The saga of Evolution Studios’ DriveClub has become a big part of the PlayStation 4’s short life. First, the racer was announced as a launch title, which excited fans, especially after a stripped-down (but free) PlayStation Plus version was revealed. Then, when the game was delayed, it became a regularly talked about shadow that hung over Sony’s head. Now, it’s out in the wild, and negativity has once again sprung up, as not only has the aforementioned free version of the game been delayed by server issues, but the full version is also suffering from debilitating online problems.
DriveClub continues its developer’s focus on the racing genre, but is a different entity in comparison to the studio’s previously released rally titles and their flagship Motorstorm series. And, while their previous work received some acclaim, this latest effort doesn’t fare as well. In fact, this marks two middling releases in a row now for the UK-based studio, as MotorStorm RC also ended up being less than spectacular.
With this rather mediocre and problematic title, Sony’s faithful have received an unsuccessful attempt at creating a Forza killer. It’s a shame, too, because the potential was there. Unfortunately, though, the final product is simply too lifeless and lacking to recommend over Microsoft’s behemoth.
The best way to describe DriveClub is to call it the evolution of an old-school racer – something that someone else mentioned and I decided to borrow. At its core, it’s still a conventional track racer, complete with penalties for cutting corners and hitting opponents, but one that has relatively pretty visuals. That’s both a good and a bad thing, because while simulation fans will appreciate some of the attention to detail, as well as the varied track settings, the experience feels lifeless. On top of that, it isn’t a game that is easily accessible for newcomers, thanks to aggravating artificial intelligence and a need for perfection.
When you try to imagine this game, think of it as a Gran Turismo-style racer, but one that isn’t as obsessive, or as sterile. DriveClub does have more personality than Sony’s fading genre giant, but not a whole lot more. It’s also not as polished — which is obvious given the server issues — and is too frustrating to be consistently fun, especially for those of us who aren’t perfect digital drivers. I could never find a way to turn down the game’s difficulty, so when I hit a difficulty curve early on, I became a bit frustrated. The only way to get past it was to go back and replay a lot of the events I’d already completed (in either first, second or third), to earn more stars for hitting random bonus objective requirements. That’s not something I look forward to doing in any type of game, let alone a challenging racing sim.
If the progression system — which is based off of those stars I mentioned, three of which can be earned in each race — was made more accessible, I wouldn’t be complaining about it. That said, I’m also not one who likes to come down on games for being challenging. This one, however, is both cheap and tough, and it starts with its objectives and ends with its A.I.
In an average race, you’ll be able to earn one star for placing in the top three, as well as two others for doing different things. One objective may ask you to earn points by following a racing line around a corner, which isn’t that difficult, while another may ask for a great lap time or for you to hit a certain speed in a designated zone. It’s not that these are impossible tasks, but some of them end up being frustratingly challenging. Some of the lap times, for instance, seem to require near perfection, and DriveClub‘s computer-controlled racers make it hard to drive perfectly.
You see, Evolution Studios’ latest is a good example of why Forza‘s Driveatars are a great thing. After all, they’re unique and have personality, whereas the opponents found in this game do not. They also drive differently from one another, which is another thing that DriveClub‘s racers fail to do. In fact, they’re so reliant on sticking to a designed pathway that they will crash into you without attempting to avoid doing so, just so that they can continue on their line. How is that next-gen racing?
Another issue with the game’s artificial drivers comes via their catch-up AI. Their ability to stay with you — even when you’re driving extremely well — is aggravating, and the fact that they regularly overtake you by using magical speed boosts is as well. Sure, it may just be drafting, but it doesn’t feel organic or realistic. It also doesn’t help that the game’s handling can sometimes be stiff and unforgiving.
Getting back to the topic of progression, let’s take a moment to talk about the game’s single player tour mode, which is its main option, and was the only one I could really play due to server connection issues. When I did gain connection, it was usually only for a couple of minutes and mostly happened while I was in the middle of a race.
The tour mode itself is broken down into tiers. You have your Amateur tier, your Professional level and your Legends plateau, and each one has its own set of races. In-between, there are other levels, and the idea is that you race to earn enough stars on one level, then complete its championship, before being able to move on to the next set of events. It’s nothing new, and you’ll recognize it from a lot of other games. Hell, it’s something that mobile gamers deal with on a daily basis.
