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Evolution Studios does not consider PlayStation 4 launch title DriveClub to be just another racing game. The talented Runcorn-based outfit sees its latest vehicular outing as more of a social service – a hub that will keep you hooked by allowing you to interact with friends, recruit your own personal team, and sit in the cockpit of some of the world’s speediest high-performance sports cars. But despite the idea originally hitting the starting grid around ten years ago, is the MotorStorm developer anywhere near crossing the finishing line on its ambition?

We got to sit behind the wheel of the E3 2013 build of the racer, a demo which supposedly represents pre-alpha code. Asked if it felt pressured with the release right around the corner, a developer representative seemed laidback. “We’ll be ready by launch,” we were confidently informed. “Don’t worry about it.”

Still, it’s hard to ignore the fact that the release is yet to reach the same tier of jaw dropping visuals as its next generation counterparts. Sitting opposite inFAMOUS: Second Son and Killzone: Shadow Fall, it looks a little dull. That’s not to say that it’s entirely without promise, though. The lighting – which is completely dynamic and powered by an ambitious day and night cycle – casts believable shadows across the ground and your cockpit, as the sun moves through the sky overhead. The draw distance is impressive, too, seemingly stretching miles of green scenery and nearby sea.

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We were able to try one course: the picturesque Kinloch in Scotland. Filled with winding roads, the three minute stretch of tricky track makes for an ideal demonstration of the game’s physics system, which sits somewhere in between simulation and arcade. The cars definitely have a sense of weight – you certainly won’t find yourself skidding around hairpin bends at a right angle – but they’re also much more forgiving than a serious racer like Gran Turismo. “We want the game to be fun,” we were told. And it is.

The core racing is just a small part of the title’s appeal, though. As you’re cutting around bends and setting section times, you’ll be tasked with a variety of dynamic challenges. These range from hitting a high average speed, to nailing a corner, and demonstrating your drift skills. In these instances, you’ll be matched against rivals, identified by photographs captured by the new PlayStation Eye. Winning these miniature face-offs will award you with experience points – and, while it wasn’t immediately clear in our demo, also enhance the standing of your chosen club.

And this is what Evolution Studios is betting on to keep you coming back. You’ll be able to create your own team, and kit it out with custom emblems and liveries. You’ll then be able to take on other crews from across the globe, and attempt to steer your faction to the top of the leaderboards. It’s a dynamic that the developer is hoping will significantly enhance the longevity of the racer. “We want to ensure that there’s always something for you to do,” the studio spokesperson said.

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It’s here that the title’s selection for PlayStation Plus makes sense. Announced as part of the Instant Game Collection during the platform holder’s E3 2013 press conference, the basic version of the racer – complete in terms of functionality, but minus some tracks and vehicles – should ensure that there’s a huge install base of clubs and rivals for you to compete against. Clearly the company’s hoping to hook sceptics with the giveaway, and then lock them into the full experience.

It’s a cunning ploy, but it’s going to have to apply more than polish in order to get the game to the level that it needs to be. There are some underlying mechanical issues here that need rectifying first; despite stating that the studio’s targeting 60 frames-per-second in a recent interview, the demo that we sampled was struggling to hit 30 frames-per-second. Couple that with the aforementioned visual issues, and it’s clear that the developer still has a marathon ahead of it with not a whole lot of time left on the clock.

And yet, if we trusted anyone to have enough fuel in the tank to make a late charge for pole position, it’s Evolution Studios. Ever since the original MotorStorm’s disappointing gameplay debut in 2006, the studio’s established a habit of making last minute spurts to the finish line. With that in mind, we’re willing to give the British outfit the benefit of the doubt for the time being. We just hope that it manages to come good in the end, because the community driven concept that the company’s coveting certainly sounds very promising.

How high is DriveClub on your PS4 wishlist? Do you intend to purchase the retail version of the racer on release day, or test drive the PlayStation Plus giveaway first? Honk your horns in the comments section below.