Cast your mind back to the PlayStation 4 launch of November last year, and you might begin to remember about a high-profile release unfortunately missing out on a slice of the action. Fast-forward to 11 months later after a hefty delay, and Evolution Studios first game since 2011’s Motorsport Apocalypse has finally arrived on Sony’s latest console. Poised to set the gaming world on fire with a seamlessly connected social driving experience like no other, it was said that Driveclub was to be the first great contender against that of Microsoft’s Forza series. It’s to no surprise that the substantial delay in release did ruffle some feathers along the way, but now that it’s finally arrived on our shelves, was it actually worth the wait?
Fitting itself nicely between the arcade styling of the Need For Speed series, and the driving simulator styling of Gran Turismo, Driveclub is a surprisingly accessible racer despite its realistic appearance. While the game does require players to be careful with their driving and focus on a sensible approach to each straight and turn, the physics in this game feel rather loose, and as such the game feels much more forgiving than most other serious racing games. Having this fine balance really does help this game immensely, and has enough to appease the driving purists, while opening up enough to players who lack experience in these types of games. That’s not to say that the game lacks difficulty however, as it certainly ramps up as you progress through each tier of the single-player ‘Tour’ mode.
Though players can freely play single events or compete in online multiplayer, the bulk of the gameplay within Driveclub is found inside the ‘tour’ mode. Presenting the player with a series of varying events that must be completed to set standards, the player works to complete as many as possible in order to progress to the higher tiers. With each event containing a minimum of 3 challenges each, the player must not only attempt to win these events, but also complete other achievements along the way. One challenge might have you trying to beat a specific lap time, while another might have you attempting to reach a top speed. They are hardly original, and they do lack in variety, but thanks to a plethora of tracks that are all exceptionally well designed, the challenges feel somewhat fresh for the most part when placed amongst different locations. There are four different types of events that are scattered throughout the tour, and each brings a different flavour to the proceedings. There are your traditional races that either place you on circuit tracks or on set routes, Time Trial events, and Drift events that have you attempting to rack up as many points as possible. Each lends itself well to the Driveclub formulae, though the drift events are rather difficult, and take a lot of practice to get used to. Strangely enough, handbraking is actually quite hard to initiate successfully, and you will often feel nervous about doing it before you put some solid practice in.
While other racing games would have you following a racing line throughout each event, Driveclub changes things up, trading in the traditional means of navigation for some clever signposting. Markers are distributed across all levels and in plain sight, instructing players of on-coming twists and turns with different colours representing how hard each turn is. It’s a simple system that is easy to pick up on, and it makes for a much better gaming experience than that of the racing lane. Without having a precise and flawless path to hold your hand, the game forces you to read the tracks and learn to instinctively react to what’s coming up. Not only this, but it also provides you with the sense that you have much more freedom in your approach, encouraging players to find a path of their own that fits best with their style, and vehicle.
While the gameplay might not sound particularly unique on the surface, what separates this game from others on the market is the addition of a persistent socially-connected world. No matter whether you are playing the single-player or multiplayer components, your progress contributes to an overarching profile, and you are always interacting with the online community in some way. While the multiplayer races involve directly competing against other players, the single-player content takes an in-direct approach, randomly generating challenges throughout each race that pits the player against members of the Driveclub community. These challenges follow the same style of the ones found in the tour mode, though instead of trying to beat standards set by the developers, you are trying to better the standards set by other players who’ve competed on that track. It’s a nice integration for the most part, and it adds an extra element to every race. Players can of course choose to ignore these challenges, though just like your performance in the race itself, your ability is rewarded, and ‘fame’ is added to your player profile.
Building up your fame allows you to progress to higher fame levels, and this not only gives you bragging rights and a good reputation among the community, but it also unlocks more vehicles, decals, and paint jobs for you to use. With this wealth of content to unlock over the course of your time with Driveclub, you are encouraged to drive carefully, take risks, and above all else, win as many events as possible. Overtaking your opponents awards you with fame, drafting behind other vehicles does too, as does drifting. Essentially, anything you do on the track makes an impact on your awarded fame, whether that be positive or negative. Because it is styled as a more serious racing game, crashing into the track and your opponents reduces your amounted fame, as does any other form of reckless behaviour. You will find yourself (perhaps fairly often) losing out on fame because of scrapes and bumps along the way, but the game is rather forgiving, and it doesn’t punish you too much, meaning that you can still finish races with a fairly high fame reward. You only ever feel truly punished when hit with a penalties where your speed is limited for a small timed window, where you are likely to fall back considerably. These penalties are only dished out when players have high-speed collisions or attempt to cut corners, so anyone hit with these can hardly complain as they are never given out without good reason. That said however, small crashes feel inconsistent, and I commonly lost out on fame because someone had crashed into me, instead of the other way around.
