It’s been quite a journey leading up to the launch of Driveclub. What was supposed to launch for free on PS Plus nearly a year ago has finally made it to Sony’s service. The team behind the infamous Motorstorm franchise brings us their next venture into the world of racing games. It’s nothing like Motorstorm as it’s taking the word ‘Drive’ quite seriously. Question is, should you take it seriously?
Since day one there’s always been somewhat of a dark cloud over Driveclub. Their initial ‘first-person driving simulation’ trend never sat well with anyone, as it was simply the bumper cam view that we’ve all been playing with for years. The one aspect that kept us intrigued was the social integration. The ‘club’ part of Driveclub.
While you can play solo, which I’ll get to in a bit, the game is geared towards playing in a titular crew, which holds up to six members. It’s up to you, or one of your members, to create a club and design a badge as well as kit your car out with some colours that will tell rivals you’re from the same team. You can leave your club open for anyone to join, or you can lock it so only friends you invite can join your club. A press of the triangle button will call up the social hub where you can arrange all this. Your aim is to collectively take part in races together or individually. The more races you win, the more Driveclub points you earn, which in return helps your club to level up. You can also earn points in races for drafting, passing cars and drifting. Collisions will deduct points, so will shortcut corners. Why level up? It’s the ONLY way to secure more cars, as well as extra badge and design options for your club. There is no other way to obtain cars. You simply have to race. If you’re keen for some easy Driveclub points you’ll want to take part in Challenges.
Once you’ve completed an event you can send a challenge to your friends and other clubs, or you can create a random challenge from scratch. Though you can send drift challenges, it’s mostly made up of time trials. As you can imagine it’s highly competitive. Once you receive a game alert on your PlayStation App, via your smartphone, that your time has been beaten, you’ll automatically morph into ‘competitive you’. In essence it’s a glorified Autolog, but it works much better. The fact that you receive notifications via your smartphone makes a big difference. Seeing as your phone is always with you you’re generally updated on the status of your challenge. You can also set a challenge for a specific duration. For example – set a challenge to end within 24 hours, which puts some pressure on everyone, including yourself. And, if that’s not enough, you and your club buddies can take the race online against other clubs to dive it out in real-time.
The online lobby works a bit differently to other racing games. You’re provided with pre-determined race settings, with a clock ticking down when the race will start for that specific event. Once you’ve selected that you’ll head off, along with your crew, to battle it out online. So what are the races actually like? Driveclub has a bit of an identity crisis. It’s not sure if it wants to be an arcade game or simulation racer. Drive along one of the settings in either India, Norway, Canada, Scotland or Chile in a hatchback and you’ll drift around corners like you would in a Ridge Racer game. Leave the road however and you have 3 seconds to get back onto it. What? Where did the arcade go? Move on to the faster cars like a Pegani Zonda and you’re slipping and sliding around the same corners while trying to keep the excess of horses under control. Is this now a simulation? Once you get the hang of it all it’s rather good fun, but then there’s the AI who are hell-bent on making your life a living hell.
Understand that Driveclub is constantly challenging you at all times with some form of social integration. Some corners will provide you with a face-off challenge whereby you either stick on the driving line to earn more points than one of your friends (or some random global player), or you’re drifting to beat a score or taking part in an average speed challenge from point A to B, again against another online leaderboard… all while fending off 11 other AI cars who are there to do nothing else but destroy your chances of completing the challenge. They’re such bastards. This is no ‘Gran Turismo-with-AI-barriers’. You’ll come second-best. Throw in a day and night cycle, that has the darkest of nights ever, and it ups the difficulty that much more. There is a major problem though. When the servers are down the fun disappears along with it.
Being the socially integrated game it’s trying to be it’s crucial that you are connected to the servers at all times. You’re always pushing your limits to beat other friends or a global leaderboard. If you plan to play this offline in solo mode your fun will end as soon as you’ve completed ‘Tour’ mode. There’s no offline multiplayer component and the Challenges, Create Clubs and Browse Clubs modes disappear. Driveclub becomes an empty shell, and that perhaps speaks volumes in itself. There are only 50 cars to choose from, which, when not connected online, can’t be unlocked as some cars require that your Club Level increase before it unlocks a certain car (though your individual level increases will unlock other cars). There’s also no tuning option for cars whatsoever, though you are provided with some accolade milestones for a car brand after each race.
Driveclub is not a terrible driving game. If you’ve got a good online connection you’ll definitely have some great fun entering the many challenges and competing online against your friends, and it’s definitely easy on the eyes. Though there are no weather effects as was originally promised, so don’t expect any wet races. If you’re dying for a racing game on the PS4 you simply have no other option at this time, and the PS Plus version will help you make that decision. Without that online connection Driveclub is simply socially awkward.