Driveclub (opens in new tab) has ‘gone back to the drawing board’, according to Sony’s Scott Rohde, as reported by CVG News (opens in new tab). Guess he "Fus Rohde Da"d the game back into the workshop, eh? I’ll get my coat. But in all seriousness, while we already knew the game’s previously-scheduled PS4 launch-day release had been pushed back to ensure it met expectations, we didn't know it was undergoing such a substantial revamp. 'Back to the drawing board' implies a significant overhaul of some fundamental aspects of the game. Some will undoubtedly complain the extended delay is yet another broken promise from a major player in the industry. But I applaud it. I say it’s brilliant.
For Evolution itself has known the weight of having to deliver a showcase title on-schedule for a console’s launch—namely PS3. And I tell you what, Motorstorm was dreadful when Sony brought it to the GR office in 2006. Absolutely dreadful. It ran at about 20 frames per second, moved at a snail’s pace and looked nothing like the final game, let alone that infamous E3 2005 target footage. It was duller than grey.
A lot of time and money must have been invested in getting that game up to scratch and out the door in time for launch. So although the public saw a game that didn’t quite live up to expectations, it was at least a decent video game. It kept PS3 owners happy on launch day, so job done. But honestly, I was so unimpressed with that preview build, I cancelled my PS3 pre-order.
So with Sony doing everything so right with PS4’s pre-release campaign, it makes perfect sense to delay Driveclub. Yes, it was a key part of Sony’s strategy (and still appears in adverts), but now is not the time to be disappointing customers. Much better to have the promise of a great game later down the line than damage customer goodwill with a duff release. It’s lucky Knack was never touted as being anything special, otherwise that could have proven very costly.
Because history is absolutely peppered with damaging, rushed releases. In fact, you need only look as far as Driveclub’s direct rival, Xbox One’s Forza Motorsport 5, to see a prime example. Sure, the game is polished on the surface, but it’s lacking a lot of content that was present even in Forza 4. Tracks like series staple Nurburgring's Nordschleife are coming as DLC because they weren’t laser-scanned in time (no, really), the car list is reduced, wet weather racing isn’t present, nor night racing...
I think it's fair to suggest it was a case of including all these things OR releasing the game in time to complement the new console. It wasn’t possible to do both. I suspect the game will be forgotten in a year or two, unless its DLC additions make some major improvements in that time. At least modern games have that luxury.
But go back through time some more to when they didn’t and the mis-steps are even more obvious. There was Dreamcast’s launch and the Sonic Adventure debacle. The game was released before all the bugs could be ironed out (and there were a lot of them (opens in new tab)), in order to get the game on store shelves alongside the new machine. It was so integral to Sega’s strategy, the new machine *had* to have a new Sonic on it at launch. Saturn didn’t have one and look what happened there.
But the result, while ambitious and beautiful, also contained a hedgehog that couldn’t navigate a simple staircase without suffering a hissy fit. And, looking back, perhaps it would have been better if someone had said “let’s hold it back a few months until it’s perfect”.
And history also shows us the success stories of not bowing to the clamour for early release. Gran Turismo 3: A-Spec started off life as Gran Turismo 2000—a game that was basically a prettier version of Gran Turismo 2 and used the car models from that game’s CG intro. Over time, it evolved into a full sequel. A sequel that missed its intended release alongside PS2 while Polyphony worked on making it perfect. The result? It was arguably as close to perfect as any racing sim has ever come, and sent shockwaves through the gaming world (again).
Certainly, it can be taken too far. Too Human, Prey and Duke Nukem Forever were all held back so long they became irrelevant to modern gamers. Even Gran Turismo 5 suffered that fate, proving it’s a fine balance to get right. There still has to be a deadline to aim for. Take it too far, or deliver a sub-standard product, and you'll be crucified on delivery.
But if that deadline is approaching and the game is nowhere near the quality it should be, I believe there is no shame in holding it back. Evolution is lucky the budget is there to allow it, but I’ll say this right now: I bet that, as a result of this, Driveclub ends up with a higher Metacritic score than Forza 5’s 80.