No matter how many racing games that get released, none have come close to garnering my attention for as long as Gran Turismo 4 way back on the PS2. Stepping outside the boundaries of the PlayStation grants access to the ever great Forza series, but no longer owning an Xbox has left me with little to love. With the majority of its online issues now resolved, let’s hope Evolutions Studio’s hyped up, PlayStation exclusive, Driveclub can satiate my need for speed.
First off, and it might sound patronising or obvious, but you really could do with joining a club as soon as you can, even if you intend to play the majority of the game in singleplayer. As although you can create one, it will remain inactive and you won’t earn any club specific unlocks until at least two out of the six club positions are filled. This might not be an issue for some or even most people, yet if none of your online buddies play racing games, you’ll have to join someone else’s, or spam the in-game list with invites to try and populate your own.
It’s certainly not necessary to play online in a club to fully enjoy the game, it’s just you’ll be missing out on a few cars and liveries by the end. And for anyone remotely of the obsessive compulsive nature, this will constantly irritate. Especially at the end of each and every race where it breaks down your unlocks; gratifyingly rewarding you for being a great driver, yet locking out content at the same time. ‘Let’s have a look at what you could’ve won!’ springs to mind.
Club-ing aside, the singleplayer mode was where I first delved in; upon starting up a race, it became clear to see that interaction and immersion with the player was going to be sparse at best. I’m generally not a fan of the system in many racing games where you receive multiple arbitrary emails that congratulate you for picking a team or qualifying etc. but at least then, there is some semblance of acknowledgement. Picking a race in Driveclub involves choosing a thumbnail and selecting race, that’s about it. The system in Forza was a good middle ground, where you could either select an event from the expansive grid, or let the game recommend races depending on the suitability of your current car, or even suggesting a track you haven’t raced yet. It was a happy medium that gave you something different to break up the monotony.
Instead, you unlock events using a star system; with the next set of races unlocked once you’ve collected enough prerequisite points. Whilst victory in most racing games is dependent upon finishing in first place, Driveclub tasks you with up to three objectives to complete during the race. A stalwart one being ‘finish in the top three’, alongside fun distractions such as corner mastery, average speed checks and drift sections. These not only break up the potential tedium, but also serve as a little bit extra replay value should you wish to go back and complete ‘em all.
The racing in general is in fact great fun, with each of the 50-ish cars feeling relatively unique from another. A good job really as there’s no performance tweaks or upgrades to tinker with aside from the cosmetic liveries. For those interested in the slower, hatchback style cars, the choices are pretty limited however, with most of the focus shone on the higher tiered, exotic cars instead. Despite featuring a more arcade-y form of handling, taking the correct lines through corners will often still reward you even if you can take ludicrous risks.
The lack of any real difficulty options stings a little; you can’t turn traction control off, nor conversely put on a racing line if you’re struggling. The in car view is incredibly immersive, detailed and rewarding if used, but since there’s no incentive to race whilst using it, I fear many will miss out on some of the game’s better moments. There’s nothing quite like racing at dusk with the sun glare blinding you of the corner you’ve never taken, the apex of which being blocked by your own door pillar. Nailing such a corner in such a way feels irreplaceable.
As addictive as the gameplay is, there’s always something holding it back however. Namely, the hyper aggressive AI. Stubborn as a mule and often taking up an unnecessary amount of track space, it can and will frustrate you. With the lack of a ‘flashback’ style system, losing a race on a final corner due to the AI spinning you out of control is a real possibility. When they’re not smashing into you however, they can feel fairly realistic, they’ll rarely all snake into one apex killing machine; instead, they’ll veer off the track and make convincing mistakes.
Despite not being able to modify your cars in terms of performance, the livery editor almost makes up for it. Customising a paint scheme and having it displayed on all of your owned cars is satisfying and applying badges you’ve earned is a nice touch too. Creating a club offers you the chance to create a team logo from a fairly comprehensive set of options; also letting you display it with pride on your cars. Customising your avatar doesn’t stretch to the same lengths however, with only a select few options to choose from.
Graphically, Driveclub can certainly have its moments; in the drivers view especially. Each car is expectedly modelled with stupendous amounts of detail and some of the backdrops look astounding. The corner severity warnings are obvious enough to know how treacherous the bend ahead is going to become at a glance, yet they don’t draw focus from the track. The damage modelling looks suitably sufficient even if it’s only cosmetic; with the collisions themselves sounding suitably muffled whilst inside the car, yet unfortunately lack punch in any other view. The lack of promised dynamic weather is also a shame, but should hopefully be implemented in a future update, fingers crossed.
Driveclub proved to be an ambitious title; with taking cues from others of this generation, namely the always online aspect, nearly ruining it. Playing offline is a shallow experience, if you’re not connected to the internet, everything unlocked via levelling up your crew will disappear until you reconnect. It’s a shame that so many of the game’s best features are tied to a steady and strong connection to their severs; as once that link is lost, the game feels like a shell of what it was.