There’s never been a lack of realistic driving simulators out there in the console market and it seems that if a developer wants to show off what they can wring out of a new console, then driving sims are go-to territory. Evolution Studios, known for the Motorstorm series, did just that with new racing title Drive Club. And, really, who can blame them? When it was first announced during the PlayStation 4 reveal, they went in all guns blazing, showing off the immense level of detail put into creating the game (which admittedly did seem very impressive). Every little detail has been put in with the utmost level of research and precision. Everything, from the buttons on the dashboard, to the way you sit in the car, EVERY minute detail has been thought of and, needless to say it looked very impressive. However, I was yet to be swayed. Sure all this car porn was impressive, but what made it so different to the likes of the Gran Turismo series or Forza?
Well, my questions were answered earlier this week when I went hands-on with Drive Club in a pre-alpha build. And our demo seemed to be all about social interaction and racing as a team, a rather perfect set up for the Sony event at which we played it. Several televisions were lined up next to one another with some rather comfy cushiony stools for everyone to rest on while playing. At the end of the row sat a TV displaying a leaderboard measuring up the two teams individual and cumulative race successes. If you got enough points, your mugshot (which is taken before a race using the newfangled PlayStation Eye) and score was thrown onto the leaderboard for everyone to see. However, it’s how you gain these points that brings an interesting online mechanic to the racing genre.
Even from just playing a couple of races, it was easy to tell that the challenges aren’t just a simple gimmick to get more people playing. It taunts you into going faster down the straights, to be more daring in the corners and to learn when to flick your rear-end out at just the right time to get maximum driftage. You’re driven to do better as you’ll see a rival from the opposing team appear on your screen challenging you to do better. You don’t just see a name though, you get their face and their car drops in alongside a score you have to beat. It’s so hard to not be filled with a burning desire to dethrone this stranger and rub it in their faces when I unexpectedly bump into them later in the evening. But, of course, I’m a “professional” so I had to restrain myself. It’s easy to see this kind of competitive gameplay between friends escalating into a big hit with PS4 players, with the possibility of AutoLog-style notifications when someone beats your score or overthrows your teams dominance can only help draw you back in.
Evolution Studios has got a rather prominent past with driving games, albeit arcade centric ones, and it certainly shows. Each car’s handling feels rather spot-on, no matter your style of driving. It’s a close mix of the simulatory driving of Gran Turismo, with the more arcadey streak of Grid. Unsurprisingly then it’s very easy to pick up the basics and the challenges do their part in helping you to become more attuned to the way the cars handle and how to take each corner.
If you feel like you’ve mastered the handling in Drive Club to the point that you can do most tracks blindfolded, then I suggest you take on the monumental challenge of driving using the Dualshock 4’s motion control ability. Trying it out on the preview caused me to veer violently off course into barriers at the slightest accidental twitch of my hand. However, after a few laps with it I was managing to corner reasonably well, even managing a sneaky drift! Still, I was pretty pleased that I’d even managed to slightly get to grips with it.
Drive Club feels very well thought out, and I can see it being very popular with fans of the GRID series. Challenges give it a great arcade feel that’s sure to please those with a competitive streak within. Personally, I can’t wait to see what it’s going to look like when finished if the pre-alpha build looks so impressive. It’s certainly a title to look out for if you’re a racing fan, especially if you’re into the realism of how cars look and feel. Effectively, this could end up being car porn for many. The fact that PlayStation Plus users will be getting a stripped down version of Drive Club is sure to set it up for success as an early social PlayStation 4 title and will probably encourage a purchase of the full version – something I’m very much in favour of.