Driveclub poses a question that is probably quite a pertinent one for this new generation of console gaming. It doesn’t mean to pose it, not in the slightest. And it possibly deserves a little more credit than what the question suggests but the question is there.
Is it enough for a game, especially in the racing genre, to be graphically excellent and for that to be its most redeeming quality?
I put this review off for over a month now for the obvious reason of the games technical issues, missing modes and multiplayer problems, and that ample time could be given for them to be fixed. Ample time has been given and… They haven’t been fixed. Believe me this review is neither bashing the efforts of Sony and Evolution Studios, nor is it not giving the benefit of the doubt that these were avoidable issues. The truth is that I have been unable to play any multiplayer content at all. Every time I try to join a lobby I get an error message, the challenges option is still unavailable and it took me two weeks to even start a club. It’s been an incredibly poor show from all concerned given the PS4’s lack of racing game content right now. The spinning wheel of loading in the games menu screens has been the majority of my multiplayer and social experience with Driveclub.
But let us talk about the game itself for a moment. As a single player experience it is an arcade racing game with real world inspired environments based around the globe for you to race in. It goes in a complete 180 degree spin from the current crop of open world (and has to be said, excellent) options but also isn’t entirely in the vein of the track based options like Forza 5/Gran Tourismo. Instead of money, you earn experience both for you and your club (if you’re part of one) over a single player tour campaign, which consists of a mix of lap races and hill climb-like distance races, each with occasional modifiers of car, environment and challenges for you to succeed in. Your difficulty increases as you go up the rank levels and unlock the more powerful cars for you to race in ever more restricted and competitive spaces. As like most racers, a plethora of licensed supercars and sporty street hatchbacks are available for you to toy with which just unlock, so no need to mull over what to buy.
With this comes the inevitable customisation options although this being an arcade racer loses all of the simulation and performance upgrade aspects and instead focuses on the paint and decal jobs. You can design different colour schemes and a badge for your club, which you can apply to all your cars, and the different designs get unlocked with the experience you gain. You’ll also earn accolade badges, which you can adorn your car with to show your expertise off to the world… Ah, yeah the slight multiplayer problem there.
Actually there are a few issues generally I have with the game in this regard. The cars you are racing against are entirely frustrating. They have a tendency to be violent which can entirely ruin your championship if you’re half way through one. Their desire to trade paint with you at nearly 150MPH in a field of almost priceless super cars beggars belief at times. The game is based on a points=XP system which tasks you to race and drift in cars that are designed to stick to the road and navigate a tight course, avoiding clanging off of visible and invisible barriers after missing braking points. Which means if you do end up getting a little bit too much on to the dirt or end smashing up the back the incredibly lethargic AI car in front of you, you will be punished, even with them hitting you in the back or the side and you getting a points-based penalty because of it. In fact it’s quite reminiscent of the overly harsh punishments that the early Codemasters F1 games had. The problem is that it takes you out of the fun experience of racing that the game needs to keep it interesting and not frustrating.
There’s a nice mix of completely Eurocentric racing cars but ultimately it’s totally dependant on your racing style as to what you’ll enjoy. I found myself using the Bentley Continental GT Speed and the overpowered BMW M5 2011 almost exclusively as they were the most balanced cars and I’m not a huge fan of drifting in games with other cars on the track. The tracks environments are nice, challenging and the atmosphere and views around them look outstanding but they do suffer from being quite tight in places for a ten car grid, making a few of the point challenges like top 3 finish, lap times and top speed hard to get without repeated attempts and sometimes, a bit of luck. Normally this would be good. All racing games should benefit from you having multiple goes and enjoying the challenge of besting a situation but the game suffers from being atmospherically lacklustre.
