«

»

Driveclub review for PS4


Platform: PS4
Publisher: SCEA
Developer: Evolution Studios
Medium: Disc/Digital
Players: 1-12
Online: Yes
ESRB: E

Instead of designing a next-generation MotorStorm game (sadface), Sony and Evolution Studios’ vision for a PS4 racer was to create a new car racing experience where players could “Drive Together, Win Together” in team-based global challenges. They gave us a glimpse of this vision back when the PS4 was first introduced and since then we have patiently waited for them to finish polishing up the game. So was the wait for Driveclub worth it? Yeah, I’d say so.

With Driveclub, The Crew and Forza Horizon 2 all releasing within the span of a couple of months, it’s very clearly the “Season of the Social Racing Game”. The concept itself is nothing new, with titles from several years ago such as Test Drive Unlimited and Blur successfully integrating some sort of community features into the core games themselves. Given the more powerful online architecture available these days, along with platforms better equipped to take advantage of it, it’s certainly expected that we’ll get to the point where nearly all games will allow participants to feel more connected and play together to an extent. This is essentially why Driveclub and other similarly social-enabled racing titles exist and also why they are more compelling than a strictly offline racer. Needless to say, it is interesting to see a batch of like-minded racing games all scheduled to launch within such a small window.

DRIVECLUB_GC_03_1377021465

Full disclosure – I’m a huge MotorStorm fan, and I’m fairly certain I’ve earned a gold in each and every event in all 3 PS3 releases in addition to R/C for the PS3/Vita. So I’m slightly bitter that MotorStorm 4 hasn’t happened yet, though I understand why Evolution and Sony went with a new IP and a new experience for the PS4 instead. But I digress. Driveclub definitely shares some of the same MotorStorm DNA (intense, competitive high-speed action) but at the end of the day it is a unique racing game with a much different focus.

Upon starting up Driveclub, and even before a proper menu pops up, the game tosses you into a race with a gorgeous dashboard view of the course and a full grid of CPU racers. It doesn’t matter what your result of this first race is, after it wraps up you’ll be given an opportunity to join an online club, create your own club or remain a free agent. From there it’s up to you to forge ahead and race through the campaign, jump into a multiplayer race or just freely test out some vehicles and courses at your own pace. As you might expect, that’s not exactly what makes Driveclub unique. After familiarizing yourself with the game, the vehicles, the courses and the club features, it’s probably the addictive challenge events where many players will sink most of their time into.

Like kudos in the Project Gotham Racing series, fame points in Driveclub is the glue that holds the game together. No matter what mode you play and which events you choose to take part in, fame is the leveling system that is integrated into each and every aspect of Driveclub. Which courses or locations you race on, the vehicles you drive, the type of events you take part in, and so on, all earn you and your club (if you belong to one), fame. Fame is tied to a simple leveling system which unlocks content and matches you up with racers and clubs of similar levels and fame. Each race or event you take part in is ripe with opportunities to earn points as well. End of race placement, clean driving, drifting, drafting, and beating top speed and cornering challenges set by other players all will add to your cache of fame, and it’s not uncommon to bank tens of thousands of points in a single race.

Driveclub_3

Challenges in Driveclub are simple and straightforward to get involved in. Racers can join a pre-made community challenge, jump into a challenge event initiated by another racer or club, or just create one of their own. After each and every race or event (challenges included), players can choose to send or forward a new race, time trial or drift challenge to either specific friends, fellow club members, recommended racers or clubs with the exact race results they just posted. Challenges can be created with a time limit, from 30 minutes to several days, and depending on the result when the challenge expires, you can earn additional fame for yourself and your club. When you totally blow the competition out of the water in a particularly difficult race you’ll naturally want to challenge anyone and everyone you can to top your results. If they do take the challenge on and perform well enough to earn a top position, they earn more fame; If they fail, then you reap the rewards, so it’s win-win situation. Driveclub keeps a feed of everything that you and your club accomplishes, from going up levels, to beating challenges, with important notifications showing up on screen immediately. When someone takes the number one spot in a challenge you created, you’ll know about it and have the opportunity to take it back before it expires.

With clubs consisting of only 6 players I was initially concerned that the groups were too small. In actuality, after playing the game as part of another club as well as my own (GamingAge naturally), the smaller club sizes seem to work out fine. I’m not keen on micromanaging a party, clan or group, so in the context of the game’s framework, half a dozen makes sense when doing club vs club challenges and being ranked against clubs from around the world. If you created your own club, you have the ability to customize a paint job and emblem which can be optionally selected by all members at the start of each race. Club owners also have a set of simple controls which includes the ability to set the join policy, invite friends or other racers to join the club, assign another member as the owner, kick a member, or view more information about each individual. From the social menu (triangle button on any menu), you can see what other members are up to and even party up if they are online. Surprisingly, beyond voice chat if you’re in the same session, there’s no form of in-game communication other than PSN messaging. So if you want to send a freely typed in-game text, which would have come in handy a few times already, there’s no streamlined option to do so.

Driveclub_14

There’s no doubt that Driveclub is more arcade than simulation, which is perfectly fine by me. There are “only” 50 or so unique vehicles across all car classes, which I assume was partially due to needing to keep the challenges and events somewhat balanced. Whether it be focusing on beating a challenge or 3-starring a campaign event, I never once thought to myself that there was not enough cars or variety in the game. Also not included in Driveclub is an option to tune or upgrade vehicles, or a dealership for that matter, or any other Gran Turismo-style distractions. Evolution has created a game that is pretty obviously fixated on the racing experience, challenges and social features, and not on car collecting or tuning.

