Review: Driveclub

Throughout my time with Driveclub, the new PlayStation 4 exclusive racer from Evolution Studios, a single scene from the fourth season of The Wire kept coming to mind. At the beginning of “Refugees,” up-and-coming gangster Marlo Stanfield audaciously steals a lollipop right in front of a security guard, causing a confrontation between the two. The security guard attempts to assert himself, telling Marlo about the honest life he’s trying to lead for the sake of his family. After blatantly ignoring the his statements, Marlo suggest that the security guard’s presence is completely non-existent, leading to one of the most memorable exchanges in the entirety of The Wire:

Marlo: You want it to be one way.
Guard: What?
Marlo: You want it to be one way.
Guard: Man, I don’t want it to be…
Marlo: You want it to be one way.
Guard: Man stop…stop saying that.
Marlo: But it’s the other way.

In his mind, the security guard was in charge, but in reality, Marlo’s ruthlessness and infamy gave him full authority over everything in his environment. This exchange functions as a direct metaphor for DriveClub‘s fatal flaw. Players may initially feel as though they have complete control over their surroundings until the environment, AI, and structure reminds them that the only thing with any semblance of power in DriveClub is DriveClub itself.

driveclub 2

Once touted to be a PlayStation 4 launch highlight, Driveclub was met with a delay of nearly a full calendar year. While it’s unclear precisely what caused this delay, the final product still ultimately feels like a glorified console launch exclusive. Players can hop into a number of races, time-trials, and skills competitions to contribute to their overall Fame Level. Everything one does is on display in Drivclub, as its much-touted social features allegedly bring the single-player campaign (Tour), online multiplayer matches, and Club-based challenges together. There’s never any explanation as to who you are or why any of these events are occurring, but that’s relatively meaningless in the grand scheme of things. Your goal is simply to drive fast, finish well, and, most importantly, drive clean.

Driving cleanly is, without a doubt, the single-most important aspect of Driveclub‘s moment-to-moment gameplay. Players are expected to stay on the road at all times, never bump into another racer for any reason, maintain control at all costs, and never touch any of the barriers surrounding each track. In order to police this, Driveclub has tied player progression to the aforementioned Fame system, which is nothing more than a cleverly-renamed experience bar. A Fame score sits at the top of the screen during every event, constantly increasing or decreasing based upon player actions. For instance, passing another racer will cause a 500 point increase, while colliding with another driver will net a 200 point decrease. Drifting and drafting cause variable increases to one’s score based upon the amount of time spent in these conditions, with drafting behind another player being the easiest method for rack up massive totals. That’s right, the best way method for getting a high score in Driveclub is actually to stay behind someone else, as there’s no score addition for leading a race.

driveclub 3

While this score-based experience system might seem intriguing at first, Driveclub‘s abysmal AI makes earning high marks somewhat of a crapshoot. Although you’re expected to drive as cleanly as possible, the AI-controlled racers seem to take great pleasure in driving straight into you. Players might find themselves in first place, only to have a computer-controlled car slingshot forward, seemingly out of nowhere, directly into the back of their cars. Because there’s no rewind mechanic, the result is often a race completely ruined by one collision. Because Driveclub‘s Tour objectives, which reward players with stars that unlock future events, often include finishing in the Top 3 or achieving blazing-fast lap-times, it feels as though the AI is only there to prevent progression rather than provide competition. What’s worse is that players are docked the same amount of Fame when another car collides into them as when they collide into a competing racer. When one considers that new cars are only unlocked through reaching certain Fame Level milestones, it’s easy to see how Driveclub‘s downright atrocious AI-design directly prevents rewards.

Driveclub might be able to get away with its bloodthirsty AI if its desire for clean racing didn’t directly penalize players for racing outside of its predefined, sterilized rules. It’s the equivalent of a mother forcing her children to “play nice” in a field full of rabid dogs and kidnappers. Whenever a player cuts a corner or gets into a severe collision with another vehicle, his or her accelerator is turned off for up to five seconds. In racing games, every moment counts, as one-tenth of a second could mean the difference between a win and a loss. There’s nothing fundamentally wrong with turning off one’s accelerator for gaining what some might determine to be an unfair advantage. There is a massive problem when the AI directly causes massive penalties to players who never strayed outside of Driveclub‘s rules. Because computer-controlled drivers seem to seek out contact, one might endure enormous penalties simply for being hit from behind. If a player is spun-out near a corner by an out-of-control driver, giant accelerator penalties often ensure simply due to cutting a corner during a crash. Again, with no rewind feature and a “Reset to Track” option that only seems to work when one is completely stopped, it’s not uncommon to have dozens of concurrent races ended through no fault of the player.