Events come in three forms: races, time trials and drift challenges. They’re all traditional and formulaic types, and each one works as you’d expect. That is, other than Evolution’s decision to award players points for driving quickly during speed zones, which are set-up in-between drift events’ corners.
I’d be lying if I said that, when it’s not being frustrating, DriveClub isn’t a relatively fun game. It’s just that issues get in the way of one’s enjoyment far too often. There’s even an annoying ticker that shows up during races and doesn’t like to disappear sometimes, even though it just repeats the same, “Failure to connect” message over and over again. I know the servers are down, because the multiplayer options are greyed out and inaccessible. I don’t need a distracting reminder.
Speaking of multiplayer, I was able to get into one full event, which turned out to be a shit show. Then again, that’s usually what happens in track-based racing games. People are, of course, always out for themselves and will do anything to win. They’ll crash, they’ll bump and they’ll spin you out, and it’s not the game’s fault. However, when that happens in solo play on far too many occasions, complaints can be levied against the title’s design and those who made it. Since DriveClub doesn’t have a rewind feature, and has such frustrating A.I., one bad crash can cause you a race. That’s how it is in real-life, I know, but this is a video game and it’s not fun to be spun out near the end of an event, just to have to start from the beginning again.
It’s been close to a week since this game come out, and it’s still experiencing sever issues, which is pretty damning for something that was already delayed for almost an entire year. Without being able to connect to the game’s servers, it’s tough to create and enjoy clubs. When I had a connection, I made my own, but nothing about it seemed special. There are customizable paint jobs and logos that you can create, but even that aspect of the game is glitchy, as I lost my paint job when I went to save it. Those who like playing with friends will likely appreciate this feature and its available leaderboards, which help clubs compete against each other, but it’s not enough to make me want to stick around. The available challenge mode — which allows you to see if your friends can match your skills — is slightly more interesting, but it’s still not anything unique.
Disappointingly, one must join a club and rank up with it in order to unlock many of the title’s cars. Completing events and doing well will earn you one or two, but a lot of them are locked until certain club level plateaus are hit. It’s too bad that you can’t just buy new vehicles with the fame you earn, and have to unlock them in this fashion.
DriveClub also isn’t a finished product, it seems. Apparently weather effects — which are absent right now — will be available through a free patch sometime in the future. Given that rain and snow were selling points for the game, it’s a head-scratcher that it wasn’t delayed until those were ready. At least the tracks are solid, and the vistas — which are visible during races and highlighted with an overhead helicopter cam beforehand — are pretty. When things zoom in more, the textures don’t look as great, and jaggies are evident on the vehicles themselves. Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a bad looking game. It just doesn’t challenge Forza Motorsport 5 or Forza Horizon 2.
One thing that this racing title does do well, though, is lighting. Day-to-night cycles regularly occur during races, and they’re not only relatively realistic, but also neat to behold. I honestly haven’t seen many games handle dusk better than this one does, which is a promising thing going forward. Really, the only caveat here is that sometimes things get too dark. You’ll transition from a decently-lit part of track and into a tunnel, or around a corner, and will have to fight darkness to see where to go next. This usually only lasts for a few seconds, but it can be annoying.
On the audio side of things, everything is fine but nothing stands out. The sound effects are of quality, and nothing is out of place, but there’s no personality to be found. Yes, there is a soundtrack to listen to, but it’s original stuff and lacks licensed music. It’s fine, but far from memorable.
Unfortunately, DriveClub is a mixed bag, and a soulless one at that. Almost a week after launch, it’s still bogged down by server issues,and has yet to be released onto PlayStation Plus. That’s simply not acceptable, and is something that tarnishes the reputation of a game that is middling to begin with. It’s too bad, because this is something that could’ve been great. Instead, it’s a decent but frustrating and ultimately forgettable game. Still, it has promise and will likely improve once Evolution makes adjustments and adds in missing content.
This review is based on the PlayStation 4 exclusive, which we were provided with.
DriveClub, Evolution Studios' "Forza Killer," has broken down at the starting line. Once it's up and running, it'll surely draw a crowd of hardcore enthusiasts, but being accessible to newcomers is one thing it isn't. Frustrating artificial intelligence and a cheap difficulty system mar what could've been a much more entertaining game.