Developing your own player profile is one thing, but as the name suggests, Driveclub encourages players to band together, and play as a unit. Right from the beginning, players have the option to create their own club, or to simply join one that already exists. Each club is limited to 6 members, and everybody’s individual progress contributes to your clubs fame level. Similarly to individual profiles, increasing the fame increases your reputation, pushes you further up the global rankings, and unlocks new content. There are a handful of cars that can be unlocked along the way, but largely you will be rewarded with plenty of paint jobs and decals. Each club can build its own logo with a simple, but varied creation system, as well as create a custom paint job that translates across all vehicles, and allows you to fly the colours of your own club whenever you like. Due to the volume of unlocks, you will find that there are plenty of unique combinations to be made, making it easy to create your own unique look.
While the ideas are solid and offer a fun experience when they work, at the time of writing the online implementation is incredibly sloppy. Since the game launched, the servers have been wrought with issues that have left a lot of players isolated from the online community, and those that have been fortunate to connect have been met with a wildly inconsistent experience. It’s a real shame for this title to suffer from such a fiasco, especially one so heavily invested in online connectivity, and though the developers have worked tirelessly since release to patch the game up and improve the servers, its current state is nowhere near good enough. It’s unsure as to when the game will be fully operational, and as every day passes more and more frustration is built up within the community. It is hoped that these issues will be sorted soon, especially as it’s slowly creeping up to a month since the game launched. While I have at times been able to sample the online structure built around the game, elements such as the personal challenges and club challenges are totally unavailable, and I’m completely locked out of them. I’ve had experiences where mind-race challenges have asked me to beat an average speed that was well-over 4000mph, a feat that is obviously totally impossible. I also had a lot of issues in regards to joining clubs, signing up to multiplayer events, and even being online for more than 10 minutes. I am happy to report however, that in instances where the game does come together as a functional package, it feels great, and is a very rewarding experience. When everything is 100%, the community will enjoy these feature sets, but as it stands, it’s far too crippled.
Containing a current total of 50 cars all with plenty of variety amongst them, it’s fair to say that the developers have done an admirable job in regards to the games content. Each car has been meticulously crafted in order to perfectly resemble the actual thing, and the performance of each car feels accurately portrayed too, with each vehicle feeling like an entirely different beast. Just because you might do well in one particular car, it doesn’t mean that you will perfectly slip into driving another. Because of the stark contrasts in performance, Driveclub requires you to put time and effort into the cars to maximise your ability on the track. As you progress and unlock much faster cars, you feel as though you’ve been thrown into the deep end, and it will take practice to nail how each car handles, and how to appropriately interact on the tracks. It’s not particularly easy to master the higher-end cars, but it’s rewarding when you begin to notice a substantial difference in your ability, and you are able to secure great lap times and pole positions with ease.
Graphically speaking, Driveclub is beautiful. Like I said before, cars have been painstakingly created to accurately resemble their real-life counterparts and each and every detail and nuance has been captured here. Even the interiors of each vehicle have been created with the same immaculate detail, and playing the game through the drivers-seat camera allows you to witness this in all of its glory. The varying different environments you find yourself in are stunning also, and you will often wish you could just stop and take in the glorious vistas instead of racing straight by them. Tracks are spread across Canada, Chile, India, Norway, and Scotland, so there’s plenty of variation in your surroundings, and with a day-and-night cycle thrown in, this goes further to add extra visual flair to each event.
Though it does have its own distinctive identity, and the core game mechanics are interesting, I can’t help but feel that Driveclub lacks a soul. While the studios past endeavours within the Motorstorm franchise are dripping in attitude and character, Driveclub just feels stale and almost-forgettable in comparison. The soundtrack does little to evoke the senses and lift the atmosphere, not to mention that there appears to be no real reason, or concept behind Driveclub itself. It’s not just a soul that the game is missing either, with some common features such as replays and weather effects being omitted outright. That said however, weather effects in particular are arriving as part of a handful of free content (alongside a few new cars and tracks) that’s to be released over the coming months. This doesn’t shake the feeling that these elements should have been a part of the full-release though, and the multiplayer disaster does suggest that the game was not 100% by the time the release window approached.
Though it may feel like a rather soulless experience, and though the multiplayer side of things is heavily crippled at the time of writing, the sure and steady updates to the game and its servers displays a strong effort being made by the developers to fix their game, and get players experiencing Driveclub for what it should be. In instances where things do work, the ideas behind the game all come together and work harmoniously to deliver on a seamlessly connected driving experience that is consistently fun, throwing fun events in to freshen up each track event. With a nice selection of cars, a fantastic amount of tracks, beautiful graphics, and a stellar mix of both arcade and simulator car handling, Driveclub is a fun driving package. With free content getting released over the next few months, and as the social side develops and expands with its community, it’s safe to say that an interesting future awaits for this game.
- Car handling feels solid – mixes both arcade and simulator styles.
- Fantastic tracks, of which are plentiful.
- Seamlessly connected world is great.
- Plenty of content to unlock.
- Fame systems encourage players to put in a lot of effort.
- All cars that are stunningly detailed.
- One of the best looking driving gamers out there.
- Challenges lack variety.
- Drifting is difficult to master.
- Multiplayer components are broken at the time of writing.
Disclaimer:All scores given within our reviews are based on the artist’s personal opinion; this should in no way impede your decision to purchase the game.