Playing Driveclub is like dating that stereotypical hottest girl in school. At first glance she’s undeniably gorgeous, and for a while the relationship is a great deal of fun. But then the excitement begins to waver as it becomes apparent she’s not all that exciting to be with, she never wants to do anything different. See Driveclub does what it does really well. Problem is it doesn’t really do all that much. It looks phenomenal certainly, it’s probably the best looking racer I’ve ever played on console, and mechanically it’s a sound arcade circuit experience. And that’s it. Much like the hot girl Driveclub is not interested in doing anything outside it’s niché, it never strives to do anything new, it doesn’t push the envelope and it will never surprise you, resultantly Driveclub lacks the next-gen flare. It’s not a bad game, just one lacking much needed variety.
The bare bones feel of Driveclub actually falsely ages it; if it weren’t for the flashy visuals it’d be easy to convince almost anyone that Evolution Studio’s latest was a launch title on last generation. Driveclub feels like it’s meant to be a visual showcase for PS4, and that’s unsurprising considering it was planned as launch title for the system in 2013. Times have moved on though and Playstation 4 no longer needs a showcase, Driveclub has arrived a year too late; there’s just no escaping that reality. Sadder still is that Driveclub lacks character, a strange trait for an Evolution Studios game, they are afterall the team behind attitude infused PS3 racing series Motorstorm. Driveclub suffers from something of an identity crisis. The confusing marketing message suggests that Driveclub is a simulation racer – in reality it’s completely an arcade experience.
That said though it doesn’t feel as though Evolution intended Driveclub to be an arcade racer. Driveclub never fully submits itself to the silly and the fun you’d expect from the genre. Instead Driveclub takes it’s cues from simulator’s like Gran Turismo reveling meticulous car enthusiast details. Each of Driveclub’s 50 something car’s interiors are expertly crafted, their exteriors are stunning almost perfect recreations of their inspiration. Each vehicle emulates the real thing as closely as possible, on a superficial level they’re gorgeous, and on a very basic mechanical level each car handles like you’d expect.
When playing using the interior first person camera they’re stacks of little details to behold, unfortunately if your like almost everyone else in the world you’ll probably never see them, because most of us automatically alter the camera to see the car from third person almost immediately. Disappointingly Driveclub’s roster of cars isn’t very diverse. Of the fifty something cars in game all are European, bar one American vehicle; the Japanese are omitted completely. It’s a sad oversight taken by an arcade racer which takes itself very seriously.
Once you get your car out onto one of Driveclub’s tracks from any of the various locale you’ll quickly forget about lack of variety and modern trimmings. Playing Driveclub is actually a lot of fun, car enthusiasts who found Forza or Gran Turismo a little heavy going may actually find a lot to like here. Handling is forgiving but has enough nuance for players to improve and precise controls make navigating even the most tricky corners feel more challenging that frustrating. A lite drifting system also means that once you get good it’s entirely possible to throw the cars through turns a little less than realistically.
Tracks are deliberately thin to amplify the sense of speed, and it works exceptionally, even in slower segments racing never loses it’s fast pace. The best tracks are breathtaking winding roads that carve their way though beautiful scenery, they feel epic to undertake. Even though the gameplay is fun enough being confined to simple tracks with only a few cars can never truly shake the old fashioned feel. Old-school fans of the racing genre with a soft spot for the serious, such as myself, will find a diamond in the rough here, but there’s little for anyone else.
Whilst Driveclub’s races look and handle beautifully they aren’t problem free. Driveclub’s biggest issue is it’s AI. Computer controlled rivals aren’t so much dumb as they are inflexible, rigid. The AI seem to be programmed to follow the racing line with a single minded compulsive obsession. They rarely, if ever, diverge from the optimum line, and will vindictively bully their way through you if that’s what it takes to get back to it. They are hardwired to be on that line, if that means crashing into you they absolutely will, collisions are preferable to being in the wrong place. This meant on numerous occasions they would unfairly push me from the track, or worse their driving would get me penalized.
In order to persuade players from cheating Driveclub hands out penalties. Penalties deny the driver the ability to accelerate for a period of time depending on the charge levied against them. The two most common ones are collisions and cutting corners. Problem is that the system doesn’t understand when this is your fault or the AI. In other words Driveclub will always assume you are in the wrong. That means when AI push you over a corner or crash into you, and they will, you will be held responsible. It’s really frustrating, can cost you a race, and it happens all too often.
Most of my playtime with Driveclub was spent in the basic campaign mode. With numerous events spanning the globe and five different classes of car there was plenty to do, albeit pretty vanilla content. I was incentivised to collect medals in events and compete in various leaderboard challenges during races, these competitions are a little chunks of content that feels okay, but are largely inconsequential. There’s no real reason to compete unless your desperate to level up your driver rank. Increasing the rank unlocks new cars to play with which is integral to progression as it unlocks some of the games best vehicles. Some of which feel sadly necessary towards the end single player as AI will have access to the best, making them difficult to beat regardless of skill.
Now, you may have noticed that I haven’t mentioned Driveclub’s namesake, the social clubs. These ‘drive clubs’ encourage players to band together and race as one. Sadly these clubs can only accommodate six players maximum, the cap seems fairly mean and so if you have a big group of friends your out of luck. Overall though the clubs just aren’t that interesting. I found myself joining a club not for social reasons but only because I felt I had to. Some car unlocks are tied to the club leveling progression, if you want to drive everything clubs are not optional.
Driveclub is ultimately a game that feels too late. Had it made it’s debut on PS4’s launch it’s old fashioned nature and lack of features may have been forgiven, but now it’s hard to see through them. If you can get over the small car selection, disappointing social features, rigid AI and the vanilla single player experience then underneath you will find a competent and admittedly fun racer. If your in the market for a simple arcade racer with a reverence for cars then you will enjoy Driveclub, I know I did. Even then though, Driveclub is lacking content and in the end it’s soullessness leaves it feeling a just little sterile.