I love video games, but it’s rare for me to play them right when they are first released. Normally it takes me a somewhere from a few months to a few years to get around to playing to a game. I’ve got a considerable backlog of games that I’ve been meaning to play and it hasn’t been until recently that I’ve been able to start chipping away at the list. With that in mind, I’ve created a new series of posts called Late to the Party, wherein I discuss the games that came out in the preceding years that I’m finally getting around to experiencing. Today’s entry in the series is Driveclub.

DRIVECLUB™_20160820200217
A new milestone: creating my first piece of cover art

Driveclub is one of those games that I played more out of curiosity than genuine interest. I’m not a car enthusiast, but I figured I’d give Driveclub a try, partly because of the game’s troubled history. It was originally supposed to be a PS4 launch title, but ended up getting delayed a full year and when it finally came out it got mixed reviews. The game has been updated many times since it’s October 2014 release, meaning my experience was no doubt different than what other people went through closer to launch. The other part of my interest came from the fact that Driveclub was made by the same studio that made the Motorstorm games on PlayStation 3, which I did enjoy for the most part, so I wanted to see how their next project had turned out. I messed around with Driveclub for just a few hours on a single weekend, so I can only comment on the few bits of the game I tried out, and keep in mind that I don’t regularly play racing games, so my perspective on how good Driveclub is as a racing game is rather limited.

The Chilean Desert

At the start of Driveclub you complete a single race to get yourself familiar with the controls, and then the game starts to open up to you. Driveclub appeared to have a pretty basic setup, with a singleplayer campaign that takes you through a number of preset events with objectives to fulfill, along with the option to create your own individual events. There’s also multiplayer racing, but I didn’t touch that. Most of my time in Driveclub was spent doing individual events on the various courses – predominantly standard races, but also a time trial or two. When you create an event you can choose the time of day that the event will start at, but also the time dilation during the race. That means you can create a race that starts in daylight but finishes at night, or vice-versa. You can also choose the weather or spin the roulette wheel by selecting the random option and just seeing what you get.

Dynamic weather effects

In terms of the actual driving, I thought Driveclub played well overall. Truth be told, I set the cars to automatic transmission and I only played on amateur or semi-pro difficulty, with brake assist, but that’s just because I wanted to have fun for a few hours rather than try to put in the time and effort to fully master a more realistic driving experience. Being a non-car person I can’t say how closely the cars in Driveclub match up to their real life counterparts, but after a few races I felt like I understood the driving mechanics and could complete a race competently. Driving the various cars I unlocked was generally fun, and the more time I put into Driveclub the more the game grew on me. The only part of Driveclub’s driving that I found problematic was the drifting, which seemed harder than it needed to be. Then again, I’m a terrible driver, as will become clear if you watch any of the videos embedded in this post, so my troubles with drifting might just be me. As you complete a course you are slowly gaining fame/points for how well you’re doing. Passing other cars, drafting, cornering, completing mini-challenges, and other things will add to your score, while colliding with other cars and driving off the course will usually subtract from it. I say “usually” because there were times when I smashed into another car or went off the road and didn’t get a penalty, so there’s either an inconsistency in the system, or I just don’t fully understand the methodology for determining what gets penalized and what doesn’t. Regardless, I racked up a lot of penalties while playing Driveclub, because the way I drive might be best described as “stupid aggressive,” where I routinely ram other cars and try to cut them off at every opportunity. If these were real world races, I would probably be banned from the sport in short order.

Urban racing in Scotland

Of course, with a name like Driveclub, you would expect there to be some sort of “club” in the game, and you’d be right. The whole idea behind Driveclub’s social mechanics is the creation of, and competition between, clubs. You can create your own club and invite people to join, or ask to join someone else’s club. If you decide to create your own club you first choose a name and then you can create a club emblem if you so desire. Once a club exists you can send and accept challenges to other clubs and gain experience points for your club in doing so. Even though I wasn’t going to play with other people, I went ahead and created my own club and emblem just to see what it’s like. If you want to look it up yourself, search for a club called Bankers United with a black emblem that has a snake in the middle of it. Honestly, I wanted to call it Student Drivers, but that name was already taken. Since I’m not playing Driveclub anymore I don’t know what will happen if you try to join it. I also have no idea how well the social interactions between clubs work, as I didn’t send or accept any challenges from other clubs.

Time trial in Japan

Driveclub is the best looking racing game I’ve ever played. I haven’t played a lot of racing games in my day, so that statement doesn’t carry much weight, but I think anyone who plays it will agree that it’s at least a good looking game. All the cars I raced looked fantastic, and featured exquisitely detailed interiors when driving in first-person cockpit view. The racecourses, which come from several countries around the world, take you to such varied locations as mountains in Norway, tea fields in India, expansive deserts in Chile, majestic forests in Canada, and cherry blossom-lined roads in Japan. I can’t speak to how well the racecourses themselves are designed, but I can at least say that they are incredibly scenic. Before each race you’re given a helicopter flyover and other views of the racecourse. If you want, you can skip these and get straight to the race, but I enjoyed watching them. As your race through Driveclub you’ll also be treated to some outstanding lighting and weather effects. Heavy rainfall in particular is a standout, with your visions limited by the precipitation and the world around you getting buffeted by both the rain and wind. A basic Photo Mode can be used to capture particular moments during a race, and even though it doesn’t come with any effects or filters and it can be difficult to get the timing right, you can compose some dramatic shots with it. The only big knock I can give against Driveclub’s graphics is that the car models do not suffer any substantial damage when they take a hit. The paint gets chipped, the headlights crack, and the outside looks scuffed up, but there’s nothing major like a bent bumper or crumpled door.

Storming through Canada

The audio of Driveclub was most notable for me in what the game chose to emphasize. There’s no music that plays during races, so instead you just have the sounds of cars and the roads they traverse. At first I was disappointed by this, but by the end of my time with Driveclub I think I could appreciate this design choice. A game like Driveclub is all about the cars and immersing you in the experience of driving them, and having music blasting during an event can certainly take away from that. Instead, Driveclub wants you to really hear the roar of the engine, the squealing of tires as you come around a turn, and the force of each time you slam into another car.

Evening race at the observatory

As an individual who only plays racing games casually I’m the wrong person to say if Driveclub is truly a great racing game, but it was at least fun for the short period of time I put into it. The driving is mostly good, the visuals are great, and when I stopped playing Driveclub I hadn’t soured on it. Maybe if I played for longer than a weekend I would have found some greater flaw in the game or a lack of depth to sustain an extended playthrough. Based purely on my limited time with Driveclub, I’d be fine giving it a general stamp of approval, though of course I’d have to put an asterisk next to my recommendation. If you like racing games, consider checking this one out.

 

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