent of that. If Evolution and Sony can deliver on that, though, it makes the inclusion of Driveclub as the first PS4 freebie (albeit in "lite" form) for PS Plus an exciting prospect: a racing game as a slickly connected, convenient community. More please.