driveclub 4

Drivers are also subject to invisible barriers surrounding nearly every inch of every track. Instead of being able to navigate back onto the road after drifting off-course, it’s not uncommon to be completely spun out by a wall that literally doesn’t exist. Combine this with the constant penalties and overly aggressive AI, and you have the makings for more race-ending mishaps. What’s even more infuriating is that the same off-track area can affect the same car in different ways. In one instance, a player will be driving along a dirt section like it’s nothing, but be launched into the air or spun out by the same area later on. It’s a shame that Driveclub puts such a heavy emphasis on clean racing while inserting a number of downright dirty variables.

Unfortunately Driveclub‘s much-hyped social features, essentially its calling card, leave something to be desired. Players have the opportunity to join six-person clubs and compete in various challenges across the Driveclub universe, all while contributing to their Club’s Fame Level. Again, this Fame Level is just a simple group experience system that unlocks certain cars. Most of these challenges are glorified versions of various Tour missions in which one has to beat a certain time, win a race, or earn a high score. While Club and Solo challenges do add a level of replay value to Driveclub, they essentially function as nothing more than a series of leaderboards. Players can create challenges and share them with individual drivers, or the community as a whole, thus creating a time-sensitive rankings page for a given event. Online multiplayer racing is available in both team and individual settings, though racing against others online is neither better nor worse than that any other current-gen racing title on the market. To recap, the “vaunted” social connectivity of Driveclub is not much more than a large selection of dynamic leaderboards, very standard multiplayer racing, and an extra experience bar that six players contribute to, rather than one. These features are certainly of interest to competitive racers, but they don’t bring nearly enough to the table to make up for Driveclub‘s downright maddening gameplay flaws.

driveclub 5

Much has been made of Driveclub‘s visual flair, being that it aims to blow the mind and eyeballs of every gamer to give it a shot. On a macro-level, this is a flat-out stunning graphical marvel. From thousands of individually-mapped trees, to impressive day-night cycles, to constant barrages of vibrant color, Driveclub certainly makes use of the PlayStation 4’s increased horsepower. However, when one starts to look at some of its finer details, an uglier picture starts to emerge. While every car-model is beautifully realized in virtual space, some of the damage effects lack realistic depth. It’s not uncommon to see one’s rear bumper display almost two-dimensional damage patterns, thus sullying a previously gorgeous product. Pre-race flyover scenes often highlight some of the ugly textures masked by high-speed action, with mountains and buildings looking decidedly unsightly. Driveclub‘s character models are especially jarring, with jagged limbs and strange animations providing awkward pre-race distractions. Sure, the draw-distance is insane and the overall world-design is wonderful, but smaller details prevent Driveclub from being the ultimate visual showpiece for the PlayStation 4.

For a racer that seems to combine arcade and simulation influences, there’s a staggering lack of customization options in Driveclub. The “Garage” simply allows players to create “custom” paint jobs using a number of predetermined patterns and colors. Limited paint options aside, a number of interesting designs can be created using Driveclub‘s editor, though none are as interesting as some of the creations in Forza Horizon 2. There is no semblance of performance tuning options available at this time, meaning that players are stuck with the standard cars they unlock. If a given car’s braking or acceleration isn’t up to snuff, too bad. This is an unfortunate oversight (much like the soon-to-be included dynamic weather) that essentially prevents players from using their dream cars if a faster option is available.

It’s worth noting that Driveclub‘s Hybrid-composed soundtrack falls somewhere between boring and mind-grating. While Evolution Studios has suggested that in-race music is disabled by default because of how proud they are of their audio-design, it certainly doesn’t hurt that players don’t have to hear hours of bland, lyric-free electronica. If ever there was a title that had the potential to sell Music Unlimited memberships, this is it.

driveclub 6

Closing Comments:

Driveclub makes a strong case against the popular argument that delays make for better video games. While the Club system is vaguely interesting on the surface, no amount of social connectivity can mask the anger-inducing gameplay problems that frequently arise. Though nothing in Driveclub is inherently broken, its forced combination of clean racing and horrible AI have the potential to frustrate players more than any minor glitch could. Add this to the lack of any meaningful customization options and missing weather system, and you have the makings of a disappointment. If you’re considering buying Driveclub without giving the free PlayStation Plus Version a try, you’re likely making a big mistake.

