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Farewell to DriveClub, the PS4 launch disaster that became a racing great

City lights.

The name never did it any favours, really. Neither did the fact it struggled to live up to its blandly ridiculous moniker at launch; as part of the well-documented troubles that surrounded DriveClub's already heavily delayed release, the clubs that formed an integral part of Evolution's vision for its PlayStation 4 exclusive just didn't work. Now the drama has died down, and unfortunately a studio died along with it, it's tragically clear that part of the equation never mattered that much anyway. All that really mattered was the one thing that DriveClub got right: the driving.

So very, very pretty.

DriveClub's other tragedy is how its real talents have only properly come into focus now that Evolution Studios is no more. It was no less than a disaster for quite a time, missing the PS4 launch window by a clear 12 months and being riddled with errors that ranged from design oversights to servers that refused to stand up. What started out as a deeply flawed game was ushered towards being a very good one thanks to post-release updates that introduced variable weather and, much later, a hard-edged simulation handling model that allowed its handsomely modelled physics to bare their teeth. The last posthumous update has truly pushed DriveClub towards greatness.

The urban tracks were first introduced in DriveClub VR - needless to say they're much more attractive here.

What's so great about version 1.28, a 6GB patch that carries signs of being the last significant update to DriveClub? It's how it strengthens a link between Evolution's game and the previous king of racers that reigned the middle ground between arcade excess and the more exacting nature of a sim. Project Gotham Racing toed a perfect line between precision and panache, and the 15 tracks introduced by way of the new update help DriveClub do the same. It helps, of course, that they all have a very strong urban flavour.

The initial plan was for a team within Sony to carry on updating DriveClub after Evolution moved on, though there's a sense of finality to the patch notes for 1.28.

DriveClub isn't merely in the shadow of past greats, and it has a personality of its own. Its handling stands out as something unique to Evolution, a joyfully pliable approach that mashes together a sense of momentum and consequence much weightier than that found in other light-hearted racers. It acquits itself just as well on a pad or wheel, and somehow DriveClub manages to communicate the expensive heft of its cars like no other game out there. You really feel each slide here, as well as the chest-pounding exhilaration when a tonne of premium metal slips momentarily beyond your control.

Much of Evolution was absorbed by Codemasters, where they're working on an undisclosed project.

That's where DriveClub's legacy is, for me, though others quite rightly also find it in its generosity as well as its gorgeous visuals. Two years on from its launch, there's so much to DriveClub - a selection of vehicles on two wheels and four - and two years on there's nothing that looks quite so wonderful either. The new tracks introduced in 1.28 only help underline that fact; catch DriveClub in the right light, the sky darkening over a Vancouver street whose neon has only just sparked up, and it's enough to make you step back and gasp.

You can still find online games in DriveClub, though in truth hotlapping and chasing leaderboard times remains the best way to play the game.

It deserved better, of course, and while the recent VR standalone was a decent enough accessory to PlayStation's new toy it never felt like the send-off DriveClub deserved, hobbled as it was by understandable technical shortcomings and the less understandable decision by those who control the pursestrings to spin it out on its own. Maybe that would have been a apt send-off for DriveClub given its dramas and a certain amount of mismanagement by Sony, but it's not the one I wanted to see.

DriveClub seems perfect for a Pro patch, either introducing 60fps or making the most of its gorgeous assets in 4K. It seems a little unlikely now that Evolution Studios is no more, but we maintain hope.

Instead, this is a much more fitting farewell, infused as it is with the spirit of generosity that informed Evolution's latter months, and full as it is with breathtaking spectacle. Witness the slow dawn in a sleepy Japanese suburb rocked awake by the growl of a GT-R; see the sun set over the cracked tarmac of a beautifully busy Indian city as a Jaguar F-Type pirouettes through its tight streets. This is how DriveClub deserves to be remembered.

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