DriveClub was one of the pleasant surprise new IPs of the PlayStation 4’s unveiling nearly two years ago. With a re-energized Sony taking on their most pro-gamer and pro-developer approach in years, and system architect Mark Cerny preaching the value of the “joy of play” — of the enjoyment that comes from games that build themselves upon a platform of elegant simplicity over cumbersome and convoluted mechanics. Although Cerny’s own Knack, which was supposed to champion this philosophy for Sony, fell far short of expectations, Evolution Studios’ DriveClub would go on to experience a year of delays, tumbling down the calendar from the PS4 launch all the way to the 2014 holiday season (including a particularly frightening moment when Sony ominously declared the game was going “back to the drawing board”). Was it worth the wait? Or, more appropriately, is it a fitting example of “joy of play”?
What Is It?
DriveClub was first shown to the public at the PlayStation 4 unveiling early last year, but has existed conceptually far longer, and was withheld for about a decade while Evolution Studios waited on the technology required to deliver the experience they envisioned. The idea was to go heavy on the car-culture influence and social media elements and add them to the (sort of) arcade racing genre. DriveClub ups the ante on the similarly-ambitious Ridge Racer Vita by allowing for clubs, or racing teams of up to six players, to compete amongst themselves for fame points (much like Project Gotham’s Kudos) and in head-to-head challenges. Furthermore, an app will eventually be introduced to keep players plugged into what their club is up to even while away from the PS4. These are enormous steps that many games in many genres could take in order to make the jump from being content-rich to truly lasting, it’s just a shame that it wasn’t all ready at launch.
DriveClub‘s post-launch issues are well-documented. Server problems plagued the weeks following launch, and the delay of certain features actually delayed this very review. Up to this point, we’re still waiting on both the My DriveClub app and the free PlayStation Plus Edition of the game, which was held back to prevent a deluge of free users from pummelling the already-strained servers until they’re ready. As a result, the game being reviewed here is simultaneously a complete product as it is while not being as fully-featured as Evolution Studios and Sony Worldwide had envisioned.
Why Should I Care?
Evolution Studios marketed DriveClub from the beginning as neither an arcade racer nor a simulation, while being more of a competitor to The Grid 2 than anything else. There’s a lot to be said for this, as the market has become saturated with both simulations and action racers, the latter of which is generally loaded with attitude as artificial as its physics, seemingly handed down from the marketing department. This simplicity in both gameplay and presentation makes it a nice break from both the handling demands of the more hardcore racing sims out there, as well as the insipid and forced fake badassery of Need For Speed and its ilk.
Getting to the subject of the content itself, DriveClub is a fairly massive game, all told. The retail release spans five countries: Canada, Norway, Chile, India, and Scotland. However, the upcoming PlayStation Plus Edition will only feature one of these (no word of which as of this moment). Each country features a nice selection of courses, spanning from point-to-point routes to proper race tracks, and that selection will only grow over time as DLC gets added month by month — some paid by way of the season pass, some free to all users. This will continue through next Summer.
The single-player tour mode takes you through a lengthy series of single races and events, as well as multi-race championships, with each tier primarily representing each of the game’s five car classes: Hot Hatchbacks, Sports Cars, Performance Cars, Supercars, and Hypercars. This career mode serves as a primer for the online component, as by the time you’re done with it, you’ll have a feel for cars of all classes, and the combination of the super-aggressive AI and the penalty system will have you well-trained in just what kinds of liberties you’ll be allowed to take with your opponents. Make no mistake, DriveClub is a game that expects drivers to trade some paint on the way to the finish line, and it’s an art form you will learn quite well in the single-player tour.
DriveClub breaks from convention in its asynchronous challenges. These come in two forms. First, you have your face-offs, which can happen at any time during a race, and several times at that. You’ll be challenged to take a section faster than another specific player, drift a corner better, hold a tighter racing line, and so on. More important is the Challenge Mode, which is, alongside the obvious multiplayer, where the real meat of the game is found long after you’re done with the tour. The Challenge Mode is essentially an exchange point of asynchronous challenges, of both the personal and community varieties. Attack them yourself, or take them on as a club, and you’ll gradually lead your team up the rankings.
What Makes It Worth My Time And Money?
All of this competitive and social infrastructure wouldn’t mean much if DriveClub didn’t have the gameplay to back it up, and although it seems to hit just the right spot between arcade and simulation to draw in a larger crowd than just your typical Gran Turismo and Forza Motorsport lot, you often get the feeling that there’s an extreme drifting, tight cornering, 280-mph arcade racer not far under the surface just struggling to break free. With nearly a year’s worth of content in the pipeline, it’s unlikely we’ll ever see that identity emerge in this particular game.
If anything, DriveClub is a more connected version of Project Gotham Racing in a much more rural setting, and there’s a lot to be said for that. We need the continuation of racing games that don’t fit in the simulation mold while still not littering us with ambient traffic, forced storylines, and the other elements that have become hallmarks of the action racing category. The best part is, as Evolution Studios continues releasing DLC and working on its online experience, the game will only get better as time passes, making it quite likely the best game ever to receive this score from Smashpad, if that makes sense.