Originally slated as a launch window title for Sony’s Playstation 4 and promised to be free for PlayStation Plus users, Driveclub released on October 7th 2014 after a nearly year long delay. Unfortunately, even with the extra time in the oven, the title still managed to launch to some serious issues and a decidedly mixed reception.
At release the game suffered from crippling server problems that plagued the important early phase of the game’s life putting a sour taste in the mouth of many who played it, and tainted the view of many who held off. Nearly six months later and the game is in a considerably different state to what Evolution Studios delivered at launch. While the promised PS Plus edition remains absent from the Playstation Network, the full version of Driveclub has undergone continued refinement and received regular content updates.
Every month Evolution releases a patch containing tweaks and fixes, many of which are direct requests from the community. Accompanying these updates are healthy doses of new content -- the first two months of which were free to all Driveclub players -- with subsequent additions being part of the season pass. These DLC additions generally contain two new single player tours consisting of 11 events each (comprised of 15 races within those 11 events), 5 new cars, plus an extra free car for all Driveclub players, and often a new track and liveries. Evolution has promised extended support with more DLC for season pass holders than what was originally planned despite their recent layoffs.
In this post-review, I’m going to look at the state of the game as it stands now.
Driveclub is an undeniably gorgeous game, running at 1080p, 30fps. The attention to detail is stunning, from micro fibers in the stitching on steering wheels and upholstery to the condensation dripping from the painstakingly modeled cars, and the gritty texture of the tarmac you’ll tear along at absurd speeds. You’ll see heat rising from engines and raindrops realistically tear away from the windshield of your car - the windshield that accurately reflects the hands of your digital avatar behind the wheel. Everything runs at a flawless clip, with rarely a dropped frame to disturb the action.
All is not perfect though. Some textures, especially on parts of the environment look flat and muddy, this is particularly noticeable during the flyover camera pre-race and on certain trackside elements during gameplay. The animations of your digital drivers hands will also sometimes clip through the steering wheel or outright miss the stick during a gear change. Admittedly these are very minor and nitpicking issues, but when the rest of the game looks so good, the little things stand out even more.
In terms of the UI and menu flow, everything is smooth and easy to navigate. The game loads very quickly given the graphically fidelity and the home screen is rarely more then a tap of the DS4’s touch pad away. Evolution has definitely created a cohesive vision that permeates all facets of the presentation and puts forward a smooth and constant experience for the player.
Contrary to the vividly rendered visuals that portray a sense of realism, the actual gameplay is a decidedly arcade experience. Cars generally maintain an absurd amount of grip on the road during cornering, even at speeds that would make Mr. Gymkhana himself, Ken Block, flinch. Driveclub is a straight forward and relatively simply game to pick up. You wont find any deep upgrade or tuning systems here. There’s no engine swapping a la Forza Motorsport, or license tests like those found in Gran Turismo. There is a simple livery editor, however the options are so basic that 9 times out of 10 I found myself using the factory colours on the cars rather than the largely obtuse designs that could be generated. No, Driveclub doesn’t shower you with options or give you much freedom in terms of progression. What it does do is offer a tight and focused arcade experience that harkens back to the days of Sega Rally, or more recently Project Gotham Racing.
Driveclub also features all original tracks set in some truly exotic locations. You’ll race under the blooming cherry blossoms of Japan, the rain soaked hills of Scotland and the snow capped mountains of Norway, to name a few. All of which create a unique sense of atmosphere and excitement, especially under adverse weather conditions. Added in an update post launch, Driveclub’s weather effects are a sight to behold. When cranked all the way up to eleven and under the watchful gaze of the moon at night, you’ll struggle to see approaching turns as you whiz around the track with windscreen wipers approaching warp speed. It all makes for some extremely high octane racing action that is one missed turn away from your controller disappearing out the window.
When you enter the Tour Mode, Driveclub’s primary mode for the solitary-inclined among us, you’ll be presented with a list of races that ultimately lead to a championship after every dozen or so events. It’s within these events that we start to see Driveclub’s attempt to create a social experience with asynchronous challenges that permeate the game of every player around the world. The reality of these challenges is slightly less grandiose than it may seem, while they do offer a nice incentive for the perfectionist seeking gold stars on every event, it’s rarely necessary to clear them all in order to progress. You’ll do things like try to beat the average speed of another player through a specific section of the track, or slam out the gnarliest (did I just say that?) drift you can around a set of switchbacks, all while trying to stay a head of the other cars on the track. The game automatically pulls in the score of your nearest rival and gives preferential attention to those in your friends list or club.
Speaking of clubs, Evolution has tried to make clubs a central part of the game which is not surprising given the games title. However the actual experience of being in a club feels, for the most part, like little more than an exclusive friends list, albeit a friend’s list where everybody’s scores and times contribute to your clubs global standing. Clubs are capped at 8 players, and while that may initially seem like a small number, Evolution has stated they wanted clubs to feel tight knit and close, somewhat akin to a racing team. The game does do a solid job of presenting you with different ways to view and challenge your friends and rivals, however for a game that advertises to be a socially connected revolution in racing, it does little that feels new. Games have being doing asynchronous multiplayer for many years. In fact many of the features in Driveclub can be found in Burnout Paradise, a game that was released in 2008. But I digress. For me, the true heart of Driveclub lies in its arcade roots and the in-race challenges combined with occasionally unforgiving events that take me back to the glory days of tough arcade racing. It’s straight forward, but it’s a blast to play.
And while you’re playing, you’ll have the pleasure of listening to some stellar audio design. The cars in Driveclub sound brutal and you’ll hear every little flutter and hiccup in the monstrous engines of these dream machines. Each of the unique views in the game offers a different sonic experience that is oh-so satisfying through a solid pair of headphones. This is thanks to Evolution Studios spending countless hours with the cars, recording them from all angles, inside and out, with a huge array of microphones. It all adds up to some of the best audio production I’ve ever heard in a racing game. Too bad the music can’t keep pace with the jaw dropping sound effects. Driveclub is begging for a pumping licensed soundtrack full of hard rock songs and driving techno beats. What we get instead is faux-dubstep and dance tunes that feel somewhat limp. To Evolution’s credit the transitions and way the music organically ramps up during tense moments and after leaving the pause menu is an impressive touch that somewhat redeems the largely lackluster soundtrack.
Ultimately Driveclub is pure arcade racing bliss. It’s not going to be everybody’s brand of fume-filled fun. You wont see the variety of cars that perhaps people have come to expect in this age of racing games. There also isn’t the freedom and options of many of its contemporaries. However, Driveclub fills a void and should scratch the itch of old school arcade racing fans looking for an adrenaline filled romp around gorgeously modeled tracks.
Despite the shaky launch, Drivelub is absolutely worth checking out, it can easily be found for a bargain price and with Evolution Studios promising many more months of new content and support, Driveclub has got the legs, or rather the wheels, to stand among the big boys.