Sony want you to join their club.
So, you are speeding towards the blind right corner with your opponents right behind you. Slap on the brakes just enough to get around the corner without losing control and then straight back onto the accelerator, that’s the plan. However, the sun is low in the sky and turning the corner as gracefully as you can means nothing when turning the corner results in momentary blindness from the glare of the sun. This is what Driveclub, Sony’s PS4 exclusive driving game, is all about. Moments of perfect realism in an arcade setting.
Of course Driveclub, developed by Evolution Studios, is also about social gaming, beautiful cars and stunning settings. But it is the little moments when, despite the game being lacking in some areas and completely soulless in others, the player comes across a perfect virtual racing moment – a pure drift around a corner, overtaking just before the track thins to single lane, or the sun getting in your eyes as it drops down beneath the crest of a mountain. These are the times when Driveclub feels perfect.
But it is not a perfect game by any means. The long delay for Driveclub, which was supposed to be one of the PS4 launch titles, left many gamers worried about the end product. Now that the game is out, is is easy to see that it has been polished to within an inch of its life. But there are also parts of the game that feel unfinished or even missing altogether.
Driveclub balances carefully between being an arcade racer and a driving simulator. The handling of the cars, whilst gloriously fun, leans more towards the arcade side of things. However, the options and style of racing, with a much more serious demeanor, is reminiscent of simulation style games such as Gran Turismo.
For the solo player with no interest in joining one of the clubs that have been a main part of the hype of the game, options are seriously lacking. Beyond entering a single event just for enjoyment, with a choice of Race, Time Trial or Drift, the player only has a collection of 52 championships to enter. These championships, which have different specializations and completion of which lead to the player unlocking the next batch of championships, come in an incredibly sterile environment, with the player simply moving from one to the next without any real atmosphere.
There is atmosphere by the shed load once the player starts racing, but too quickly the racing is over and the player is returned to simply choosing a championship. With the latest Forza Horizon offering absolute bundles of atmosphere for Xbox One owners, this doesn’t bode well for the PS4 exclusive gamers.
There is even a lack of atmosphere to the cars available to the player. Most of these are simply unlocked as the player progresses, giving them access to the limited models from the different types of vehicle – Hot Hatch, Sport, Performance, Super and Hyper. The cars themselves look stunning, perfectly recreated into this virtual racing world. But there is no sense of building a stable of cars to suit the players needs, and there is no customization beyond new paint jobs which the player can also unlock.
The tracks are a highlight in Driveclub, with gameplay taking place in locations as diverse as Chile, Norway and even Scotland. Aside from the breathtaking beauty that is at least partly due to the full 1080p and the skill of the developers, the way the tracks are laid out scream of near perfection. whether they be racing point to point or around a circuit, the tracks are designed to push the player to drive fast and take risks, with an incredible sense of speed as the scenery zips past in a blur beside them.
As mentioned, the car handling leans towards the arcade racing side. Progressing through the different types of cars will see a significant change in the way the player will have to approach each race, but all of the cars have a weighty feel about them, encouraging the high speed races that the tracks are perfectly built for. The inclusion of a penalty to speed for collisions or coming off track, is a good idea to promote proper racing, but in practice is more than a little frustrating, especially when getting penalized for the actions of another racer.
Solo play is not the emphasis for Driveclub though. The game has been pitched as a social racer, and it performs quite well in this aspect. Players can join, or set up, a club with up to six members and then earn fame for their club, with the idea being that clubs compete around the world rather than individual players. Leveling up the club, which all members can contribute to, results in some nice treats including more new cars, which is always nice. Another aspect of the social side of Driveclub comes in the form of challenges that pop up as the player is racing around. Be they cornering challenges, drifting challenges or straight forward speed challenges, the game will highlight a section of the course in front of them and give them another player to beat. In practice, this can be a bit jarring when concentrating on the race in hand, but they certainly add some much needed variety to the game.
So it is that Driveclub is simply the most beautiful racing game I have ever seen, with a heavy emphasis on social gaming and a sterile single player experience. But that isn’t the whole story. Driveclub is an unfinished game, and the developers are promising updates to bring a host of new features, including the much hyped weather system, photo editor and replay option, along with new cars and tracks. It is likely that the Driveclub we see in six months time will be very different from what is available now.
But now is when we judge the game. As it stands, Driveclub is gorgeous and the actual gameplay is incredibly satisfying. However, the single player game is lacking a soul, and the social aspects which should be the core selling point for the game, are limited. Driveclub has the potential to be a must have PS4 racer, but it is a work in progress and at the moment is only raised above average by its beauty.