DriveClub Review (PS4)
My first online gaming experience was playing a remote user in NFL 2K1 on my Dreamcast. In the years since, I’ve watched online gameplay go from a novelty, to alternate play modes, to the core feature of both games and consoles. Usually, it works by creating immersive, innovative and unique experiences.
But other times it doesn’t. When a game puts all of its eggs into the online basket, there’s room for a huge debacle, leaving gamers with nothing but a shell of a $60 game (see SimCity, 2013).
Driveclub isn’t quite as bad as EA’s City Builder, but inconsistent online functionality have plagued the first “serious” racing game on PS4 and left some users feeling cheated. Unfortunately, looking at just the single player options won’t inspire additional confidence.
Driveclub's devotion to driving is clear from the opening, and, like Forza and Gran Tourismo, touts the beauty and majesty of the automobile. Unlike its peers, though, Driveclub seems stuck in a previous era where driving is the sole focus (or feature) of the game.
I was disappointed by the lack of options. There is no tuning, tire changes, or customization beyond simple paint jobs. Worse, there’s no choice when it comes to unlocking cars -- it’s all a linear progression: the next car will be given to you when you level up. Granted, this progression focuses your driving on an increasingly difficult set of events; but it also strips any kind of personal preference from the proceedings.
With the focus on driving, and not building any kind of narrative or career, one might expect the actual driving to be a bit better. I found it to be strangely stiff, regardless of the vehicle. If you go hard into a curved rail, you are better just to ride it out than fight the game’s steering to get back on the road. Jamming on the brakes doesn’t usually result in any kind of loss of control, but feathering them does.
Driving at speed feels decent enough, and Driveclub does a great job at communicating visually just how fast you are going. But inch off the track at all, and you are given 3 seconds to get back -- which seriously hampers the ability to become proficient by learning from your mistakes.
Overall, the driving isn’t terrible, but it will take you time to get used to it. And I definitely wouldn’t put it above any other sim-style games out there.
In an effort to help you get better, and seemingly reward good driving, Driveclub uses a performance-point system. We’ve seen this in racing games before, so it’s not exactly innovative. Driveclub does shake things up, though, through sectional challenges based on speed, accuracy, drifting, etc. These are handled rather nicely and do give you something to strive for in addition to first place. These are only in place for specific sections though, so it’s not like you are constantly getting points for following the driving line for the whole race, for instance.
Some penalties are ever-present, though, such as collisions with other cars. Unfortunately, I found the AI to have a lack of tact, often barrelling into you as they mechanically follow the optimal path.
Again, temporarily ignoring the problems with online, the single-player career is pretty shallow. Initially, you’ll be given a car and a series of eligible events. Each event has three secondary goals to achieve. Doing well earns you points; points earn you levels. Each level gets you a new car, which may unlock a new event or series of events.
And...that’s about it. There is no choice of what car to unlock or other customization options. You aren’t amassing virtual currency or a personalized stable of cars. That said, there is an addictive quality to the path that does encourage long racing sessions. In a lot of ways, the career reminds me of the arcade racers found on the previous two generations of consoles.
Certainly, graphics are the strength of the game; it’s fair to say that this is one of the most beautiful driving games available.
The car models look great, including the default cockpit view. Damage is well rendered, but doesn’t seem to have any real performance effect.
The real standouts, visually, are the tracks. They are wildly varied, both in shape and environment. There’s a photorealism to the overall look of the landscapes, even if it doesn’t quite hold up when looking an individual textures or during the intro flyovers.
The biggest draw is the day/night cycle, which can be adjusted to more quickly represent the passage of time. Watching the light levels pass from midday to dusk to night is glorious. Cars at night also look great, with nice contrast levels between lights and the surrounding night.
Strangely, there’s no replay mode, which denies you the chance to show off the game’s outstanding visuals.
So online play is the big issue here, which, as I said, is a grievous error for a game focused on social interaction. At this point, online continues to be an issue for some players. I was able to get on roughly have of the time. Sometimes I thought I was in an event, but it quickly kicked me out prior to the race started.
What’s here -- when working -- is interesting, if unfortunately limited. The Club system allows players to join up to share experience and challenges, as well as work together to challenge other teams. But The Club system, at this point, isn’t quite as infused as you would hope. It’s sort of like an FPS clan, with less interaction and shared rewards. Unless you are able to make a Club with people you know, it will just feel like another meter to watch.
There is a live event system that is neat, with a “playlist” type structure that links multiple races and car types. Unfortunately, they cycle and fill pretty quickly, so if you see one that you are interested in, jump in. On top of that, the menus are sort of cumbersome, and I haven’t found a way to create your own online customized event -- that is, pick the exact track, cars, etc. The live events are quite varied though, so there should always be something that's of interest.
The worst part of the online play so far isn’t the fault of the developer: poor driving overall limits the fun you’ll have racing others. The few races I’ve got in tend to be full of bumping and cramped driving. Whether intentionally or due to low skill, it’s frustrating to be knocked out of a race thanks to some stranger who can’t steer. This isn't exclusive to Driveclub, put so far, it does seem to be more prominent.
Again, without a fully functional online package, this game is lacking the reason most will want to play.
Driveclub is a great looking game with a mediocre driving engine wrapped in a very limited content package. It’s missing some relatively standard features (replay, tuning, customization), and the selection of cars is pretty minimal. Worse, the career mode strips away any kind of decision making, leaving you with something that almost resembles a free-to-play game (think War Thunder , etc).
But like those free-to-play games, Driveclub can be addicting, especially when the online features are working correctly. The Clubs offer a clan-like experience to a driving game, and the challenges make sure you aren’t a one-skill type of driver. I didn’t find the driving engine to be spectacular, but it’s not going to be a huge hinderance for someone fully invested in the game.
For now, investing is the only way to get this game -- until the free PS+ edition is released. At $50-60, I would definitely wait until the online problems are fixed.
Score: 5 (Average)
Learning Curve: Your standard pseudo-sim arcade racer, so learning curve isn’t steep--outside of the game’s strange driving feel/engine.
Control Scheme: The PS4 controller feels nice for a driving game; nothing unusual here.
Visuals: This game is a gem to look at. Tracks and environments are outstanding. It’s too bad there isn’t a replay or photo mode.
Audio: Sound is good, and focused on the engines themselves. I love that the cockpit view muffles the sound appropriately.
Career: Very shallow and limited. Few choices to make, though see your level rise can be addicting.
Onlne: The Club system feels a little underused at this point. Online racing is poor, though the events are varied. Connectivity remains an issue.