It’s been about four weeks since Driveclub was released on Playstation 4, much to my excitement. This was to be the flagship holiday game for Sony, the game that was supposed to launch alongside the console itself last year but delayed for various reasons for polish. A game that was gorgeous, fun and fast in all the preview videos and screenshots and looked to have the mother of all environmental effects engines with unbelievablely good looking rain, weather and lighting effects. It’s interesting to note, this is pretty much the only ace Sony holds this Christmas despite the PS4 being on the market for a year already with Bloodborne and The Order not coming till early next year. While Little Big Planet 3 is a 2014 release we know how it will more or less perform given its the third game in the series. That’s why Driveclub was so integral to Sony’s success this holiday, and that’s why its such a shame that the release is in a bit of a mess.
Firstly let me say, I don’t want to write this post which will stay on the internet for the rest of time and send Driveclub to an early grave. Let’s just say that as of this stage, there are a number of issues that haven’t been resolved that will probably be resolved later and that a further review is probably required. That’s a good idea considering the multiplayer is unstable and there’s still a large chunk of content in the form of DLC tour events and courses that will be available over the coming year. It’s probably best to talk about the good stuff first and deal with the issues later.
There’s been a bit of a debate online as to whether Driveclub is a sim or an arcade style game. From the moment I picked up the controller, the game has always felt arcade to me. There are things here that just wouldn’t be possible in a sim game like Forza or Gran Trusimo. As an arcade game, the controls and the car physics feel fine. It has its own set of physics, for example in the beginner cars, the cars don’t really slow down too much if you adjust your driving line during the corner, you can feather the brake and accelerator accordingly without too much penalty. In a sim game, there’s a much greater balance of when to turn and accelerate/brake, otherwise the car is in danger of spinning out if you do too much of both. Other things that aren’t really sim like are for example the player can brake pretty much as hard as they want without fear of spinning out (you can still spin out accelerating too hard out of a turn though). And the drifting mechanic is about as arcade as it gets as it borrows elements of Outrun’s mechanic, though not as outrageous as that game. It’s not easy to nail a drift, and damn hard to perfectly link up a series of drifts around a circuit.
The immediate sensation is one of speed in Driveclub, even in the ‘beginner cars’, they feel fast, and about as polar opposite to Gran Turismo as it comes. Where Gran Turismo basically holds your hand for the first 10 hours or so with baby races around a ring circuit in a Daihatsu Sirion, Driveclub has you racing in an Audi A4 and Volkswagen Golf GTI from the get go. As mentioned the cars don’t really drive like real cars, but they feel fast and best of all, they feel fun. Braking into corners at speed and accelerating out of corners, the game has enough visual and audio feedback on the tyre traction to let you know at the slightest moment of over/understeer. Basically the handling feels great. Later on, there are Mercedes, Maseratis, RUFs (no Porches), Ferarris, and some interesting conceptual cars like the Atom which is a lightweight open 4 wheel single seat car with incredible acceleration while the BAC Mono which is a little like a Formula 1 car. The sense of speed is overwhelming. Evolution gets top marks for how the cars handle.
The AI on the other hand is pretty rudimentary which is a shame. The AI never feels like it has any personality and even though they all have names, you wouldn’t know Susie from Alex from the way they drive. The problem is that all the cars follow pretty much the same set of AI rules, and there aren’t enough rules to govern their actions on the track. Its just follow the driving line around the course with minor variations on that theme. Then there’s the problem of artificial catchup. While the developers initially came out and said there was no artificial catchup in Driveclub, they have backtracked a bit by saying there is a little bit that allows the AI to drive faster when its behind and be a little more laidback when they are in front. For me that’s all fine and good, but it never feels like the AI is racing against the other AI on the track, its always against the player. And that to me shows that the AI is too transparent and obvious. I want to see the AI fight each other in front and behind me. Far too often the AI are lining up behind each other without trying to overtake one another. Its not game breaking, but there is a bit of emptiness in the racing.
The single player mode is comprised of Single Events, where you pick and choose your track and race type. The game also lets you tweak a number of features, most importantly, the time of day, the time lapse speed and the weather conditions. You can get the most beautiful sunrises and sunsets ever seen in a console game by trying out the conditions on various tracks.
The other mode is the tour event mode, and its basically Gran Turismo without the collecting cars and license test aspect. There’s not so much originality here with the structure, but it is a racing game we are talking about. The tour event is pretty fun, there are 55 events, and the events themselves have a number of stars (aka objectives) to achieve for each event. There may be things like go on average 55mph through this section of the course or finish top 3 in this event. Some events have multiple races and a nice feature is that you can restart the race at any time so if you fluff a corner, you can restart that particular race rather than start the entire event fresh. Because of the various adjustments you can make to the race conditions, the events manage to offer an overwhelming amount of variety compared to something like Gran Turismo or Forza Motorsport. One race might take you up into the cold thin air of the mountains in Chile, with dark grey clouds brewing, falling into dusk and then nighttime, while another one might be bright and sunny in Canada rushing through lush green fields. It’s equally possible to be doing the same track in cloudy conditions during sunrise with the sun blazing directly into your eyes obstructing your view everytime you round the corner. The game looks at all times gorgeous.
Not only are there possibilities to create limitless variations in race conditions, but there are a hefty amount of race tracks available too. The track locations as things stand are Canada, Chile, India, Norway and Scotland. Rumour is that Japan may be coming as DLC. There are 55 tracks, with 2 point to point races (A to B), 2 road circuits, 1 race track per location. The point to point and road circuits are reversible while the race track has 3 variations (11 courses at each location). The evenness in quality is what I love best about the tracks. I can’t really decide on a favourite. Canada is beautiful and at times looks like how it would look if I were driving back home around the countryside in Melbourne. Its possible if you get the lighting just right at dusk (around 7pm) and it almost looks photogenic. Yes that word that’s been bandied around since the dawn of video games is a bit cliché but honestly I think if you look at screenshots, its fair to describe it as such. Chile is stunning with its large mountainous regions, one of the point to point tracks has an intense climb that’s perfect with a Ferrari 450. Of course on the reversible track this becomes something completely different, a hairy hill descent that is an incredible test of skill. India, Norway, Scotland are all superb. In some way the tour event feels short because it never feels like the same race is repeated and that’s an impressive feat that Evolution the developer should be proud of considering there are way too many grindy games out these days.
If you’re strictly looking at just the single player aspect, Driveclub is a brilliant game, go get it. But since the game has come out, there have been significant problems with the online portion of the game with numerous users not being able to even race or even have the leaderboards update. The club aspect of the game is also difficult to get into because of the sporadic connections. Bizarrely and I have not tested it yet, there is no mode to do club v club races. There is support for 12 player racing so it should be viable to have 6 v 6 racing (6 being the maximum allowed for each club), so maybe it will come supported down the line. Putting aside the connection issues, the game doesn’t feel like its finished, there are features like multiplayer lobbies left out, rain and snow and minor things like photo and replay modes to come. Also some things just feel cheap like there are only 8 player models (including 1 generic black guy and 1 Asian dude). It’s completely bizarre that the game which is a year delayed has features that are still…. delayed (que Delaystation and Soony jokes).
So it will get another review at some point in time, at least on the multiplayer aspect and the extra DLC available. As a single player game, this is a definite get, but hold off if you want a concern free multiplayer experience.
Score: 9 God Rays out of 10