This is where the game suffers. Whilst the environments are excellent and the cars highly detailed you never exactly feel, for most of the middle part of the game, that any car has its own identity except the incredibly slippery Ferrari California. In fact it’s this lack of driving dynamics that makes the single player element (the only one you can really play) get very dull. Nothing really feels like its own car and the driving becomes quite similar and predictable between vehicles very quickly, leading to you getting a bit bored of it. The driving element isn’t completely devoid of fun but there are some problems like the completely ineffectual drafting and the strict track limits on chicanes. The level of personalisation isn’t particularly inspiring either, feeling more like everything’s been lifted from an early 2000s copy of Max Power magazine rather than an actual racing community. It’s something that Forza has done very well with but Driveclub’s just feels a bit uninspiring in this regard. For something customisable, there’s a lack of customising actually available and the accolade badges are just plain ugly. Club badges are very customisable in looks but size, positioning and just general taste in these are completely lacking.
It doesn’t particularly play well to the pick-up-and-play aesthetic that arcade racers normally have as the tracks are so different that you’ll have to spend time on them to truly know them if they are lap-based races, especially if you need to get a hang of braking points and the like without spending a race looking at the mini-map. Although there are some nice rally-esque flags by each corner showing the severity of the turn. There are also some in race challenges that, thanks to the bugged online element, are completely impossible, an example being the opponent in an average speed challenge having achieved over 1,000MPH. Back to the earlier criticism of the online element being broken, it’s bugs like this that should have had ample time to be fixed by now and ultimately haven’t.
One of the games biggest saving graces is its graphics. You can’t really do it so much in races with other cars, but driving with the in car view is truly beautiful with excellent detail. The vistas around the track are magnificent although given the speed of the cars you rarely pay much attention to them. It’s the lighting changes when the game is at its best. As the game reaches in to darkness and the lights of the cars come on, it is deep, dark and much like driving in the dark, excitingly terrifying. The only criticism I have of this is how difficult it makes racing against the AI. Because the tracks are in nature and completely out of a town environment, there is no street or flood lighting and in races it can make it too dark and especially hard to see other cars. But you forgive this and the aggressive racing the AI does in these close quarters because of how it looks, which is what ties us back in to the earlier question.
I interviewed a games developer for a racing sim who said that the capacity was there so that most games could quite easily be photo realistic in cars and tracks now, and that car manufacturers pretty much have to sign off on the cars looking their best. So in this regard, can we expect and should we expect the level of graphical detail and excellence that Driveclub provides? I think the answer is yes now, especially given the how good Forza Horizon 2 is (although if you look closely, you’ll see the shortcuts). Although a special mention has to be given to its lighting effects. But if we expect this then surely the other parts of the game have to come under greater scrutiny and if the game bases its main points under a social playing system then that system must be up to scrutiny. Whilst the single player game play is alright, which isn’t a very descriptive word I know but is the one that characterizes it most effectively, its multiplayer and online element is bugged, inconsistent and in some places non-existent. Given the benefit of the doubt of time, and the positives, this game has come up to be a shambles and even if it is updated and its problems solved in a few months time, the damage has already been done.
Driveclub is a game based for a stage that it has failed to provide. At its core it’s a middling arcade racer with very little to offer but with graphical excellence to keep you on its road to see how its multiplayer social element comes up. Unfortunately it’s that element that is not only missing but is still causing bugs and issues in the game over a month after release, without nothing being said for the PS Plus version still unreleased. A nice car line up, excellent detail and a fantastic bit of lighting are the only positives in what has been a shambolic episode from Sony and Evolution Studios.
[tab title=”Good Points”]
– Great car list with excellent in car views.
– Tracks provide excellent and varied racing and vistas.
– Lighting is wonderful, especially in the dark.
[tab title=”Bad Points”]
– Online social and multiplayer still incredibly broken, giving bugs in main game.
– Customisation options are poor and not very customisable.
– Cars never feel unique and gets dull quick in single player.
[tab title=”Why a 5?”]
The graphics and lighting in this game are excellent but ultimately we should expect that now as a standard for licensed vehicles in racing games. The online fiasco, the bugs from it and the fact that the cars never really feel to have their own identity makes everything feel very similar and never too captivating, earn this game a 5.