Revisiting Sony's Driveclub - Two+ Years Since the Catastrophe (w/VIDEO)
Arguably, Turn 10's release title for the XBox One, Forza Motorsport 5, was a mis-step. Turn 10 even acknowledged this, and eventually set about fixing their stingy micro-transaction system to feel less like a punishment to gamers. However, despite those issues and gamers' response, the fact of the matter was that the XBox One at least launched with one of the staples of a console debut: a technically sound and solid racing game. Sony, however, missed this mark when Evolution Studios failed to have Driveclub ready on-time for the Playstation 4's launch. Not only did they miss the mark, but the game was delayed an entire year. And the fact of that matter is that, in most cases, games with storied, long-delayed development cycles typically don't do well. They are typically problematic, in terms of quality, at best, and often suffer from being on tech that has now been outpaced by however much time has lapsed beyond the title's originally planned release date.
Revisiting the title 2.5 years since its launch, this was apparently not an issue for Evolution Studios. In fact, the resultant shuttering of the studio, a punishment for the late shipment in my eyes, regardless of the PR niceties around it, was not well-deserved. Evolution Studios produced an incredibly competent racer, once which easily stands up against the Forza franchise years since it released in-between Forza 5 and Forza 6. What mars the history and reputation of this game more than anything is Sony's Killer Instinct-like, byzantine micro-transaction model. And even with that, at least Evolution shipped a racing game while we are still waiting for this generation's Gran Turismo. A game that will release as Microsoft's XBox Scorpio debuts, which threatens to do what Sony's own PlayStation 4 launch did to Gran Turismo 6's release back in 2013; make it irrelevant.
Originally marketed as a game that was going to be free to PlayStation Plus subscribers, the fact is that PS Plus members really just get the game engine. The amount of content directly available in terms of cars, tracks, and events is horrifically poor in the so-called PlayStation Plus Subscriber's version. It, in fact, makes absolutely no sense for the game to even be provisioned in the store with this branding. Such branding should be applied to a version that is actually more than the baseline release. But it's not. The full version of the game is, thankfully, only $7.49 now, and at that price I roll in the opposite direction; where it makes absolutely no sense for any racing gamer to NOT have this title. Here are some videos and write-ups of my experience delving into this unfortunate title over the past week.
Here's Chapter One, my initial experience within DriveClub. Mechanically, it is a wonderful racer. You can hear me throughout as I find satisfaction in how competently the cars handle, and how familiar the physics model feels. Tracks, which are not all Formula One tracks and many that feel like original creations, offer a nice mix of stingy passing zones as well as wide-open tracks that allow outside passes galore. But what is disappointing here is that it takes much of my first 10 - 15 minutes in the game to understand what is going on with all of the locked content. What do I really own? Just the game engine itself with, like, 5 cars?!
Tire-wear here feels like it is hyper-accelerated so that it actually has impact in short-duration races. I am not sure exactly how I feel about that. It does not look like I have the ability to configure the race durations or lengths, so I guess my only option would be to turn tire wear off? I did not even look to see if that is configurable. My frustration with the content model continues to plague me almost 30 minutes into the racing session.
In session two, I start to find the AI here pretty darned competitive. I had to really work to make the positions I needed (or wanted). By the end of the first race, where I was really trying to max my position, I was being pushed much further out on the edge of the vehicle's stability and forced to drive within a more razer-thin safety margin than I was typically prone to drive within. By this second session, I had gone into the Store and paid for the full version, and I found things much more pleasant. You get a lot of wet tracks in this game. A LOT. Much more frequently than the norm. So much so that I am not sure that something is not configured incorrectly somewhere. I'll need to check on that. Still, an overall great experience racing.
Session 3, in some ways, was my favorite time revisiting this series, as I finally got to check out the multiplayer. In a lot of ways, Driveclub's multiplayer reminds me of Project Gotham Racing 3 (PGR3) on the XBox 360, and that makes for a pretty high compliment for me. A basic lobby system, pick your car, get on the track. No muss, no fuss, no hoopla. It is not quite as fast to get into and finish a race, but it is the closest I have seen in this console generation to being as quick and easy as it was in PGR3. Driveclub's multiplayer engine does its best to get as many players in the room for the start of a race, and I like that. Even in PGR3 on the X360, I would often wind up running a race against one opponent because the room had not filled up yet. I still feel the gap created by Sony not including even a cheap earpiece in the console itself, so as to encourage people to talk online. But other than that, this is highly likely to be my new Friday night gaming gig. I still like Forza Horizon 3, but this multiplayer mode with the lobby-effect, beats that hands down.
It's a shame what happened with this game and its parent studio. It's an example of how business direction and an overly performance-focused (versus value-focused) management environment can often crush even the best intentions of a dedicated creative team. Evolution Studios did one of the best jobs in creating this racing sim; arguably the best of any racing game this console generation. They should have been rewarded, rather than shuttered. Hopefully the small number of them that remain at Sony are being treated better now.