Sony’s first-party racing debut finally arrives on the PS4, with Evolution Studios’ DriveClub. After an almost year-long wait, does this former launch title live up to the expectation and the hype?
Developer: Evolution Studios
Reviewed on: (Review Copy Provided)
By this point, DriveClub’s issues have been well documented. I had wanted to hold off on this review until the online issues were sorted, but it’s got to the point where we felt this review needed to go live regardless.
The single player element of DriveClub is fairly straightforward racing game fare. You have a series of events, with each cluster involving more powerful and exotic cars. There are 3 goals to each event, and the more you achieve, the more you unlock. That’s pretty much it. There’s a lot of variety in the environments and tracks, although there are only 3 types of events (Race, time trial and drift challenges). As stated, it’s fairly standard stuff, so it all comes down to the handling and how it looks really.
The handling, irrelevant of which car you choose, has a distinctly “old-school” feel to it. Each vehicle definitely feels weighty but unique, and you’ll soon learn which ones you can fling round corners with a quick tap of the handbrake, and which ones you can leather down the straights to pass your opponents. There are none of the tuning or customisation options that you’d find within Gran Turismo’s vast library of cars and parts, but it does add something to races with one car type knowing that it’s a battle of skills, but it’s at that point that the overly-aggressive AI comes into play. You can be driving round a corner, then all of a sudden get shunted by a computer driver struck by a severe case of road rage, and find yourself not only battling for position, but losing points toward your total as well. It’s a horrible feeling and the lack of options taken in racing lines by the AI is somewhat disconcerting. However, after completing the single player element and only needing one more medal, I’d say that this isn’t an issue that affects every corner on every track. All things considered, I really like how the game handles as a racer, and it’s evident that the extra year has gone some way to tuning this area, as it feels like a completely different game to the one they showed off at EGX in 2013.
Another area that the game shines in is the visuals. DriveClub looks absolutely stunning in pretty much every area. Cars are recreated with astonishing detail, with light bouncing off the bodywork and through windows thanks to the fantastic lighting systems put into place by Evolution. Damp roads and small puddles glisten, waiting for your tyres to displace them as you plough through them at over a hundred miles an hour, and the tarmac looks equally as impressive throughout all of your races. Environments are staggeringly detailed, with a fair range on display, from the lush countryside of Scotland to the snowy moutains of Norway. It’s a real visual treat, and would be well worth getting the PS Plus edition just to give yourself a taste of what is, to my mind, the best looking racer to ever hit a console. That is, y’know, if it existed.
The lack of the promised “free” version of the game that was supposed to have launched alongside the fully-featured title is still a little unnerving this far after launch. With Shu Yoshida posting that it was “delayed until further notice” recently, it gives you an idea of the scope of the issues plaguing the game. DriveClub was sold on the potential of being able to have a social experience whilst enjoying your racing, contributing to an overall tally achieved by your club (hence the name) by completing races and dynamic challenges set by other users throughout. The problem is that this just hasn’t happened. DriveClub’s online infrastructure has been permanently broken since launch, with occasional flashes where things click into place and you think “Oh, so THAT’S what this game is”, only for it to be taken away from you seconds later as your connection to the server is lost once again. It must be heartbreaking for Evolution to see all of their work be overshadowed by these issues, but it’s a rightful shadow that’s been cast, as the game just doesn’t function as advertised. So far in DriveClub, I’ve managed to successfully get into 2 online races. Of those 2, one completed successfully and the other got disconnected halfway through. It’s disheartening to see, and at this point it’s become a bit of a joke.
When it works, DriveClub’s challenge system adds a lot to races and events. You’re torn between eking out an extra half second on a straight to beat someone else’s time to earn a few more points for your club, or playing it safe to take the corner carefully and increasing your lead on your artificial opponents. Do you drift round this corner to get a better score than your clubmate, or do you play it steady and overtake the little sod that’s been battling you for first place since the lights went green? It’s a mode designed to show off with, and inject some life into the single player element once finished, but without it the game feels a little flat after a certain point.
Hidden somewhere within DriveClub is a very good racing game. A game with online hooks that dig in to every element of the experience, whether you’re taking on friends and rivals directly or through the challenges dotted around the game. Sadly, the most crucial part of the game simply doesn’t work right now, and in spite of its extra 11 months, feels horribly unfinished in places. Things like dynamic weather should be in the game at launch, particularly as that’s what was showcased so much at the likes of E3 and EGX. Whilst everyone should appreciate that things happen that will derail some plans a little bit, the fact that DriveClub is still as broken as it is this far down the line, in spite of the additional year that was given to it is inexcusable. Hopefully, in 6 months time, when everything is fixed and all of the content patches are out, it will be a game worth picking up. Until that day arrives, it’s very, very difficult to recommend DriveClub as anything more than an astonishingly pretty, but ultimately nothing more than competent single-player racing game.