E3 2013: DriveClub Hands-On Preview

(EDITOR’S NOTE: Screens are taken from the trailer and provided by Sony. They are NOT screens from the Gameplay Demo at E3 2013 and are not indicative of what was played)

During Sony’s PS4 reveal last February a few games were highlighted to take advantage of the power and capabilities of the new console.  One of those games is DriveClub, developed by Evolution Studios, the same developer that handled Motorsport, another racer but on the PS3.  The information shared at the February reveal indicated that this was a racer to challenge all other racers out there, from the Gran Turismo Series to Forza.  Well I got some sit-down time with DriveClub at the Sony PlayStation booth during E3 this year, and I have to say that although there are some indications of a fairly good racer, it is not the racer trailers out there seem to indicate it is.

As I sat down in my chair and grabbed a hold of the Dualshock 4, I hit start and was asked to look at the screen and smile for my picture.  Yep, DriveClub uses the Eye Toy for the PS4 to take a picture and assign you an avatar of sorts for your race.  This is one area where I see DriveClub having some interesting aspects, that being the social side of things.  DriveClub is all about community and racing with friends and/or a “club”.  After I choosing my car (Audi R8) I was cued up and ready to race.  It was a quick start to the race, but away I went.

The first thing that was prevalent to me was how arcady this game was when compared to the likes of Gran Turismo or Forza.  My initial understanding from all the trailers was that it was a sim-oriented title; however, it definitely seems to lie on the more arcady side of things.  If I could sum it up, it was a combination of games like PGR and Grid.  Each car has its subtleties but in the end they are more about the drifting and crazy handling.  The Audi R8 I chose did have some traction, but given the way it would break loose and drift on its own I was somewhat surprised at the physics.  Now, I am all for different racing experiences, but I did not expect to be drifting my all-wheel drive supercar around the track without prompting the car to do so, especially after I had already played games like Forza and Gran Turismo 6 during the show and loved the handling of those games.  For those looking for a more sim-like experience, you’ll have to head back to your PS3 or hope that Polyphony Digital makes a GT game sooner rather than later for the PS4.

Visually I have to say that I was far from impressed.  The game did not have a next-gen feel or look to it at this time.  Granted, when I asked one of the team manning the booth they indicated that it was only 35% complete, and he pointed out the note on the top left of the screen indicating such.  The track we raced on was based in Scotland and there was some nice environmental details, some nice lighting and shadows, but it was far from what I was expecting.  The cars themselves were modelled fairly well and the interiors of the car looked pretty good, but to be honest everything lacked that punch and feel of next-gen.  Heck, just to make sure I wasn’t off my rocker I headed back over to the GT6 area and I was amazed with just how much better the current-gen racer looked in comparison.  As for a sense of speed, I found that my previous time with Forza 5 a day earlier provided a much speedier feeling then DriveClub.  Again, I have to point out though DriveClub was only 35% complete, but you’d think they would set up a more impressive build of just one level for a show as big and important as E3.

One feature that I did notice, and is in reference to the social aspect of the game, is how there were specific challenges (called “Face-Off” events) in the game during the laps I raced.  I was tasked with beating such things as a certain high speed, cornering, and drifting, all during specific sections of the track.  These sections were marked (highlighted) during these times too.  My performance during these sections was compared to other people who had raced the same demo track.  If I beat a certain challenge, or failed, I was told so immediately.  I was rewarded for those sections that I did beat and my temporary club was rewarded.  This whole “club” and social aspect is something I think Evolution Studios may have something special in.  Racing and having instances where you were trying to beat other racers skills or stats, be it direct competitors or fellow club members, is kind of neat.  Sure, it’s not as advanced or detailed as racing against another racers persona (e.g. Forza 5’s Drivatars), but it is a neat social aspect to the game and if handled right, and developed in a very social manner, it could be something more akin to an advanced Autolog, a system that has been experienced by fans of EA’s Need for Speed series.  My understanding from listening to those on the floor is that DriveClub will take advantage of the PS4’s sharing feature in innovative ways, but I didn’t get to see how.

On a side note, something that really caught me off guard when I played DriveClub was the Dualshock 4 controller.  Anyone who has read any of my Sony reviews in the past knows that I am not a fan of their controller and I have never enjoyed driving games, or FPS games for that matter of fact, using the Dualshock 3.  As I held the Dualshock 4 and played DriveClub I have to say that I was somewhat impressed with the feel of it, both physically and how it allowed me to control the car on screen.  Sure, I still enjoy the Xbox 360 controller, and like the improved Xbox One controller even more, but I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised with the Dualshock 4.  I didn’t struggle in any manner as a result of the controller and I found that I could keep the car where it was supposed to go much better than I had anticipated.

In the end I found myself somewhat underwhelmed at my time with DriveClub.  Maybe my expectations were too high, but I was really surprised with the less sim, more arcade feel of the game given the trailers out there.  Add to this that given what other driving games that were on the show floor DriveClub still has a ways to go before matching up with those games.  Yes, I know the dev-team stated it was only 35% done, but it just stuns me that when you are trying to highlight a first party racer that will be available at the PS4’s launch, wouldn’t you want a better looking game to show off what gamers can look forward too.

  • Sketp3k

    This is all starting to make sense now they revealed that this will be a free game download for all PS+ members when the PS4 launches.

    I was really expecting a mix of Forza and GT in terms of the car physics. This seems to just be yet another arcade racer to throw into the pool along with NFS, and The Crew…

    • kanishou

      It’s nothing like NFS or The Crew, those are over-the-top arcade games. Drive Club is among the breed of “authentic” racing games, like PGR, Grid, NFS:Shift, or Codemaster’s F1 series. It’s just my cup of tea.