2point5outof5
Platform: PlayStation 4

  • Guest

    Not surprised, Sony=lies, overhype and underdeliver. Forza Killer MY *SS!

    • You are flat out wrong

      Hi Lion Heart. The Xbone has no games.

      • Joel Nascimento Jr

        Just like PS4. (I have both consoles, 2014 is a miserable year)

    • demfax

      Metacritic
      Driveclub – 72
      Forza 5 – 79
      Forza Horizon 2 – 86

      32 out of 49 reviews on metacritic are 75+, well over half. Most reviews on metacritic liked it.

      According to metacritic it’s worse than Forza Horizon 2, and a little worse than Forza 5. It’s not a great game but it’s a good arcade racer that will improve over time.

      Stop spreading fanboy lies, hatred, and FUD, it accomplishes nothing. It’s not healthy to hate pieces of plastic and people who like playing video games on them. It’s sad that you hate good video games for being on the wrong piece of plastic.

      You are sick and need help.

  • Johnny said NO

    Excellent review.
    At least this site can be trusted to give a fair and balanced review. There’s so many biased sony only sites on metacritic over-scoring this game, it’s completely distorting the overall score atm. This game is definitely a 6 out of 10.

    • TC0072

      So after playing it since it’s out you’d give it 6/10 as well. You played it for more than 3 hours yet?

    • demfax

      Metacritic
      Driveclub – 72
      Forza 5 – 79
      Forza Horizon 2 – 86

      32 out of 49 reviews on metacritic are 75+, well over half. Most reviews on metacritic liked it.

      According to metacritic it’s worse than Forza Horizon 2, and a little worse than Forza 5. It’s not a great game but it’s a good arcade racer that will improve over time.

  • TraceSkipper

    I played at 1 am last night for an hour … i was impressed how well it handled. I dont think 5/10 is incorrect and ironically driving ‘clean’ is a refreshing take on driving games – instead of smashing against each other through the race but isnt that hardcore gaming? Haha.

  • Stevyskeevy

    How comical…i must say the ps4 is shaping up to be a complete joke. Its nothing more than and indie box, with no decent exclusives and a laughable online service. Forza horizon 2 is the best racing game that i have ever played and in my top 5 games of all time….and ps4 owners get this ? I am laughing all the way back to gamestop to reserve my next beauties in sunset overdrive and halo. Ps4 is a farce.

    • Ryo Shenmue

      You have probably played some really awful games then. PS4 is the most powerful console ever and is crashing XOne day after day, with tons of exclusives.

      • Both of you are emotionally unstable. Seek medical attention immediately.

        I’ll be calling your parents to come pick you up in a few minutes.

        • Dikan45

          Straight to bed with no supper!

        • You are flat out wrong

          Hi Jonathan “PS4 version of Thief drops to a single digit frame rate” Leack.

      • Stevyskeevy

        The power of a console is based solely only the quality of its games. Weak games or no games = weak console. Ps4 is a weak console….ill take my titanfall, forza horizon 2, sunset overdrive and halos over driveclub and whatever other worthless trash that ps4 has put forth anyday. And look at the future….halo 5; crackdown, quantum break, scalebound, gears of war. You a fool son.

        • Matt Berial

          You’re even more of a fool. The idiocy with you is unsettling.

        • Sea-HAWK fan

          Well Destiny can take the place of Halo (IMO I have put already more hours into it then Halo 4), Uncharted, LBP3, Blood Bourne, PS2 on Console, all the free to plays, The Order, God Of War, Hot Shots, ughh lets stop now to much… Heres a stat from Wikipedia.. Xbox one exclusives 14, PS4 36…

        • demfax

          Metacritic
          Driveclub – 72
          Forza 5 – 79
          Forza Horizon 2 – 86

          32 out of 49 reviews on metacritic are 75+, well over half. Most reviews on metacritic liked it.

          According to metacritic it’s worse than Forza Horizon 2, and a little worse than Forza 5. It’s not a great game but it’s a good arcade racer that will improve over time.

          Stop spreading fanboy lies, hatred, and FUD, it accomplishes nothing. It’s not healthy to hate pieces of plastic and people who like playing video games on them. It’s sad that you hate good video games for being on the wrong piece of plastic. You are sick and need help.

