I’d Rather Play DriveClub than Gran Turismo Sport

A few more days, a few more laps, and a few more sessions of play have pretty much cemented how I feel about Gran Turismo Sport – or at least the beta, if I’m to add that important disclosure to the beginning of the article. Jumping into the closed trial period relatively late in the ballgame compared to most PlayStation 4 owners who signed up for beta codes, I was excited to see Polyphony’s take on iRacing’s established variant of online racing, one which brought structured competition and scheduled event start times to a franchise that has traditionally been all about just sort of firing up the software and fucking around for a few hours within a giant automotive sandbox. There were no lunar rovers, no coffee breaks, nor classic Gran Turismo locales such as Trial Mountain or the High Speed Ring to be found in the closed beta for Gran Turismo Sport, only nine short sprint races per evening spread evenly across three classes.

As I wrote in my original post on Gran Turismo Sport, I liked the premise of what Polyphony were doing from a design standpoint. The franchise desperately needed to evolve in a way that was fresh and exciting, as the series had been eclipsed by everything from Forza Motorsport to select Need for Speed titles in recent years, becoming a shadow of its former self by regurgitating old PlayStation 2-era car models and uninspiring events against dim-witted artificial intelligence. Moving into iRacing’s territory seemed like the right call on paper, as the market has been desperate for a competitor to what the hardcore PC sim offers for a number of years now, but my first night with the game – as Shaun Cole from The SimPit would say – just wasn’t a great shared experience.

While I had fun turning clean laps and acquiring sportsmanship points to progress quickly through the ranks, brushing aside the very GT-like oddities such as the inability to adjust the cockpit camera’s field of view, my competitors struggled to keep their vehicles pointed in the right direction, the software doing little to retain their interest. For every sim racer like me who was stoked to have a rival to iRacing on the market, fully buying into the experience Polyphony had crafted, there were twenty Gran Turismo fans throwing their DualShocks in agony as they blasted into a sand trap. GT Sport is only fun if you’re good at Gran Turismo, and not many people are what you’d call good at Gran Turismo. For them, it is a sandbox, not a worldwide competition, and no longer does the game allow them to play it like one.

But the point of this follow-up article isn’t to merely re-review the closed beta of Gran Turismo Sport, because that would be extremely boring for our readers to have what’s basically the same discussion all over again. Instead, I come to you guys as a warning of sorts. As a simulator, at least in its current state, Gran Turismo Sport is embarrassingly bad, and is actually eclipsed by an arcade racer when it comes to vehicle dynamics. Obviously they still have a fair bit of time to get it right – I believe the April 20th release date rumor is a hoax – but for how big both Gran Turismo and Polyphony are, and how much notoriety the franchise has earned over the past decade and a half, not to mention the near-limitless resources fueling the project which the dev team have access to, Gran Turismo Sport drives like absolute shit. In about three days of casual play I was able to climb the ranks from entry-level racer to competing in top split events, the game’s highest seeded online lobbies for each scheduled race session, and the way you need to drive the cars at the limit is nonsensical.

In fact, Driveclub does it better. Yes, a racing game that was originally intended to be a launch title for the PlayStation 4 before being subjected to numerous delays and eventually released unfinished and supported by an entire second game’s worth of downloadable content, drives much more predictably than The Real Driving Simulator.

Above is a clip taken from my own personal YouTube account of what at the time was a world record run for the Mercedes AMG GT3 at Salar De Surire in Driveclub. Though the force feedback in Driveclub is horrendous, and there’s actually a glitch of sorts in which the game doesn’t properly save your FFB percentage as configured in the options menu – meaning you have to flick the toggle back and forth to the desired level every time you start the application for it to register – what Driveclub gets right is in how it handles a rough approximation of basic race car physics. On corner entry, you can see me flaring the rear end to get the car to rotate a bit better, whereas other corners I merely power through the understeer, and at the twenty second mark, I lean on the sidewall quite hard for the treacherous hairpin that defines the first half of the track, still accelerating in third gear while maintaining a bit of slip angle at corner exit. I’m almost full throttle, but you can tell there’s a bit of hesitation, and see the nose wiggle a few times while I’m counter steering – that’s because for being an arcade game, Driveclub’s tires still feel like they’re made of rubber, and you have to drive in a manner that’s somewhat realistic.

