A console launch wouldn’t be complete without a racer to highlight the hardware’s technical strides. DriveClub, a new team-based vehicular experiment from MotorStorm developer Evolution Studios, represents the PlayStation 4’s first foray into the high-octane arena of next generation motorsport. But while the social endeavour sounds intriguing, is Sony steering into trouble with the release?
When game director Matt Southern introduced the title during February’s whirlwind PlayStation Meeting, it felt like Gran Turismo creator Kazunori Yamauchi should have been on stage. Evolution Studios has mostly enjoyed a happy coexistence with Polyphony Digital during the PlayStation 3-era, ditching the simulation aspects of its licensed WRC endeavours in favour of the arcade action of the off-road MotorStorm series. But with DriveClub, the studio’s stepping back into the Japanese developer’s domain.
Southern’s enthusiasm on stage mimicked that of Yamauchi-san’s, as he explained that the Runcorn-based developer is putting an obsessive, borderline bonkers amount of work into the title’s high-performance car models. “[The vehicles] are as close as you’ll get to the real thing in terms of detail and accuracy,” he said, “with totally correct material parameters, painstakingly measured from the real thing using our custom-built photometric apparatus.” Where have you heard this before?
In isolation, the studio’s comments would be exciting – but they send a confusing message about the future of PlayStation’s most popular franchise. Where does Gran Turismo fit into the next generation platform’s plans, and why has Evolution Studios been encouraged to park in the famous series’ playground? We understand that Polyphony Digital’s first next generation title may be some way away, but with speculation suggesting that it may squeeze out a second PS3 title first, the whole strategy strikes us as baffling.
If the next Gran Turismo game is in development for Sony’s current console, then won’t the luxurious visuals of DriveClub steal one of the franchise’s hottest selling points? The brand has always prided itself on being at the very forefront of the technical curve, but its ties to aging hardware will almost certainly shut that ambition down. Meanwhile, Evolution Studios will be free to lap the Japanese developer on the back of a nitrous injection otherwise known as 8GB GDDR5 RAM.
And yet DriveClub finds itself in an equally awkward position, too. Unlike the majority of Sony’s first-party PS4 titles, the racer has no brand cachet; it’s a new intellectual property based upon a set of ideals that sound an awful lot like another product in PlayStation’s portfolio. That simple oversight could leave the game – and the next generation console itself – sputtering on the starting line, while petrol heads turn their attention to the next fully-fledged Forza game rumoured to be launching alongside the Xbox 360’s successor.
Granted, there has been some conjecture that SCEE actually approached SCEJ requesting permission to use the Gran Turismo name on a non-Japanese game, but the Eastern arm reportedly declined. Wouldn’t it be typical of the scandalously splintered Sony to actively squander the potential of one of its own titles out of little other than tradition and spite?
Of course, we still don’t really know enough about DriveClub to know for certain whether it’s stepping on Polyphony Digital’s toes. Evolution Studios has been cagey about the title’s handling model, with Southern opting to ambiguously describe it as neither simulation nor arcade but “something new” in an interview with CVG. Perhaps the community-driven experience genuinely does deserve the clean break afforded by an all-new name.
We just hope that the experiment doesn’t come back to shunt Sony in the bumper. If the next Gran Turismo game somehow finds itself burning rubber on the PS3, then it’s going to be interesting to see how it stacks up against the imminent DriveClub. And we’re even more eager to see if the latter’s got enough fuel in the tank to outpace the full-blown Forza sequel rumoured to be parked in Microsoft’s garage.
Do you think that DriveClub could struggle against a next generation Forza game? What do you think that the future of the Gran Turismo franchise holds? Let us know in the comments section below.