          All of your lies, ignorance, and blind hatred only make you seem deranged and delusional to normal, sane people.

          All 3 consoles have good exclusive games, and pros and cons, it’s only fanboys blindly hating one or the other.

          PS4 has many great games that gamers love. That’s why it’s 11+ million in sales and growing. Sony’s large number of well funded 1st parties will ensure PS4 has a ton of great AAA exclusives, as many or more than PS3. According to listwar PS4 has 138 games right now.

          Sony’s 1st party studios are working on several unannounced AAA PS4 games.

          1st/2nd party studios include Japan Studio, Polyphony Digital, Naughty Dog, SCE Bend, SCE San Diego, SCE Santa Monica, Sucker Punch, Pixel Opus, Evolution Studios, Guerrilla Games, Guerrilla Cambridge, SCE London, Media Molecule, Ready at Dawn, Quantic Dream, etc.

          PS4/Sony exclusives 2013-2014: Killzone: Shadowfall, Knack, Resogun and Heroes DLC, Flower, Sound Shapes, Flow, Doki Doki Universe, Infamous: 2nd Son and First Light, MLB: The Show 14, TLOU Remastered, Dead Nation, Entwined, Hohokum, Counterspy, Velocity 2X, Driveclub, LittleBigPlanet 3, Natural Doctrine, Samurai Warriors 4, Guilty Gear Xrd, Akiba’s Trip, Singstar: Ultimate Party, Tiny Troopers: Joint Ops, Jamestown+, Ready to Run, Unmechanical Extended Edition, Super Mega Baseball, Guns Up!, Pillar, #KillAllZombies, N++, Pix the Cat, Helldivers, Super Exploding Zoo

          2015: The Order: 1886, Bloodborne, Ratchet & Clank, Uncharted 4, Tearaway Unfolded, Until Dawn, Persona 5, Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture, Rime, Let it Die, Deep Down, more.

        • ImTonyBlair

          Its a matter of opinion, I enjoyed my 360 but gow judgement and halo 4 were a step back, so lost a bit of faith. Apart from forza which credit is a great game and I miss the ps4 also has appeal. This game is like a next gen ridge racer, wheras to come there’s uncharted, the order, blood Bourne, rime, no mans sky, infamous sequels, gran turismo 7, killzone sequels, potentially titanfall sequels, and a number of great cross platforms that have historically performed better on the ps4. Throw in the ps4 ui over the muddled xbox ones and the introductory cheaper price, plenty of free games and your only fooling yourself.

    • You are flat out wrong

      Go away Flopzafailever.

    • TraceSkipper

      The best sellers on the ps4 are not exclusives. Should take a look at how many unit of FIFA 15 sold compared to xboner.

    • Sea-HAWK fan

      Remember that there is a title called Grand Turismo that will be coming to PS4.. First with the last release re-edition, and the new one coming sometime in the future. Actually I haven’t played one since god knows when, but this is one of the re-editions I actually want to play.

    • demfax

      Metacritic
      Driveclub – 72
      Forza 5 – 79
      Forza Horizon 2 – 86

      32 out of 49 reviews on metacritic are 75+, well over half. Most reviews on metacritic liked it.

      According to metacritic it’s worse than Forza Horizon 2, and a little worse than Forza 5. It’s not a great game but it’s a good arcade racer that will improve over time.

      Stop spreading fanboy lies, hatred, and FUD, it accomplishes nothing. It’s not healthy to hate pieces of plastic and people who like playing video games on them. It’s sad that you hate good video games for being on the wrong piece of plastic. You are sick and need help.

      All of your lies, ignorance, and blind hatred only make you seem deranged and delusional to normal, sane people.

      All 3 consoles have good exclusive games, and pros and cons, it’s only fanboys blindly hating one or the other.

      PS4 has many great games that gamers love. That’s why it’s 11+ million in sales and growing. Sony’s large number of well funded 1st parties will ensure PS4 has a ton of great AAA exclusives, as many or more than PS3. According to listwar PS4 has 138 games right now.

      Sony’s 1st party studios are working on several unannounced AAA PS4 games.

      1st/2nd party studios include Japan Studio, Polyphony Digital, Naughty Dog, SCE Bend, SCE San Diego, SCE Santa Monica, Sucker Punch, Pixel Opus, Evolution Studios, Guerrilla Games, Guerrilla Cambridge, SCE London, Media Molecule, Ready at Dawn, Quantic Dream, etc.