Another clip from my account, this time at the Port of Vancouver circuit that was added as downloadable content, displays that while Driveclub clearly has some sort of semi-canned drift effect built into the software that allows you to execute long slides for skill points, keeping the car below that canned drift effect still generates pretty reasonable behavior. In the tracks’ final hairpin which begins at thirty two seconds into the clip, you can see the car wiggle a whole bunch on corner exit – again exhibiting a bit of slip while I counter steer and put the power down. It’s a handful to deal with and a bit tricky to figure out at first without the car launching into a full-on slide, but as a driver you can feel Evolution Studios built some kind of half-competent tire model into Driveclub that lets you free the car up in a corner and get up on the sidewalls, or at least hold a slip angle on corner exit.

The point I’m trying to make, is that Driveclub, while an arcade game from start to finish, has some semblance of a simulator. You can actually rotate the rear end as you would in a simulator for better turn-in, and power through with the ass end of the car wiggling about. Not only is it great fun to have real world driving skills apply in what’s supposed to be a lighthearted romp in exotic locations, this is how you set world records and other miscellaneous top times in Driveclub. Who would have thought that driving in a realistic fashion, in an arcade game, would be the fastest way around the track? Sure, you can hammer the downshift paddle and camp out on the sidewalls for massive bends, but when you’re doing it, the inputs required, and how the car reacts to corrections, makes sense.

On the flip side, Gran Turismo Sport does not exhibit any of this behavior. The Group N300 street cars offered in the game, which as of this writing are mostly AWD or FWD sedans judging by the lineups I’ve competed against, all exhibit varying levels of understeer because that’s what all AWD or FWD cars do by nature in real life, so the problems of the tire model Gran Turismo Sport relies upon don’t really come to light. However, as you progress up the ladder, the cars everyone will be striving to purchase and compete in once the game hits store shelves, are basically nonsensical.

I’ve been driving the GT4 Hyundai Genesis for all of my time in GT Sport’s Group 4 class, and posted a top ten qualifying time at the Nordschleife – though I was admittedly dusted by guys using the all-wheel drive Nissan’s (Earth to Polyphony, you have balance issues). I found it impossible to free the car up; you were either neutral or suffered from varying levels of understeer, and the car felt as if it had the weight of a fullsize truck. GT4 cars in real life are somewhat nimble, but for the life of me I just couldn’t get the car to rotate properly around corners. There was no sidewall, no rubber flex, or anything that felt like weight was shifting to the outside portion of the car as I’d go around a corner. You drove in a way that was very much like a hovercraft; you’d slow to a rate of speed that would not generate any type of understeer, and retained that speed until the corner opened up. It made hitting lines very easy, but also caused the driving experience to feel stiff and lifeless. I didn’t know how to beat people off corners or ask for that extra 10% from the car.

When I did try to stretch the rear tires to their limit of adhesion, the car would literally snap in a debilitating death slide that would instantly cause me to lose all of my forward progress, therefore rendering that driving style useless. Whereas I could get up on the sidewall in Driveclub and power off of a corner in pursuit of a tenth or another car, Gran Turismo Sport flicked a switch and sent the car dead sideways. It is impossible to hold a slip angle, impossible to power out of a corner, impossible to lean on the sidewalls, and in general asking far too much from the tire model to drive Gran Turismo Sport as you would any other simulator, or a real car.

Transitioning to the GT3 class at Willow Springs magnified this problem exponentially, with the race above highlighting just how prominent the tire model woes are among the best drivers the game has to offer. The second sector at Willow Springs sees you race to the top of the hill before embarking on a journey to the lowest point of the property, and in other simulators this track is genuinely a lot of fun because it’s basically a roller coaster where you gain tons of speed from the elevation changes. Yet in GT Sport, merely breathing on the throttle at 100 km/h in third gear would send your car into a death slide, and as you explore the three heat videos I’ve uploaded from Willow Springs, my front windshield is full of guys jumping sideways either at the center of the corner, or at corner exit. This is not what GT3 cars do by any stretch of the imagination.

There is no sidewall flex, no lateral grip, and no slip angles to be held whatsoever; you’re basically driving on plastic Hot Wheels tires. Hell, this one guy in front of me is fucking sideways at 180 km/h over a gentle crest, and if you look closely at my steering inputs (the white dot is the center point, the red dot is steering), I’m sideways too. These cars generate almost three thousand pounds of downforce and are designed with rich amateur drivers in mind, yet Gran Turismo believes that they will try to kill you at 180 km/h in a wide open corner.

