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Driveclub PS4 Review

#Driveclub was supposed to be Sony’s big racer for the launch of PlayStation 4 back in November 2013, while also showcasing Sony’s concept for PlayStation Plus versions of titles that could be upgrading to the full game for cheaper than buying the game normally. As you probably know by now, this never actually happened. Driveclub was hit with a ten month delay and lost its hashtag during this time period. After the long wait for another PlayStation 4 racer to hit the market, Driveclub is finally here, but is this first party racer blasting out in pole position to lead Sony’s Christmas catalogue or is it going to burst a tire and fly off the banking with a splash? Turn on your ignition keys and let’s find out.

One thing I learnt from my time with Driveclub is that this game wants you to get on the track. There is nothing in the way of cutscenes or short stories to stop you from picking a car and getting on that tarmac. Unlike Microsoft’s Forza Horizon 2’s focus on a beautiful open world racing party, Sony’s Driveclub keeps it simple. Everyone is shouting praise for Forza Horizon 2’s open world gameplay, including me, but Driveclub is a different type of game. I’d say it is similar to games like Top Gear on the Super Nintendo, where you just pick a car, choose a track based on a luscious location and get racing, and it’s nice to have something like that to balance out the racers that bring open world to the genre.

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The main single player attraction is Tour, a mode filled with various cars and challenges separated into five class groups. Each group is made up of race events, often limiting car selection to a specific type. Rookie is the first collection, featuring smaller less exotic hot hatch vehicles, such as the Mini John Cooper Works GP, Volkswagen Golf GTI and Renault Clio RS, then each step opens up faster cars and more tracks until you work your way up to the legend series and drive such beauties as the Koenigsegg Agera R, McLaren P1 and Hennesey Venom GT.

Progression through Tour is slightly different than the norm. Each event inside one of the five groups contains either three, six or nine stars to gather. These stars are challenges based on the event and can ask the player to overcome feats, such as finishing in the top 3, achieving a target speed, beating a lap within a certain amount of time, or doing a complete clean lap. This means that for most of the events you can actually get the maximum stars without achieving a win. This helps with progression to get through the campaign faster. This concept was recently done in Forza Motorsport 5, allowing people who might have come close to winning to continue through the championship without a handicap or without having to retry the race. The only downside was the cash prize wasn’t as big, and that’s the same for Driveclub, except substitute the cash with fame points.

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While stars are used to unlock more events in single player, gaining fame is Driveclub’s blood flow throughout every part of the game and is rewarded for driving well or skilfully, such as drafting and drifting (think earning kudos from Project Gotham Racing), and finishing in a good position. Everything is controlled based on how much fame the player has, as meeting targets levels up the player’s profile. This means that the developer, Evolution, has limited the player’s access in how they progress through Tour mode, and in relation, the online mode. A player’s level limits what cars can be accessed. In the beginning, you have access to one car (or two if you have joined a club), and from there it’s down to you to gain the levels required to unlock more exciting cars. The problem with this is that you hit new events, but are still limited to just one or two cars in that class until you hit a higher level. I was never able to have a good selection of cars as I advanced through Tour mode. It seems the game is designed to get you to repeat levels to complete the failed challenges, but if you did them first time, then it means that you have to play it again and grind to the next level and the next unlockable car.

A selection of cars are locked behind a club level, rather than your own individual profile, so it’s advised to get into a club and reap the benefits of up to six players contributing to the club’s level and in turn unlocking more cars for you. The problem I had was that the servers were broken on launch day (more on that later) and I couldn’t join a club for a solid few days, so my unlocks were single player based until the club feature was available to me.

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The starting car selection doesn’t offer the best first impressions of Driveclub. The cars are slow and somehow manage to make driving feel dull on these exciting tracks. It’s much better when the faster cars are unlocked, transforming the experience into an adrenaline rush that awakens the good in Driveclub, as you take the automotive beasts of horsepower by the horns and ride it. The faster cars spice up the dullness that creeps in from racing slower vehicles.

Playing online should help with gaining additional fame, but the problem is some online racing events limit the car selection, so racing in a car you don’t currently own turns it into a rental car, which means any fame you earn in the race is reduced to zero – a horrible idea. At least let the player earn some fame when not using a car, even if it’s like 60% less, because the current way is counter-intuitive for the player and is punishing them for something which I find is a fault of game design. You can try finding a room that has criteria matching your current cars, but why should you have to limit your scope of fun in multiplayer just to be rewarded fame?

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Online is a big part of Driveclub’s experience, and it was always advertised as this. It’s probably one of the reasons why the single player is over after a few hours – it’s one of the shortest campaigns I have played in a racer for some time. Online does creep into the single player, as Face-off challenges, scores set by other players online, download and appear during your current race as a chequered flag. Driving through the holographic flag activates this challenge – average speed, drifting or the best driving line – and if you successfully beat it, you are awarded more fame and gloating rights against that other person, who is often someone on your friends list or a club member.

