As I hurtle along the twisting, bumpy roads of Norway, the thunderous roar of the Hennessey Venom GT’s V8 and its high pitched turbocharger whining in my ears, I look up. I should be looking at the road, constantly adjusting to the snaking trail of tarmac that weaves its way down the side of this mountain, but instead I’m distracted by the sun peeking out from behind the landscape, illuminating the scenery in a way I’d not quite seen yet. It’s yet another fleeting moment of utter beauty.
If there’s one thing that has consistently attracted people’s attention over the course of its protracted development, it’s the visual fidelity, and come the final game, Driveclub’s graphics are just as awe inspiring as they promised to be. Each of the five locations – Canada, Chile, India, Norway and Scotland – is stunningly created and minutely detailed. From the general topography of the mountains and hills, right down to recreating the actual plant life that you’d see on a trip to these countries. Flags blow in the wind, flocks of birds burst out from trees, confetti gently floats down to the ground and balloons are let loose into the sky.
It also cannot be stated enough just how big an impact the lighting and cloud systems have on the game’s overall look. There’s the show stopping day-night cycle that will blind you should you be racing towards the sun and realistically colour the clouds overhead but there’s also the quite understated manner in which the clouds cover and shift as you drive, allowing for the sun to appear and let you bask in its light through a break in the clouds.
Then there are the cars, a fairly small selection of 55, which range from Hot Hatches through Sports, Performance, Super and Hyper cars. It means that there’s everything from the humble Golf GTI to the quite ludicrously powerful Gumpert Apollo Enraged or McLaren P1, replete with its DRS and KERS systems.
Each car has naturally been lavished with the care and attention that makes them look as accurate and true to life as can be, but they also sound incredible. In my experience, Driveclub sets a new bar for the recreation of a car’s sound, with the kind of rattling that sits underneath the sound of the Hennessey Venom GT helping it to sound unique from fellow hypercars like the Pagani Huayra.
There’s a good reason why the soundtrack is turned off by default during races, to bring the fantastic audio work to the fore. I took a lot of joy in switching between camera positions when I first unlocked and drove a new car, to hear the sound change and, in particular, switch to the in car view to check out the excellent car interiors and hear the engine from a completely different perspective than externally.
Driveclub PS+ Edition
- Featuring a subset of content, the PS+ edition will give people a way to get in and try the game. Featuring tracks and events from India, as well as 10 cars (5 unlockable individually and 5 via clubs) you won’t see the whole Tour, but will still be able to take part in online races and receive and send challenges to your friends. If you’re on the fence, this is worth a look.
Though unlocking cars is simply based upon your Fame level, or that of your club for one car in each class, many will start playing and earning these with the single player Tour. Each event, whether a race, time trial or drift, has a trio of objectives to complete in order to earn the three stars and unlock further events. Some races are paired up, while each class of vehicle has a final event comprised of three races in total.
The AI drivers often aren’t going to challenge you that much during the Tour, especially not in the early races, let alone once you can pick a faster car in a given class and set off into the distance. However, they are more than happy to swap paint with you, hold the racing line and, when turned up to Legend difficulty and with the faster cars in their hands, can be very difficult to catch.
However, the AI is part of the reason why I found it rather easy to clear all of the objectives on the Tour. The AI can be bullied out of the way in races, while time trials and drifts primarily need a bit of practice to beat. It could certainly have had a larger difficulty curve over a greater number of events but it helps to give you a nice introduction to each location, the types of gameplay and, most importantly, lets you unlock a large number of the game’s cars quite quickly.
The Tour really just a stepping stone to the challenges system which is the bedrock to the game’s potential longevity. Any race, time trial or drift that you take part in can be shared as a challenge, regardless of where it comes from, and you then set how long it lasts for and to whom you wish to send it. What really gets the challenge’s leaderboard ticking over is being able to send it to recommended players and clubs, who can then share it further if they try it and like it.
There’s the potential for this to become overwhelming, should you receive too many challenges too quickly, but going up against a tough record would see me repeat a time trial for tens of minutes, trying to get as close to the time as possible. My only wishes are that I could take the customisation of my challenge even further. I want to be able to pick the exact Face Offs that feature, choose whether it’s my own score that features in them, set if it’s a time, time and race position together or score to beat and more, but the options aren’t currently there. It’s something that Evolution should look to expand upon in the future.
