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Beyond beautiful: How PS4's Drive Club could be the first 'social racing sim'

CVG discusses the new PlayStation 4 project with Evolution Studios' project lead Matt Southern

Breaking away from its acclaimed run of Motorstorm games, Sony's Evolution Studios in Liverpool has turned to a new IP called Drive Club, and the whole philosophy behind it seems a little counter-intuitive from a business perspective.

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Drive Club is being built for the most elite petrol heads; it's something much more exclusive than the bombastic off-road smashabouts of the Motorstorm titles. Nearly everyone can get behind the idea of tearing through the untamed pacific in a monster truck, but getting those people fired up for a racing sim, perversely accurate or not, is no easy task.

At Sony's PlayStation 4 reveal event in Febuary, Evolution Studios' Matt Southern unveiled a project that he said was nine years in the making (that's, obviously, not production time). Drive Club is part of the first wave of PlayStation 4 games and, unsurprisingly, its gleaming supercars, roaring engines and meticulously rendered dashboards all seem hyper-real.

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Ultimately though, it was Southern's passion that really sold it.

"I showed Drive Club, which is a title we've wanted to make for a very long time at Evolution," he said in an interview with CVG.

"It was the first game I was told about when I joined - I joined Evolution nine years ago - and we loved it from day one and it's one of those things we've always wanted to bring to life."

Southern says Drive Club has existed as a concept for about a decade, and insists that it never was green lit because console technology had not reached a level that could have fulfilled the studio's ambitions. Cynics will obviously consider that testimony far too flattering and convenient, especially since it flaunts both the project and the PlayStation 4 and doesn't explain much else.

But Southern's ambitions for the project are clear and spoken with an infectious passion.

"What we've always wanted to do is race in teams or clubs," he says.

"You look at racing in the PlayStation 3 era and it's not been as popular as online multiplayer shooters, and we asked ourselves why."

"PS3 racing games aren't as popular as online shooters, and we asked ourselves why"

"One of the big reasons we think why is because traditionally in a racing game there's only one winner, whereas in a shooter - if you're in a group and you suck - as I do - you can still have a really rewarding time.

"You can kind of share in the glories of better players on the same team as you; get perks, level up, get XP based on that involvement. We wanted to do the same thing with a racing game and make one that wasn't about finishing first.

"Finishing first is obviously awesome, but racing with friends - not in the traditional sense of just online multiplayer, but in clubs - has always been the thing we've really wanted to do with it."

Drive Club is pitched as a socially conscious experience that encourages players to join clubs and compete with others. Although beating fellow racers on the road is at the core of competition, the race to complete challenges is what will really get players fired up.

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Matt Southern revealed Drive Club for the first time at the New York PlayStation Meeting in February

"Challenges can be stringed together in tournaments, in everything from a short blast of super accessible gameplay to a really involving week-long combination of asynchronous and real-time multiplayer," Southern adds.

"As racing developers we always picture this spectrum with simulation at one end and arcade at the other and decide where we're going to sit. But this time we kind of said to ourselves 'let's try and view that as a very last-gen way of viewing the racing experience, let's view our next project as accessible and super fun but also extremely deep'.

"We've gone from full simulations of motorsport [in the WRC games] to balls-out arcade racing in Motorstorm, though always driven by complex physics, and we really want to try to combine that now into something new, and we really can't wait to show how that's going to play out."

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