The biggest problem for Polyphony to sort out prior to the launch of Gran Turismo Sport, is implementing a tire model that actually makes sense to drive. Yes, while many Gran Turismo fans will be put off by the sudden change in priorities that force them to become amateur eSports competitors whether they like it or not, people will stick around if the driving experience is fun, intuitive, and something they can master with practice. Currently, it is not – the most prolific name in the history of sim racing have a physics team who currently believe sticky rubber slicks generate the same handling characteristics as a children’s die-cast car.

As a result, Gran Turismo Sport is absolutely brutal to drive, and has been out-done by an arcade game that almost didn’t come out at all. Polyphony need to get their shit together if they want Gran Turismo Sport to succeed, or even partially live up to the tagline of the franchise as the real driving simulator. Last time I checked, Vadim Kogay embarrassed himself at Monza because he had poor racecraft, not because his Ferrari 458 Italia jumped sideways when he did so much as breathe on the throttle pedal at 180 clicks.

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Vomit Comet

dc-vrThis is how the general public will be introduced to virtual reality in racing games. The folks at Digital Spy have gotten their hands on the Virtual Reality-only re-release of DriveClub for the PlayStation 4 – taking advantage of the brand new PSVR headset – and dear God has the entire thing blown up in the face of Sony Entertainment and the group formerly known as Evolution Studios. It’s one thing to enable virtual reality support in a niche PC racing simulator, to be used only by hardcore sim racers who have adequately prepared their systems for the massive performance requirements, yet it’s a completely different ballgame to try and make this peripheral compatible with a console whose performance specifications simply aren’t quite there yet.

DriveClub VR, at least according to Digital Spy, is a mammoth disappointment. Not only does the game suffer from numerous technical issues, playing the game for any length of time physically makes you sick. Oops.

2680482-hdpvr2_20141005_212435The story behind DriveClub doesn’t exactly establish this casual-oriented racing game as a system-seller to begin with. Originally created by Evolution Studios (of Motorstorm fame), the arcade racer was a re-imagining of the Project Gotham Racing series, with Evolution actually welcoming aboard a handful of former Bizarre Creations employees for the PlayStation 4 launch title. DriveClub suffered numerous delays before eventually being pushed on the public in an unfinished state, resulting in rather justified atrocious initial reception. To their credit, Evolution indeed busted their asses to continuously update the game after release and bring it in line with their initial vision, but despite genuinely improving the product in the eyes of dedicated DriveClub fans, Evolution Studios were closed within the past year; the team absolved by rival racing game developer Codemasters.

So before PlayStation VR was even on the horizon, DriveClub had basically been written off as a completely average driving game with no captivating elements by the masses – unlike it’s older step brother Project Gotham Racing. Sony Entertainment believed this was the perfect candidate for a Virtual Reality launch title.

The Digital Spy review draws attention to two key problems plaguing DriveClub VR, and it’s almost hilarious to see how many poor decisions were made when creating this game for the VR sub-platform.

First, the game looks like garbage, and runs poorly. Satisfactory performance is a huge factor in determining how long you can keep the headset on without needing a break, and instead Digital Spy notes that several staff members who were involved with evaluating the game threw the fuck up during their trials. I mentioned when I tried the Oculus Rift DK2 that your head feels a bit funny at firstyet you can eventually get used to it after warming up to the sensations – but DriveClub VR was actually making people sick. That’s not cool. Nobody is going to buy a game that makes them run to the washroom after a few laps.

Second, the vanilla DriveClub release, and DriveClub VR, are not associated with one other. They are two separate games, though owners of the DriveClub Season pass DLC can purchase the VR title at a discount. Not only is this a ridiculous rip-off, there is allegedly no way to transfer your progress from the original game into the VR re-release. You’re forced to start from scratch – a major problem considering how big of a game DriveClub has turned out to be after all the post-release additions.

These two factors add up to a game that is simply not worth your time, and that’s a pretty big problem when trying to push a revolutionary piece of new hardware on potential customers. When I got the chance to try the Oculus Rift DK2 many moons ago, I noted that the experience itself wasn’t bad, but there are an abundance of hurdles for developers to overcome. Unfortunately, Sony Entertainment have simply not managed to prepare the hardware for large-scale consumption upon release.

