After delaying DriveClub, Evolution is back on track with its PS4 debut

Publisher: SCE Developer: Evolution Studios Format: PS4 Origin: UK Release date: October 7 (US), 8 (EU), 10 (UK)

Let’s get this out of the way now: when it launches in early October, DriveClub will render at 1080p, but only at 30fps. Evolution Studios had hoped to achieve 60fps when development began, but even with PS4’s formidable power, apparently something had to give under the weight of the sheer amount of detail the team is cramming into the game. But in a genre that’s all about precision and speed, is framerate really worth sacrificing for the sake of fidelity?

“I absolutely think so,” DriveClub game director and former design director Paul Rustchynsky tells us. “I suspect a lot of people think we may have compromised the gameplay experience by choosing 30fps, but we’ve spent a huge amount of time minimising the latency between the pad and what happens inside the game so you never feel disconnected, and you never feel like you’re getting a sub-par experience.

“It’s a balance, because you can only do so much on any platform – PS4 has been fantastic to work with and we’ve done a good job of pushing it. It’s always a tradeoff, ultimately, and I think we’ve made the right choices to make the best driving game we could have made.” The payoff, he says, is exceptional audio and visual fidelity, backed up by a slick interface to support DriveClub’s intriguing social aspects.

The reworked menu system feels slick and intuitive, and the use of the touchpad as a home button is pleasing. Quite why it’s caused a year’s delay is harder to fathom, however.

When we previously played the game, it was 35 per cent complete and underwhelming, at least in some respects. But from what we see of the current build, players will have plenty to distract them from counting frames. Evolution’s attention to detail is, in a very real sense, obsessional. Every car in the game has been meticulously modelled, each boasting bespoke seating positions, and custom entry and hand animations for both male and female drivers. It takes the team roughly seven months to assemble each 260,000-polygon in-game model, all of which are treated to several layers of paint shaders, building up from carbon fibre (where appropriate) through to the gloss coat. It’s easy to question the studio’s excesses in rendering its carbon-fibre weave, but the result is that any exposed carbon matches exactly what you’d find on the real car.

Audio has been handled with the same fanatic reverence. Throughout development, Evolution has got its hands on every car in the game, capturing the sound of each engine with upwards of 18 mics. In-game, this is replicated through around 90 samples per car and a little granular synthesis, and if you rotate the camera around the car you’ll move from a throaty exhaust note at the back all the way through to the trebly rush of air at the front. We’re ushered into a waiting Ferrari 458 to listen as audio director Alan McDermott revs the engine a few times, then plays the in-game equivalent to us. The comparison is remarkable. McDermott tells us that, on hearing his team’s work, both Mercedes and BMW requested Evolution’s recordings to replace their own sound libraries. In audio terms, DriveClub is peerless.

“I’m fighting now to get it so that in the race, music’s off by default,” says Rustchynsky, laughing. “The music is the car engine; that’s what you want to hear. And the sound’s going to improve by the time players get their hands on the game as well, [since] we’re just finishing hooking up the drive train so that you get the oscillation as you switch between the gears. It sounds great, especially in cars like the [open-top] BAC Mono, where it’s a very direct noise from the engine.”

DriveClub is, visually speaking, worlds ahead of the previous build we played, and the team is promising even more improvements in the form of reworked particle effects, depth-of-field tweaks and other flourishes.

But while DriveClub’s delay has allowed for a great deal of additional polish, the main reason for the hold up was the UI. Evolution wants to make things as simple as possible for club members, with its own party system (you can still use Sony’s party chat if you wish) and a dynamic menu. The newly devised system starts at the high level with options such as Drive, which covers racing and time trials; My Club, which displays statistics and other data; and Challenges. Beyond that, there’s also an activity feed similar to the one you’ll find on your PS4 dashboard that shows you what your friends are doing and which challenges are available. Click on any of the displayed notifications and you’ll go straight to the relevant track to take on that challenge yourself. And rather than have a lobby, DriveClub presents its live events as a race calendar, allowing you to book a slot in advance for an event taking place in a few minutes, or even one several days away.

On top of all of this, a free DriveClub mobile app will allow you to check on club progress, manage team members and even watch streamed races from other players. It’s a simple enough system, but one that keeps DriveClub’s social rivalries at the forefront of everything you do. It’s convincing enough on paper, but finding out whether it can keep pace with Need For Speed’s excellent Autolog will have to wait until it’s in the wild.

And this is where DriveClub’s delay might prove a boon. Evolution could have been there at PS4’s launch, but admits the experience would have been a compromised one. Now it will be able to sell its vision of a socially networked racing game to over seven million players. If Forza 5 and Battlefield 4 are examples of what happens when a developer is rushed, DriveClub is shaping up to be a paragon of allowing a project the time it needs to reach its full potential.

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