Driveclub Bikes is an expansion pack quite unlike those that have gone before in DriveClub’s Season Pass. The clue is in the title, with a roster of some of the world’s best superbikes that can either be bought as a tangential addition to the main game or as a standalone release that borrows heavily from its parent game.
Ranging from Ducati to Yamaha and Honda, BMW to KTM and Bimota, even to the untrained eye it’s clear that the 12 bikes in the game are some of the most startlingly fast in existence, and there are more on the way. Recreated in the same exquisite detail as Evolution lavished on their array of cars, but kept as a separate entity, they are gorgeous to look at and all sound fantastic as you hare down the roads and tracks of the game.
Much more importantly, they feel just right when you take them for a spin. Pulling away from a standing start, the traction control noticeably struggles to control the power being fed through the rear wheel, to prevent you from tipping over backwards, being too energetic with the throttle through a corner sees the rear wheel try to slide out from underneath you, and there’s Driveclub’s excellent sense of speed as you all too rapidly blaze past the 100mph mark, which is especially true when playing in one of the first person or front bumper views.
It never punishes you from lacking an ounce of finesse, and you will never lose control and come off your bike regardless of how much you overcook a corner. At worst you might collide too hard with a wall and see the Driveclub logo flash as you are reset to the screen, but it’s forgiving in the name of letting you have fun, resulting in something that feels a degree more arcade-like than driving the game’s cars.
You will still need to master how to drive a bike in order to succeed. Every corner wants you to handle it with a deft touch and grace, to know how to carry the momentum and turn in early enough for a nice, smooth curve that clips the apex. It takes a little while to get used to, and it’s a task much easier to accomplish in third person view – and you will be faster in this view as a consequence – but it can be a joy to learn.
In fact, it’s more a case of re-learning, as this expansion doesn’t add any new locations or tracks to Driveclub’s existing selection. The oft sweeping curves and turns of the tracks and roads that weave through the countryside of the five countries provide an excellent match to the way the bikes handle, but Bikes also benefits from the year of updates and additions to Driveclub. It’s the game that Driveclub should have been at launch, you could rightly say, with weather effects, the best in class photo mode, saving replays and now, in the latest update, private online lobbies.
What people will most likely dive into first is the new tour, spread across 42 events that show off the various bikes and let you quickly level up your reputation earnt with them to unlock the next in line. There’s your usual array of races, time trials and short championships to work through, against the admittedly weak AI, but where the cars have drift challenges, the bikes have skill events.
They’re really quite addictive and certainly far more enjoyable than trying to drift around in Hypercars with traction control and ABS turned on. Taking short snippets of track, they test your ability to pull of wheelies, stoppies and besting speed traps, all as a clock counts down to zero. With just 20-30 seconds of action and the compulsiveness of trying to absolutely perfect a series of these mini challenges, I found myself restarting and repeating them dozens of times to try and climb the leaderboards and beat my friends’ scores.
That score or time chase remains at the heart of Driveclub’s online offering, as you can quickly share and challenge your friends to best your high water-mark. Yet, alongside the somewhat superfluous clubs system, it’s also one of the least fleshed out parts of the game. In creating a challenge, I want to be able to determine the exact mini-challenges my rivals must try to beat, I even wish I could choose my own wheelie and stoppie zones, or create three race championships with a time target at the end. Those capabilities sadly remain only in the hands of Evolution, and it hampers the community’s possibilities.
Online racing is just what you would expect, but with bikes the width of a human being, you’re far less prone to crashing into an opponent as you both demand to occupy the same stretch of road. Bumps and grinds – when fellow racers haven’t been reduced to floating names for having subpar connections – are less terminal to your racing prospects, but can still affect the outcome of the race,
The new private lobbies are a boon in that regard, giving you the freedom to set up a race or time trial with all the track settings from solo play, before letting you tweak the rules and restrictions to make it a team race, enforce a particular camera or whatever else you fancy. The only problem I saw was that my game crashed three times in a row during the first lap of successive private races. Nobody else in the lobby was affected, however, and I was able to race in regular lobbies without issue, leading me to believe this was an isolated and freak occurrence.
In some ways, Driveclub Bikes is Evolution and Sony’s opportunity to rehabilitate DriveClub’s image in the eyes of the public, just as The Taken King redeemed many of the flaws of Destiny. Outside of the online issues that persisted for far, far too long, it was hardly a bad game, and it’s excellent and rewarding handling model has effortlessly been replicated with the bikes. Whether you want to pick up the main game on the cheap, grab the generous and expansive season pass of DLC or dabble with Bikes, it’s never been a better time to jump into Driveclub and get racing.