 

Another Day, Another Delusional Developer

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Our final entry over the weekend here at PRC.net was a Reader Submission focusing on the Italian developer Milestone exhibiting a complete detachment from reality – a team of over 100 employees claimed RIDE (2015) was a critical and commercial success despite scathing reviews from around both the industry and the community. As a response to the submission, I also included examples of two other sim racing developers who blatantly refused to believe their products had nagging issues, individuals who literally stick their fingers in their ears and invent their own story to satisfy their fragile egos. Today, we can add another developer to the list of delusional entities – Codemasters.

If you haven’t caught the announcement by now over at any one of the different mainstream sim racing publications, Codemasters have straight up hired the entire staff of Evolution Studios. The team that brought you WRC: Rally Evolved, Motorstorm, and DriveClub will now be flying under the Codemasters banner, and as a result the next few Codemasters releases will feature an added level of depth thanks to the studio effectively doubling in size. The Codemasters press release published earlier today on their official blog obviously tries to portray the potential of a bright and prosperous future, but it wasn’t long before the same old bullshit set in:

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Codemasters CEO Frank Sagnier claims Formula One 2015 was a successful title which allowed them to expand the company. This could not be further from the truth. Blasted by casual Grand Prix fans and hardcore sim racers alike, F1 2015 was the worst of Codemasters’ Formula One efforts by a significant margin – shipping with an insane amount of yet-to-be rectified technical issues that warranted a current user score of 3.7 over on Metacritic (the picture below was taken in October of 2015).

F1 2015

I’ll honestly just ask the same question I did over the weekend in regards to Milestone: On what planet is a title like this considered a success?

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The most refunded Codemasters title ever to be released on Steam is deemed a success by the company’s CEO. This is how detached software companies have become from their products – they’re substituting reality with their own delusions of grandeur. But we’re not done yet, as the press release then goes on to praise Evolution Studios for their previous work, basically writing that the new supergroup of developers will go on to make fantastic products:

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A monumentally talented group of people, eh? Then why, if I search up news articles about DriveClub – the last release by Evolution Studios – are gaming sites blasting the title?

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Let’s sit and organize the things said about DriveClub in the above article in an easy-to-read list, because maybe the pretty picture of the Koenigsegg distracted a few people:

  • The PlayStation 4’s biggest embarrassment.
  • [Reflects] badly on the PlayStation 4
  • A Jumble of Broken Promises
  • Unfinished Features
  • Broken Features
  • Mediocre Gameplay
  • Failed Online Experiment
  • Ambition has [gotten] way out of hand

Alright, so not only does the CEO of Codemasters claim their worst fully-priced retail release of all time was a success, the blog entry tries to generate excitement over the fact that all employees from a company who’s last game was described as “The PlayStation 4’s biggest embarrassment” have now joined the crew – and this will somehow serve to benefit the company in the future. How can anyone hit the Publish button on something so ridiculous? You know, maybe if Formula One 2015’s only flaw was the lack of a career mode, and DriveClub wasn’t described everywhere as a “failed online experiment”, I’d at least give Codemasters the benefit of the doubt – but this is going into an entirely new territory. Aside from DiRT Rallywhich was admittedly really fucking good – you have two companies figuratively shitting out games and pretending like joining forces is somehow a good thing.

Now I’ll take things a step further and churn out a portion of a press release much more grounded in reality – because pretending you didn’t ship multiple trainwrecks during the 2014 and 2015 calendar years is really fucking stupid:

We here at Codemasters have taken note of the situation surrounding former employees at Evolution Studios, and have made the decision to welcome the entire team to the greater Codemasters family. Evolution Studios have spent multiple Sony console generations dedicated to producing a variety of mass-market auto racing titles, and we are excited at the potential this new opportunity brings us into 2016 and beyond. The increased size of the new and improved Codemasters team will allow us to embark on large-scale projects we could once only dream of, ideally serving to re-capture some of the classic Codemasters magic of the late 1990’s.

Was that so hard? No false promises, no fictional interpretations of reality, just a reasonable announcement that doesn’t set any unrealistic expectations other than “our games will hopefully get better with more manpower behind us.” Flesh this general babble out into a few more paragraphs, and you have a very down-to-earth announcement. I don’t see why this approach was neglected in favor of outright boasting about positive reception that basically didn’t exist.

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