If there’s one way to make sure your game will have problems when it’s launched, then make it revolve entirely around online features. Driveclub did exactly that, focussing on multiplayer racing, online clubs (hence the name) and challenges which were designed to bring everyone together into one big racing love-in.
Unfortunately, it didn’t work. I mean literally, none of the online features worked. That left a single player mode which, while being excellent in its own right, wasn’t the meat and drink of the intended gaming experience. A lot has been written about why, after two beta testing periods, Driveclub was so broken and took so long to fix after release, but a fix was released just before Christmas (along with some free DLC, which is always nice) and with the addition of dynamic weather the game is pretty much how it should’ve been from day one.
So we thought we’d be different. You don’t need another review bitching about the online features being wonky, so right here is our review of the finished game. The working, fully online, weather-boasting game. And I’ll tell you a little secret: it’s very, very good.
As Sony’s first proper racer on the PS4, Driveclub certainly looks the business. Cars are insanely well modelled both inside and out, tracks are gorgeous and full of life and the frame rate is solid and fluid at all times. In terms of presentation you couldn’t want for much more. The sounds are booming too, and with a decent set of headphones you’ll hear every last subtlety in different engine tones, tyre noises and road surface as you speed towards the finish. Whether you’re using the bumper cam, gorgeous in-car view or lifting the camera behind the car there’s always a good sense of speed, although as you’d expect it’ll feel quicker the closer to the ground your view becomes.
Speaking of cameras, the developers have chosen to include a photo mode in the big update to show off the visuals, a very brave move considering how they were bigging up the graphics on the build up to release. It does the job perfectly though, in fact all of the images used in this review have been taken off the Driveclub Facebook page, which showcases some of the more creative photographic efforts of the Driveclub community. The photo mode is done using the in-game engine, so if you think it’s all done with clever pre-rendering, think again.
Also new in the update is dynamic weather, meaning the original choice of cloudy, clear and nighttime has now also been joined by varying amounts of rain which can change as the race goes on, with road surfaces changing as they would in real life. Combine that with a day/night cycle which can be set up to run at whatever speed you fancy, and you’ve got a vast number of combinations to play with. Heavy rain in the middle of the night, a low sunset with light drizzle to make the windscreen a nightmare, or midday with bright sunshine, it’s totally up to you. Driving changes in these conditions too, you won’t be hurtling round corners in the pouring rain, in fact at certain times you’ll be hard pushed to even see the corners until they’re right on top of you, a huge challenge if ever there was one.
This all comes together online and in the community challenges, where the driving is frantic and aggressive. I’ve only experienced lag once in an online race, with every other occasion working extremely well with varying numbers of players. There’s the expected group of ram-happy players that seem to infiltrate every racing game released, but it seems the initial problems have left only those who enjoy racing, and while nobody will make it easy to overtake, there seems to be a lot of fair racing to be had online.
Another core element of Driveclub is the challenges, which can be targeted at individuals or clubs. As another element which didn’t work at all when the game was released you might not have read much about them, but they’re an incredibly addictive way to compete against other gamers. The idea is for someone to complete a race or timed lap, then set it up as a challenge for others to try. You can send them to just your friends, open it up to anyone or create a club challenge where the fastest time from each club is the only one to count towards the challenge. That final option is the jewel in the crown, with two targets to aim for – not only being the best among your friends to make your time the one which counts, but then also how many others around the world you can come out on top of. You can see the number of attempts taken on each challenge too, perfect for additional bragging rights when a friend’s 20th attempt still hasn’t trumped your third one.
Offline racing is well catered for too, and while the main mode is just a tool to deliver a series of races with little to tie it all together, the racing itself is intense and the aggressive AI won’t make anything easy from start to finish. Other drives will swerve to block you from overtaking, you’ll get nudges and aggression from drivers trying to get past you and they’ll fight between themselves for position, making the occasional mistake while they do battle. The AI and penalty systems have been tweaked in the update as well, a sensible move considering how often you got hammered off the track then penalised for cutting a corner as a result. Those moments have been dramatically reduced now, and it’s uncommon to get annoyed by an unfair penalty now. For an offline mode in a racing game, it’s mightily impressive. It’s just a shame there isn’t more to bond it all – you get regular new cars and liveries, but no concrete reason to pay much attention to most of them.
So while it’s true that Driveclub had one of the worst launches in recent gaming, all credit to the developers for plugging away and fixing the problems. It took a while, a lot of people gave up and traded in, and a lot of reviews on the web are very scathing about the whole ordeal. But now, in its current state, and after a series of updates and free DLC, Driveclub is a racer which every PS4 owning racing fan should be looking into buying. It’s fast, it’s gorgeous and when clubbing together with some friends it’s incredibly addictive.
Good things come to those who wait, and those who have waited have struck gold with Driveclub.
Reviewed on PS4