To say that being in a club was something to distinguish Driveclub from other racing games, there isn’t much here to demonstrate this. You are free to join an open club, get an invite from friends to join their club or create your own club. It must be noted that clubs won’t be active unless they have at least two members. Apart from the earlier mentioned car unlocks that comes with being in a club. Clubs also have their own paint schemes that are shared between everyone included. Players can also take a race they have just completed and craft a challenge from it to send to other players or clubs. This offers a fun diversion of constant challenges between each other that adds more life to the game, but asynchronous gameplay for a racer has been done before, so it’s not exactly revolutionary. I should also note that it’s fun when it’s working. The horrible server issue has plagued the game since launch – it’s the reason why I left the review till later to see if it would be fix. While the issue has gotten better (you can actually connect now!) they are still instances that happen every 20 minutes or so where the server craps out and a message displays on screen that connection is lost and the local Face-off challenges are removed from the race. It’s not acceptable that after the amount of time has passed that a feature that was advertised is still not working as intended.

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On the track, Driveclub hits a mixture between arcade racing and simulation. It’s a weird balance to adjust to at first, as cars grip to the track, letting you blast down straights and turn corners hard if at the right speed. Cars only really slide if their drift stat is high or you force one with a handbrake or overpower the use of acceleration in a corner. More often than not, you will crash into a wall if you don’t slow down enough, as the car won’t turn well.  In fact, Driveclub brings in some simulation aspects in regards to cornering. You have to take corners correctly; you can’t get away simply accelerating around corners here, so learning how to brake and accelerate out of each corner helps a lot.

A race can hold up to 12 cars on the track, with real world countries, such as Norway, Canada and Chile, used as inspiration for the tracks. Each of the five countries, including the reverse versions, contains 11 layouts. Due to the nature of being on the general road, the track designs can be a little narrow , which in turn demonstrates Driveclub’s penalty system that punishes people for hard collisions or taking shortcuts. If the game registers someone doing one of these, then the car is forced to limit its speed and won’t be able to go above that until the penalty has gone.

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The AI drivers don’t care for causing penalties, as it doesn’t handicap them, only the player, so they will bash and shunt their way to victory. Either the cars are dumb or the AI is incredibly aggressive, but it can be annoying when you are given a penalty that wasn’t your fault. Sometimes you will get away with it or sometimes you won’t. It seems a little uncertain when the game will punish you, but when it does, prepare to try block a racer behind you for a few seconds as you are stuck travelling in second gear.

There are no gameplay sliders to adjust the balance between arcade and simulation handling, nor is there a racing line to enable. Instead, tracks have coloured flags, red, yellow and green, to indicate how bad the upcoming corner is. There are also no tuning options available or rewind options here, making Driveclub a straight up racer from the old days.

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Fans of cars will be shocked to know that the selection in Driveclub is bizarre. The game features only 50 cars, which are all European. For a racer that is set around the world and based on flashing off those beautiful cars that a common human can only dream off is such a strange design choice. You can’t have a collection of supercars without featuring vehicles like the Nissan GT-R or a Dodge Viper. Many cars are missing here that I feel should be included. Maybe the huge DLC plan for the game will fix this issue.

If there is one thing about Driveclub that cannot be questioned, it’s the graphics. This is an amazing looking racer, one of the best lookers currently available to buy. Evolution took the benefit of capping the frame rate to 30fps to deliver extra beauty at 1080p. The cars are jammed with detail, from the thoroughly designed cockpit to the realistic rendered modelling and gorgeous lighting system that looks stunning. Racing games usually sacrifice their environment, such as poor rendered trees or bad textured grass, to bring great looking cars, but Driveclub ignores that general rule and supplies some amazing vistas that aim to impress the player. There isn’t anything this year in a racer that meets the visual display of driving through the mountainous region of Norway in the middle of the night with lights on full beam highlighting the road ahead, then as the race comes to a close, the sun rises up above the tops to bring colour to the world. The only downers I have in relation to the presentation is that rain wasn’t implemented in the release (it’s coming in a patch) and the locations don’t feature much activity. It would have been nice to see more spectators or animals/planes/objects filling the world and making it feel alive.

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Driveclub is a visual beauty with breathtaking vistas and wonderfully modelled cars, but that doesn’t save it from its constant server problems that hinder a big part of Driveclub’s advertised experience – the online, club and challenge functionality. Driveclub features a short campaign and a sloppy start with lacklustre cars dulling the experience, but once the speedier machines unlock and you have the freedom to select from a wider range of driving machines, Driveclub becomes a fun arcade racer with a simulation mentality. It won’t blow your socks off mechanically, but people looking to just pick a car and drive in an exotic location without any complications will find fun here, it’s just a huge shame that Driveclub could have done with more work before being released in its the current state.

6 out of 10