Racing games have always been the industry standard to showcase and push the limits of next-gen hardware owing to the fact that only certain sections need to be rendered at a particular time, unlike open-world games. Recently though there has been a trend of open-world racing games trying to blend the traditional and the new, but DriveClub was that one game that stuck to the traditional arcade racing style and showcased the beauty that was capable on a PS4 hardware.
Released back in 2014 after multiple delays, DriveClub was unfortunately the victim of a terrible launch with server issues and public disinterest due to competing titles. As it stands, DriveClub’s online servers have officially been shut down in March 2020 and the studio behind it, Evolution, dissolved. Looking back at the game though, it is undoubtedly one of the best looking racing games of the eighth gen of consoles.
A lot of this had to do with the way the developers approached the Engine, aptly named DriveClub Engine. This engine was built specifically with the game in mind and was hoped to sustain games throughout the PS4 life cycle, though unfortunately the studio was of course shut down eventually.
The engine was built around making everything as dynamic as possible with minimal “baked” effects involved. The incredible dynamic weather and time-of-day effects were courtesy fully volumetric cloud systems and a mixture of rendering systems. Featuring deferred rendering, tile-based rendering and forward rendering being utilised simultaneously to create this physically based rendering pipeline, each surface could be meticulously given reflectivity and gloss properties in real-time, allowing for some incredible material-based reflections. Particles were rendered in real-time as well allowing for the best looking rain and snow effects seen in a video game to date, with individual droplets reflecting lights, reacting to the dynamic environmental wind system and even streaking across the windshield based on the momentum of the vehicle. Roads would accumulate puddles dynamically based on the amount of rain and temperature while surfaces as far as the mountain top to the asphalt would reflect light based on the level of wetness, possible due to that physically based rendering pipeline.
Even the vehicles themselves were created with accurate CAD models from the manufacturers themselves when possible and coated with multiple physical layers ranging from metal to paint and gloss. Collisions would then be calculated based on the impact angles and each layer would be deformed in real time as needed, from simple paint chips to bent metal, which would then reflect light and react to water independently. Detailed screen space reflections and shadows would be taken into account for all these surfaces, with dirt on the windshield diffusing the sunlight, after the volumetric clouds had diffused it, while headlights would actually contain light sources refracted by the plastic and glass casings. Even the thin film interference effects forming a rainbow on the glass would be rendered in real-time. All of this was then refreshed at a stable 30 FPS, while having extremely low controller latency even after performing the physics calculations needed for handling a vehicle, such as the car and tyre frictions.
Even the anti-aliasing was given multiple layers, utilising a mixture of pixel-based system, temporal-based, FXAA and material-based systems. On top of it was another layer for rectifying any other jagged edges in sight. Other post processing effects such as depth of field, motion blur and bloom were implemented atop this rendered image to create the illusion of high speed. Even the LOD streaming was spot on for all the surfaces in view, with rare texture pop-ins in the distance.
Clearly, this game and its engine were way ahead of it’s time. To this day, DriveClub looks incredible and the only limitation would be the 1080 30FPS cap, lack of ray tracing, occasional texture pop-ins or jagged edges and the texture resolutions.
What A Potential PS5 Patch Could Do
Over on the PS4 Pro, it was never patched with higher resolution textures. The former director did confirm it will never receive any updates, although it was technically possible, but we believe the potential for it to shine on the next gen systems is stellar.
With the PS5 sporting an SSD, higher resolution textures could be loaded in at incredible speeds eliminating any pop ups seen in the field of view. Everything from the particles to the environmental density could be further scaled up to make the already realistic looking game more grounded. The additional VRAM overhead could be utilised to further add post-processing effects to remove the very rare aliasing present on surfaces, or the lack of details in textures further than a few meters from the camera.
All of this could be neatly bundled into a 60 FPS experience which would make driving the cars feel even more exhilarating and attention-gripping. Slap on some raytracing instead of the screen-space reflections, and the already incredible dynamic lighting system would be unbeatable in the even in the current market. The DualShock 5 controller which also features haptic feedback and rumble would be the cherry on the cake with each button having different levels of force needed such as the brakes or the clutch, and the rumble of every different texture the car could drive through reflected accurately in the DualShock rumble motors.
The game engine and game holds promise to be scaled up into the next-gen hardware and though Sony has a slate of games ready for arrival on next-gen showcase, Gran Turismo 7 by Polyphony Digital among them, DriveClub would serve to further showcase the beauty of next-gen scaling.
Hopefully there are similar thoughts thrown around at the Sony HQ and somebody is given hold of the IP to patch it into the 9th generation of console, because it sure as heck deserves it.