Having said that, its simplicity makes it a very slick system and one that’s ably assisted by the simple and effective menu system. You can quickly keep track of the challenges you’re taking part in, see what your friends have achieved recently and get to whatever you need in just a few button presses. On top of that, loading into an event can take as little as 8 seconds for a time trial and around 18 seconds for a full race, with event restarts practically instant, enabling that impulsive “just one more go” style of play that has caught me on a number of occasions.
Starting out with Hot Hatches, the handling model makes it really easy to throw your car into corners, brake late and knock into your opponents, but as you get to Performance cars and beyond, it really comes to life. Now you really have to start thinking about braking points and if you hammer the throttle too hard out of a slow corner, the car’s rear end will step out on you faster than an unfaithful spouse. There’s a terrific sense of speed too, which can be quite terrifying when you have hypercars topping out down tight bumpy roads. It straddles the divide between arcade-like accessibility and feeling realistic quite expertly, with tight and responsive controls.
You’ll need every ounce of control to make it through some of the devilish track designs, too. Each of the five countries has five tracks with variations coming in the form of reversed version of the two road circuits and the two point to point tracks, with three differing layouts of proper race circuits making for a total of eleven to choose from. While the race circuits are fun to drive and have good layouts, it’s the road circuits and point to point tracks which provide by far the greatest and most exhilarating driving challenge, with greater undulations and variation in surface.
As you drive, you earn Fame points for all manner of things. The most obvious are the randomly assigned Face Offs, which give you a racing line, average speed or drift score to try and beat from another opponent. They’re fun little mini-games that go hand in hand with the points you get from drafting an opponent to drifting and keeping clean sectors. That last one’s a bit tricky though, especially at high speed, and going with all four wheels off the road, hitting barriers and other vehicles will all knock points off your Fame haul for that race. Helping you out on the road is a quite ingenious set of flags at most corners.
These do a few things, in lieu of resorting to letting you race with a racing line marked on the ground. They work alongside the minimap to tell you where an upcoming corner is, but their regular spacing also gives you a rather clear set of visual markers to pick your braking point. Most ingeniously, they’re also colour coordinated like a traffic light to give you an indication of how tight and difficult a corner is.
Waiting for the rain
- Even with the 11 month delay, Driveclub is waiting for features after launch. The two of note will be the addition of weather effects, namely rain and snow, as well as a photo mode. These and other tweaks and changes to the game will come alongside several months worth of DLC, both paid and free, which will add cars, tracks, liveries and more Tour events.
Really heavy collisions and corner cutting will result in a more stringent penalty that restricts your acceleration for a varying length of time, while straying off track for more than three seconds will see you reset – not that there’s ever much leeway at the edge of the track. By and large the game sticks to a slap on the wrist instead, with taking a few points away and only superficial visual damage to your car. Of course, that won’t stop racers when you head to competitive online and the dozen or so races that I’ve tried have often featured idiots who felt the need to try and push you into walls. Considering that these are often very tight and twisty tracks without much room for overtaking, this could potentially be infuriating when racing against people you don’t know and can’t talk to jovially in a party chat.
Much like the challenges, the competitive multiplayer races leave me wanting more control and customisation. You pick from a grid of upcoming events, registering your interest and drawing any players in your online session in alongside you – thankfully, anyone can race, as loaner cars are made available if you don’t have something elligible unlocked – and these races can be anything from single make races to team-based races where your cumulative score comes into play or even endurance races that last 10 laps and see you race from dawn till dusk or dusk till dawn. There’s potential for expansion in the future though, and I want private lobbies, cat & mouse team games, synchronous time trial-like races against other players’ ghosts and more.
The titular clubs, meanwhile, are an interesting idea, but one that’s been difficult to really grasp prior to launch. They’re a simple way of pooling together your efforts under a single banner, to unlock the five cars that are exclusive to the clubs. They also let you work together in club challenges and towards shared statistics and goals. However, with the 6 player limit, you’ll want your club to be full of active players in order to chip in.
As you finish the Tour and start to take on more and more challenges, Driveclub starts to show its true colours. It may be difficult for some to adapt to in an age where racers sprawl across open worlds featuring hundreds of cars and tons of tracks, but this is a game with a very singular focus. The overarching goals soon start to peel away, and you’re left with the purity of competing against the times and records of friends and rivals, the stunning scenery and the joy of driving cars absolutely on the limit.