Driveclub is a damn fine looking racing game no matter how you slice it. It’s not worth the effort to wade into the 30 vs 60 fps debate or spend time nitpicking some of the aliasing on a few of the vehicles when the end product looks so good. Evolution Studios knows how to throw around environmental and ambient details in their games, and Driveclub is no exception. All of the courses, set across India, Chile, Norway, Canada and the United Kingdom, offer amazing views and draw distances and are just teeming with detail — from time of day transitions, smoke, volumetric clouds and dirt particles, to fireworks, confetti cannons and polygonal spectators, to realistic trackside foliage, grass and more. The lighting engine is most definitely put to good use and the realistic glow and elongated shadows when the sun begins to set looks eerily authentic. Even though a number of courses are set in the mountains, the game is missing falling snow, rain and additional weather effects which have been confirmed to be coming as part of a future game update. Without those graphical features, Driveclub is still be distractingly real looking a good portion of the time.

Eschewing a licensed soundtrack full of top 40 pop songs, Driveclub relies primarily on sound effects, ambient sounds and (some fairly important) audio cues during races.  There is actually a decent selection of thumping EDM-style drum and bass background music included in the game, but it is intentionally turned down by default.  I personally enjoy a little music while I race so made sure to bump it back up the first chance I had.  The engine sounds are impressively angry and distinct enough, and the tires are suitably screechy when they lose grip at high speeds or when drifting.

Driveclub_21The 55 or so licensed cars, from the ordinary VW Beetle to the super and hyper class vehicles such as the AC Mono, look similarly detailed and nearly photorealistic. Each and every vehicle also features an impressively rendered interior dashboard view for those confident enough to use it exclusively. Cars can take damage and get banged up a little during a race — we’re talking paint scrapes and cracked windows at worst. The dings and scratches don’t affect handling or performance whatsoever, so feel free to bump… but not too much (more on that later). With the subtle motion blur and effects, the engine never, ever appears to budge from its rock solid 30fps framerate, even with a full grid of 12 vehicles on the more complex courses.

My only real visual complaint is with the UI, or more specifically some of the font sizes in races and on the menus. There are color coded text callouts during a race which instruct you when a head-to-head event begins (drift, speed, cornering), and it’s fairly hard to read them while flying by at full speed. You’ll learn the colors soon enough, but even then the detail text is a little too small to make out as you are driving by. Speaking of color coding, it’s imperative to keep an eye on the colored flags around the track, as well as the little on-screen map, as they provide some much needed hints as to what sort of difficulties lie ahead.

Also worth mentioning are the excellent, basically non-existent load times in Driveclub. Loading up a fresh campaign event or just a short drift challenge, the wait is no longer than a couple of seconds. Restarting a race also happens instantly which is really essential in this type of game.

Like MotorStorm, once you make some progress in Driveclub, the game speeds up considerably. There are many instances where you’ll no doubt be gritting your teeth as your car just barely teeters on the edge of losing it through an especially speedy, twisty sequence. Keeping your composure at high speeds can be the difference between first and last, whether or not you are racing against a pack of other cars or just a time trial ghost. A bit of bumper car action is unavoidable in Driveclub, though thankfully there’s not too much of the MotorStorm-style rubberband AI going on. The CPU drivers can be quite aggressive however, so there are times when they’ll push and nudge and not give you much breathing room as the pack is going hard into a tight turn. Bump too aggressively or slice off too much of a corner though and you will lose some fame points (and speed if it’s excessive enough), so being relatively clean is still important.

Driveclub_2

Sony, as they announced way back when when the game was revealed, will offer Driveclub as a free-to-download PlayStation Plus Edition for active PS Plus subscribers. This version will include the full-featured game experience, except with approximately only 1/5th of the content. Since it includes the core game, players can join/create clubs, earn fame and trophies, and take part in challenges, so it should be a good way to try before you buy (or upgrade to the full version at a discount). I would assume that the PS Plus version should provide more than enough of a taste of what to expect from the full game, even if it’s lacking some of the more stunning locations and vehicles.

If for whatever reason you don’t subscribe to Evolution Studios’ clubs and challenges philosophy for Driveclub, the game may be a harder sell. Strip those feature out and you have a more ordinary, albeit still enjoyable and attractive traditional-style arcade racer, which may or may not satisfy your PS4 racing itch. The campaign is challenging if you are a completionist (though restarting a whole series for a single missed goal can be a drag), but it’s still fairly straightforward and not overly long. The excitement of beating user and club-initiated events and earning fame hasn’t worn off yet, so it’s hard to say how long it will continue to feel fresh.

Even beyond the upcoming DLC and season pass, Sony and Evolution Studios are treating the game as a work in progress and they have already committed to releasing new features and enhancements in future game updates.  As it is today, Driveclub is a still a pretty darn compelling package for racing game fans, and an enjoyable and addictive racing experience for PS4 owners. It’s worth taking for a test drive at the very least.

Grade: A-

DriveClub (PlayStation 4)


Manufacturer: Sony Computer Entertainment
ESRB Rating: Everyone
Platform: PlayStation 4
Genre: Racing

New From: $15.95 USD In Stock