The phrase ‘next-gen’ is thrown around a lot when dealing with new titles, especially when talking about exclusive releases for the new generation of consoles. Thus when looking at one such title it’s only natural for people to expect something more; visuals, gameplay and innovation befitting of the next generation of gaming.
While Driveclub definitely looks the part of a ‘next-gen’ racer with polished visuals and gleaming presentation, underneath the shine lies a far more traditional and almost standard fare they falls short of expectation.
Graphically, Driveclub impresses. Raceways across Canada, Chile, India, Norway and Scotland are rendered to amazing quality, with staggering attention to detail. There’s a sense of wonder while zooming past the picturesque landscapes, marveling at the distant sunset or the reflections off competitors’ bodywork as they battle around you. Birds burst into the air, flags flutter in the wind, and even things like roadside debris are swept along as you speed past.
As far as photorealism goes, however, there’s still mild jagginess when looking far into the distance, and the game still suffers from the occasional texture muddiness and pop in scenery. These are small issues, and hardly noticeable amidst the action.
Cars are replicated to the same spectacular level of detail. With spinning rev counters and speedometers, fancy screens and heads-up display, inside the car feels as awesome as the outside. Damage visuals, while only cosmetic are also represented well. Paint scrapes, cracked windscreens and dented bumpers are about as much as you’re going to get, though it’s all done extremely well. As far as next-gen goes, Driveclub certainly offers one of the most splendid graphical experiences to date.
With 55 tracks set across 5 countries, Driveclub offers a wide and varied selection of styles and locales. Tracks are organized into 3 formats; point-to-point, lap races, and fictional raceways. Though attractive, the variety often feels sparse, with mostly rolling mountains and snowy peaks in the distance. Only India provides a real departure from the visual style of the other countries, and it’s disappointing to see such potential wasted.
The car selection also suffers in this regard, with only 50 different models to choose from. It’s also largely European fare, with only the Hennessey Venom GT hailing from America and not a single Japanese car in sight.
Not quite an arcade racer, though not quite a simulator either, Driveclub offers a surprisingly accessible driving model very similar to Codemasters’ GRID series of racing games. Coming from strictly arcade racers such as Need for Speed, Burnout, and Ridge Racer, Driveclub feels familiar, yet possesses much more depth than the one-button drifting styles of the aforementioned titles.
It’s largely similar, however, in that the strategies involved in driving an Audi RS5 are more or less the same as an Aston Martin V12 Vantage. The cars all largely feel the same to drive too, though small differences can be noted.
The racing line from other more sim-based racers has been replaced in favor of a colored flag system; green for easy, yellow for medium, and red for a hard corner. Though it aids in immersion, the lack of a racing line means more attention needs to be placed in crafting one for yourself, since failure to adhere usually means a punishing collision. Infuriatingly enough, cars are oddly bouncy when it comes to crashing in Driveclub. A high-speed collision into the wall will result in a ricochet into a spin that will most definitely land you in last place as everyone speeds past while you struggle to regain control.
Driveclub is largely forgiving when it comes to cornering, often encouraging speed and late braking in order to perform a small drift rather than a slower more controlled turn. Oddly though, is the introduction of its penalty system; whereby players are punished with a significantly reduced speed when either colliding too hard with the track or another car, and when cutting corners.
It places a huge damper on the fun, and is especially punishing when in the midst of a tight race. The system needs a little fine tuning, as the collision detection is strict at times, lax at others. Corner-cutting is also perhaps too strict, as I have found myself throttled simply because my front wheels were knocked off the track, by another player no less.
Single player is about as barebones as a racing game can get. With no storyline and no narrative, Driveclub’s solo career mode spans five speed categories, with a variety of events culminating in a trophy. Progress is determined by stars, with the next trophy unlocked by achieving a set prerequisite.
It’s understandable, as Driveclub is primarily an online multiplayer social racer, that its solo mode would be lacking somewhat, but it seems almost insulting that so little effort has been placed into this department. With only 3 different driving events consisting of race, time trial, and drift, it gets tedious fast. Really fast.
AI is also a mixed bag, with enemy cars that alter their behavior in relation to the player’s position on the track. Coming last, you’ll see a group driving in perfect unison, adhering to the racing line. Get a few places forward, however, and it becomes a completely different scene. The AI will rear-end, nudge, and outright collide in an attempt to force you off your line, which is strange as Driveclub penalizes collisions so harshly. It’s frustrating and tedious as often you’ll be leading the pack before a particularly aggressive shunt will send you careening into the wall, left with a reduced throttle while the entire pack zooms by.
There are two sides to the multiplayer functions in Driveclub. First is the standard challenge a lá Need for Speed Autolog, where players set benchmarks for each other to break. Score is calculated through ‘fame,’ a quantity similar to experience earned by performing feats of driving such as drifting, maintaining high speeds, and track accuracy. Earned fame goes towards upgrading your driver level, which in turn unlocks new cars.
Challenges come in three varieties; Drift, in which you attempt to pull off the longest and most perfect drift around a set corner; Speed, where you must maintain the highest average speed across a section of track; and Corner, in which you are set up with a driving line to follow through a set of turns, where the highest accuracy wins.
It’s well implemented through a series of unobtrusive visual pop-ups before and after the challenge, notifying the type, challenger, and record as well as success or failure. However as with any social racer, without the slew of buddies alongside setting records and bragging so you’ll have the motivation to beat them, the system will seem largely devoid of impact, and won’t stick with solo players for long.
The second face is the focal centre of Driveclub’s multiplayer features. Players are able to organize themselves into ‘Clubs’ of six players each, to collectively earn fame in order to unlock cars. The game will endeavor to keep you updated about all your other club members’ activities when you log in. Members don’t have to drive together to earn fame, and can contribute solo by completing challenges and races.
It feels like an extension of the challenge system and at its current state, incomplete with the only real rewards to be gained being a selection of club-only cars and decals. The six player limit on clubs also seems oddly restrictive. Whilst joining a club does benefit with the increased selection of cars, as well as opening up club challenges and an increased social scene, there’s still too little incentive, and belies a surprising lack of depth, especially considering that this is essentially the name of the game.
All things considered, Driveclub feels like an incomplete racing game, its single player portion woefully skeletal, and its multiplayer aspects shallow and superficial. The game can be described as competent, yet ultimately forgettable. Though several updates are planned including the spectacular dynamic weather system, hopefully Evolution can get their servers off the ground and start implementing more content and multiplayer systems to keep racers speeding around its picturesque setting, especially since competition is on the horizon with Project CARS and The Crew leading the pack, with Forza Horizon 2 already wowing us more.
Visually spectacular, but devoid of innovation and personality. Is Driveclub next-gen? Not yet it seems.
Driveclub was developed by Evolution Studios exclusively for the PlayStation 4. A copy of the game was independently acquired by the reviewer.