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PS4: Driveclub and the acceleration to console F2P

Sony will offer a free version of Evolution's Driveclub to PS Plus subs at PlayStation 4's launch. Patrick Garratt speaks to Evolution about embracing new models in console's next-gen.

"It's a great way to allow players to access the core of Driveclub. Hopefully, everyone who's excited about the game now is pre-ordering the retail disc, but the people who are on the fence a little bit are going to be able to try it out for free to see if they like it."

They'd clearly never been asked the question before. Is DriveClub free-to-play? Members of the Evolution team, presenting the PS4 launch racer at E3, exchanged glances of mutual assurance before director Col Rodgers answered.

"Yes," he said. "It's pretty much a free-to-play model. It's a great way to allow players to access the core of Driveclub. Hopefully, everyone who's excited about the game now is pre-ordering the retail disc, but the people who are on the fence a little bit are going to be able to try it out for free to see if they like it."

You'll need a PS Plus subscription to get it, but the free download includes "the entire game experience, just with less content. Just less cars and less tracks."

There are few games as attuned to the next-gen console zeitgeist as Driveclub. The arcade racer revolves around creating clubs with friends and racing socially to best opponents' times, complete challenges, and so on. It'll release as a full-content Blu-ray, a full-content PlayStation Store download and a free-to-play version for PS Plus subs (remember that you'll have to have one to access online play with PS4). Embracing the possibilities of free-to-play on console practically ensures success for Evolution's latest. If you have a PlayStation 4 and you're subbed-up, you're going to be playing it.

Design director Paul Rustchynsky added that "all the game modes, the online multiplayer, the asynchronous play and the single-player campaign" are included in the free version.

These visuals, fully social, available to everyone
with a PS Plus sub. Yum.

"As long as you're a PlayStation Plus subscriber you'll get all of that. It's just limited by cars and tracks. It means there's an instant community the moment PS4 launches. It's a game about community, so there's a community ready to go."

All of the content available on the disc and full PSN versions will be available as DLC on the PS Store, and it sounds as though there's going to be plenty to work with. Evolution said it has "just about every major manufacturer" involved in car licensing, including all the super machines you'd expect as well as a range of lower-end models. In terms of locations, tracks from both the southern and northern hemispheres feature, lending a "big variety" of environments.

And there's more on the way.

"We're looking to put this into a service model," said Rodgers. "Ultimately, the game you buy at launch will be the doorway to a wider experience that's going to be fed week-on-week with brand new content. That's all going to be free, and the experience of Driveclub when it comes out is going to be absolutely huge."

Always, everywhere

Sony's approach to Driveclub at retail is thoroughly modern, and is sure to put pressure on others to offer free versions of console games at launch. Free-to-play as a route forward for Evolution almost certainly signals that "bit content" games such as racers are going to have to embrace the model on console going forward. Next-generation indeed.

Thankfully, it isn't just the route to retail that's been overhauled; Driveclub's feature-set is state of the art. Driveclub has been on Evolution's mind for nine years, but "before PlayStation 4, it just couldn't be done," said Rodgers. "There hasn't been a console prior to this that's had connectivity at the very core of its hardware design."

PlayGo, the PS4 feature that allows for play before full games are downloaded, will have you up and playing in "minutes". Remote Play means you'll be able to play on Vita (in theory) wherever you have a WiFi connection. Streaming features should allow you to watch your friends play from anywhere with a decent line. Driveclub will have mobile support apps on "all major platforms".

"It's fully integrated into your life with 24-7 connectivity," said Rodgers. "It truly is a next generation social racing game."

Evolution explaining the Driveclub concept.

And don't fret if your line's down. The asynchronous play means you can race offline, always attempting to earn fame for your team. And there's accurately modelled clouds, realistic day and night depending on where you are in the world, and even true-to-life stars in the sky. Just for fun, Evolution reckons the cars are at the highest resolution ever used in a racing game. Models have been rejected for including the wrong screws in floormats, apparently.

Sony has been brave with Driveclub on every level, but it's a bravery which points at a highly attractive future for games consumers. With this first-party, triple-A racer, you can choose your point of entry, and that F2P version really is a kicker. PS Plus subs will be playing this as soon as they plug their PS4 into the internet for no extra charge. And that's a bargain.

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