Driveclub used to be a bit of a laughing stock. When we were given a first look at Evolution's racer being played (not just a nicely edited trailer) things didn't look promising. The frame rate was bad, the track was bland, and for a proposed PS4 launch title it completely lacked the wow factor expected from the first racer on Sony's powerful new console.
Although Driveclub struggled to get over its early showings, the game's online functionality and impressive sounding Challenges system still appealed. There was hope rather than expectation that the game would deliver a fun experience, and Sony's announcement of a cutdown PS Plus edition meant we could all test it out before handing over any money.
Sadly, on October 18, 2013, it was announced that Driveclub would miss the PS4's November launch and arrive early in 2014. This also failed to happen, and with every delay concern over the quality of the title grew. As E3 2014 approached murmurs of how great Xbox One title Forza Horizon 2 looked started to spread and the writing was already being stenciled, if not written, on the wall for Driveclub.
Thankfully the extra development time had been worth it. Over the course of 2014 Driveclub made more impressive showings and hype began to build. Finally the game looked the way it should for a first-party exclusive running on the most powerful console available. The October 7 release date didn't seem far fetched anymore, and interest was growing.
Fast forward to just before launch and things couldn't have been more different to the negativity surrounding the game during 2013. In the VideoGamer office we loved what we played and had a great time with the online functionality. But then the game launched and suffered from devastating server issues - something that even got coverage on the BBC. Without the promised online functionality Driveclub was a fairly pretty, exciting racer, but without any soul. Driveclub had hit rock bottom again, and fans who had been waiting patiently for a year weren't happy.
Sony decided to put a hold on the free PS Plus edition of Driveclub, too, further to the annoyance of PS4 owners who had been expecting it a year earlier, and it wasn't until December that Challenges were reintroduced to the game. By this point Driveclub's reputation was in tatters. Thankfully Sony and Evolution weren't about to give up on their ambitious racer, and the addition of weather effects in a December update suddenly got people very interested. Weather in Driveclub looked amazing, and if there's something gamers like, it's good graphics.
By the start of 2015 the mood around Driveclub had completely changed again. Spurred on by a superb Season Pass and string of free content, along with the fact that no other game showed off the PS4's visual prowess any better, people were now recommending the game to friends and online acquaintances. No longer was Driveclub the butt of the joke; it had become a jewel in Sony's crown. If only that jewel hadn't been buried in the dirt for so long.
But just as Evolution's game reached its potential, things again started to look bleak. In March 2015 there were talks of redundancies affecting half the workforce, with Driveclub being worked on as a 'service' going forward. That didn't sound great. The PS Plus Edition, now a year and a half late, finally got released in June, but at this point it seemed like nothing more than a token gesture.
Some tempting discounts and the excellent DLC saw even more people getting onboard the Driveclub love train at bargain price points, and a bikes expansion in October added a completely new dimension. Perhaps there was a future after all. And fans really hoped there was. Driveclub had dragged itself out of development hell and had somehow managed to become a PS4 success. Over two million copies were sold and to this day it remains the most visually impressive racing game on consoles.
The dream of a bigger and brighter, less traumatic future for the series wasn't to be, though. On March 22, 2016, Sony announced the closure of Evolution Studios. There was talk of the franchise living on (Driveclub VR and a bunch of free city tracks did arrive later in 2016) but for all intents and purposes it was dead. Evolution got picked up by Codemasters and started work on a new racing IP.
It's not often that a game manages to reverse public opinion, but Evolution did just that with its work on Driveclub. It stands (after one final update adding 15 new tracks and a farewell message) as an exhilarating, gorgeous, feature rich, and addictive racer that will likely be looked back on as one of this generation's finest games. Fingers crossed that Evolution's new project picks up from where they ended up, rather than mimicking the catastrophic beginning. If only the game we can enjoy now had been the game that launched back in 2014.