If you’re a fan of driving or racing games, E3 has certainly been a treasure trove of fresh, new asphalt. In addition to Forza Motorsport 5, Gran Turismo and Mario Kart have made a comeback for the next console generation.
Two completely new IPs, Drivelub and The Crew, are also making their debut at E3 2013. These games may not have a built in following, but each has merits that will help them garner fans and, eventually, a thriving online community.
Here are some first-take thoughts from the show floor.
As a launch title for Sony’s new Playstation 4, Driveclub is carrying a lot of importance for how would-be buyers perceive the new console. Initially labeled as “free” with Playstation Plus, details have emerged that Drive Club will actually have two editions, the boxed retail edition and the PS Plus free version. How these version differ is not 100% known, though the free version is promised to be a wholly playable and cross-compatible title. You might be missing some cars, but you can still race against your friends.
And if there’s one thing the E3 2013 demo of Driveclub shows off, it’s how competitive the game’s basic system is. As you compete in racing events, you are prompted with pop-ups that challenge you to beat the feats of opposing Clubs (think of them as guilds, clans, or… crews). So, in addition to your performance in the actual race, your club will score points against the enemy faction if you drift better around specific turns, or maintain the highest average speed on a certain straightaway, or corner the best through rough hairpins.
The prompts are fairly common, appearing in an overlay on the screen that is only mildly obtrusive. While I enjoyed the short challenges (they only last 6 or 7 seconds, tops), they started to become repetitive and annoying after a few laps. In addition to covering part of the HUD, they made it hard to focus on the track. I understand this isn’t Forza or GT, but the system is a little too simple and repetitive, at least in this demo, to be engaging.
Graphically, Driveclub is a mixed bag. It certainly looks good, but it doesn’t have the insane polish you’ll find in Forza 5 or Gran Turismo 6. Cars have a current gen level of quality to them, nothing mind-blowing. Backgrounds and crash physics were lackluster, and while that’s typical for a racing game, I’d really like to see Playstation 4 devs push the hardware further and deliver new levels of graphical immersion. Crashing into a wooden post at 130 mph and bouncing off of it like it’s made of Jell-O isn’t really satisfying.
Overall, I wasn’t particularly wowed by Driveclub. Part of that is the fact that the demo was automatic transmission only, but part of it was just the generic feel and lack of fine details, especially for a next generation title. Hopefully this changes as the PS4 launch approaches, but for the price tag of $0, I think plenty of racing fans will be picking this up anyway.
Premiering at E3 this year is Ubisoft’s The Crew, another club-based racing/driving title that focuses on social interaction. But whereas Driveclub feels like a Gran Turismo-inspired title, The Crew has its roots more firmly planted in Burnout and GTA territory.
In the demo version I played, I was given a strangely modified muscle car and dropped off on a highway near Las Vegas. My initial mission was to cruise around, drive fast, and gain the attention of local crews, but things changed after I (completely intentionally) drove off a cliff. Landing my car in the middle of nowhere, I was presented with a new challenge: defeat five off-road racers in a no-rules desert rally.
The terrain was extremely rough, with dunes and scrub brush everywhere, and true-to-form there was basically no course or map outside of a few labeled checkpoints. After completing the event in the middle of the pack, I was excited to drive around the southwest some more or hit up Las Vegas, but the game had other plans. An in-game voice advised me I would be heading to Miami, like it or not, and after a brief countdown I was whisked away to Florida.
At this point I was fairly confused about how mission structure would actually work in The Crew. Is it organically derived, like my dessert rally, or were there certain events that always happen after other events? Or is it all timed? I didn’t know, but I didn’t have much time to think, since I was immediately presented with a new mission.
I had to disable a heavily armored SUV by crashing into it multiple times. My car had been re-outfitted for the task, though that part was all done in a cut scene. As I pursued my target, my headphones were full of police chatter about “dangerous suspects” and “property damage,” but the cops never showed up. I actually ended up failing this mission, but much to my chagrin I was never actually harassed by the police despite all their blabbing. As such, the experience felt somewhat empty.
Graphically speaking, The Crew looked all right playing on an Xbox 360. Framerate was good, and my car, while not amazing, looked and felt like the real deal. The huge scope of every level was handled well, with an imperceptible draw distance and lots of small details to be taken into account.
Physics, on the other hand, were all over the place. Hitting a small tree or a lamppost was like driving through paper, but hitting a medium sized tree or a small wooden fence would send my car tumbling (unscathed, mind you) into the air without warning. Intervehicular collision was similarly baffling. Sometimes I’d hit a small sedan and go spinning out of control. Another time I had a head-on crash with a bus to no real effect other than mildly inconveniencing its commuting passengers.
Ultimately, I can’t saw I was that impressed by The Crew. As with Driveclub, a lot of its allure is going to come from social play: building a gang with friends and competing against online rivals. But aside from that, both games felt like they were revisiting old roads. Simulators like Forza provide a better track experience than Driveclub, and I couldn’t help but feel nostalgic for Burnout while smashing my Camaro around in The Crew. If both of these titles can get some extra love before release, they could still be impressive IPs. Either way, it’s good to see road warriors getting more love this year.