Writing game reviews can be tricky to because you have to try and balance out the positives with the negatives. I am going to have to say here that from the first time I loaded DRIVECLUB, I have spent a lot of my playing trying to find positives in this game. I genuinely wanted this game to be good, but overall DRIVECLUB is one of the biggest disappointments of the year. This review is based mainly on the solo campaign of DRIVECLUB. Even though I did race some multiplayer races with randoms all the other online functionality is still disabled and has been since launch. An update to this review may be added when Sony fixes their server instability issues and turns on everything that is meant to be on from the start in terms of multiplayer.
DRIVECLUB is Sony’s attempt to compete with Microsoft’s Forza franchise and apart from Need for Speed Rivals, is only the second racing game to hit the PS4 (not counting Moto GP). I have been looking forward to playing DRIVECLUB for a long time now due to development delays. I thought it could challenge the Forza franchise and tip the scales. When I started playing DRIVECLUB, I realized that it is possible to have a completely underwhelming racer on console.
We have heard so much hype about how pretty and amazing this game will look. A particular critic has even gone so far as to hail DRIVECLUB as the “the best-looking racing games ever seen on a console”, but despite some nice lighting to the night races, I simply can’t agree. The five different areas in DRIVECLUB you can visit do seem to have a unique feel to them, but the landscape and environment is pretty bland and nothing much seems to be happening externally to the drive. There is hardly any crowd to speak of, and you can’t hear them either. There is an eerie silence to the game. I also never saw any particle effects that are worth mentioning. Most objects are simply there to look at and don’t have any physical impact. As an example, I came off a road and proceeded to drive through some small signs. I raced through them without any impact at all, They were just textures sitting on the side of the road that had no destruction physics or solidity. The presentation in the menus is functional but pretty boring as well. What was definitely absent was shadow effects. When you pan around your car prior to a race, the cars look lifeless compared to some of the incredible eye candy in Forza Horizon 2. Even during some races I had this weird texture corruption bug when the sun filtered through onto the windscreen.
You cannot adjust the brightness in DRIVECLUB. I use a 50” plasma TV which normally has no problem displaying bright vibrant colours, but the muted tones in DRIVECLUB leave the game looking depressed and lifeless. A lot of the environments seem to be cloudy and overcast 80% of the time. This normally wouldn’t be a problem if you had a button to turn on your headlights but those are automatic and only turn on when night occurs. The brightness of the races is not as noticeable if you use an external car view but I have always loved cockpit views in games and it seems every car (out of the 50 in the game) you drive seems to have heavily tinted windows, which only assists to accentuate the dull exterior of the game. Occasionally the sun does come out and in those cases, it does look quite good and easy to see where you are going.
One of the few features I do like is the ability to make some basic alterations to your racing avatar. There aren’t a lot of models but it was nice that you could pick between a few different ones, and change your gender. You can also make some livery changes to the cars and this is done in the same vein of Need for Speed Rivals. It isn’t as robust as Forza Horizon 2 but at least there is some car design options available. Cockpits are well modelled in the 50 car roster. 50 cars compared to its main rival is a lot less though (Forza Horizon 2 has over 200). I can’t even justify the 50 car roster by saying that they have done full interior modelling of the cars, because they haven’t. Just like Need for Speed Rivals, you unlock more cars as your avatar levels up. The roster of cars is almost completely European. Don’t expect to find your favourite Subaru or Toyota here. You’ll also unlock a few extra cars that are not available to you solo, and these can only be unlocked by joining a club.
Sound design is very average at best. Some of the cars sounded like they hardly have any engines at all. The Lotus Evora S was one of the exceptions, and sounded fantastic. There also seems to be not a lot of other sounds happening as well. When you hit another AI car (up to 11 other cars on the track) there is a distant crunching noise but apart from that, I could barely hear other cars when I was jostling for position. . The AI is overly aggressive and will try and stick to the driving line wherever possible. There is no such thing as a clean race in DRIVECLUB.
The name DRIVECLUB is extremely deceptive. You would think that you could join a race with other players, set challenges and unlock cars as you level up. Unfortunately this isn’t going to happen. For some weird reason Sony only allowed you and five others to form a club… perhaps they should have called it The Crew? Oh wait.
I did join a friend’s club but here lies the other big issue with DRIVECLUB. The online servers at launch could not cope with the influx of gamers so Sony and Evolution Studios decided to pull the PS+ free version of the game and limit a lot of the online functionality. This was much hyped as one of the good bonuses of getting a PS+ network account and even after delaying the game almost a full year, they still haven’t released the PS+ version. At review, I haven’t really been able to take a look at the online challenge system (where you try and beat your friend’s challenges that apparently they can set for you) because the servers still seem to be suffering issues. A lot of my friends on the PlayStation Network have PS+ and are waiting to try the limited free version first (a smaller portion of the game) which meant for this review it was very much a solo experience. I did play some multiplayer with randoms but that only highlighted how easy it is to spin another racer on the track. The penalty system you see in solo play doesn’t seem to come into effect much in the multiplayer lobbies and it really isn’t much fun.
Brief mention should be made of the handling model, it is very arcade like. There is no tuning, no assists and no ability to adjust the difficulty in the championship races (you can race single player races and adjust the AI difficulty there). Some of the earlier cars handle like they are on rails and have amazingly super grip tyres. When you get to the more powerful cars, as you progress, they do get trickier to handle but overall the drive handling is very average at best. On the plus side there is a reasonable penalty system. If I try and cut a corner or high speed and slam into another AI racer, it slows your car down for a few seconds because you were driving too aggressively.
Unfortunately DRIVECLUB only tarnishes Sony’s console because unless you are absolutely desperate to play an arcade racer on the PS4, you will not want to waste your hard earned cash buying this game. If you are like me and have both next gen consoles then stick with Forza Horizon 2 and forget about DRIVECLUB. DRIVECLUB is an unfinished game (weather effects are still to come in a later patch). Perhaps it may be better when Sony gets the server stability issues under control and Evolution Studios has another year of development time to actually finish it. It its current state I cannot recommend this game at all. DRIVECLUB is a big disappointment.
5 out of 10.