      PS4/Sony exclusives 2013-2014: Killzone: Shadowfall, Knack, Resogun and Heroes DLC, Flower, Sound Shapes, Flow, Doki Doki Universe, Infamous: 2nd Son and First Light, MLB: The Show 14, TLOU Remastered, Dead Nation, Entwined, Hohokum, Counterspy, Velocity 2X, Driveclub, LittleBigPlanet 3, Natural Doctrine, Samurai Warriors 4, Guilty Gear Xrd, Akiba’s Trip, Singstar: Ultimate Party, Tiny Troopers: Joint Ops, Jamestown+, Ready to Run, Unmechanical Extended Edition, Super Mega Baseball, Guns Up!, Pillar, #KillAllZombies, N++, Pix the Cat, Helldivers, Super Exploding Zoo

      2015: The Order: 1886, Bloodborne, Ratchet & Clank, Uncharted 4, Tearaway Unfolded, Until Dawn, Persona 5, Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture, Rime, Let it Die, Deep Down, more.

  • Ryo Shenmue

    Ten points for referencing one of my favourite scenes from The Wire. Minus five points for the “missing weather system”, since it is added with the day one patch.

    • Dikan45

      Oh indeed!

    • Matt Whittaker

      I mentioned the weather system because of the “I can only review what I have” principle.

  • Great review, Matt! You nailed it.

    • Josh Melton

      Yes agreed

    • Finchy74

      lol I remember you. You’re that idiot xbone fanboy that got banned from Neogaf.
      Matt “nailed” the review eh? Pretty rich considering you haven’t played the game.

  • Dikan45

    They spent too much time caring about how pretty the scenery is and how many layers of paint to put on the cars rather than the truly important things!

    • demfax

      It’s a good arcade racer.

    • sampson3121

      best thing you can do is stay away from the game, there is no easy button, and you actually need skill to drive.

      • Dikan45

        OUCH!!

  • elvin

    you sure you don’t work for you know who

  • aros

    We have no idea how bad it was a year ago – the delay probably made this 10x better.

  • Scotty Shaw
    • demfax

      No, it’s just the usual swarm of microsoft shills spreading lies and blind hate, then people replying to them.

  • Michael P

    Thanks for the heads up! I have PS+ so I’ll give it a go but can’t say I’m surprised it’s average. The fact I’m expected to buy a new $500 wheel to play this properly turns me off but the AI rules are the real killer.

    Currently playing Horizon 2 on 360 (not getting a Bone) which is the kinda game Sony should’ve had commissioned by Evolution using Gran Turismo’s physics (which I prefer to Forza’s) rather than some glorified club racer with wayyy too many restrictions. Oh well, at least I can hold off on getting the t300 rs.

  • Sea-HAWK fan

    Can we please stop comparing Xbox One exclusives to PS4?? Wikipedia stat.. Xbox one exclusives released or coming 14.. PS4 released or coming 36… Not to mention some people do like the indies and PS4 kills Xbox there, and PS Now we can play all the older games if we so choose.

  • sampson3121

    love when critics try to over analyze a game instead of just playing it…this game is a Gem, but not for people who want an open world racer, cause in this game you actually need skills to drive.

  • TheKid

    This game upon release was not finished. That is a fact. (No snow or
    rain options, no multi-player/online component, no replay mode) I’m not
    sure why some gaming sites have given it a 7.9 out of 10 rating. In my
    opinion, in order to obtain a score of anything north of 70% you should
    have a product that is at least 99% complete. I picked up a copy for the
    PS4 the day after it was unleashed on the public and have been playing
    it ever since so I feel like I’ve given the game a pretty good work-out
    so far and know what I’m talking about. (Currently I’m at a Driver Level
    of 17.) I’ll do a breakdown of what I think and why. Gameplay: AI is
    evil, no question about it, they ram you off course and rarely deviate
    from their racing lines. It is more frustrating than fun quite a bit of
    the time. The cars handle fairly well, the faster cars are finicky at
    higher speeds as they wobble and fish-tale all over the road, especially
    if you’re attempting a pass. And a “clean pass/race?” Good luck with
    that. Graphics: The cars and environments look stunning by today’s
    standards. I’m sure we’ll all look back and laugh “at how fake it looks”
    in 10 years but for now, I’m impressed. I’ve heard people bitching
    about the frame rate too and there’s nothing wrong with it. It’s smooth
    as silk. Don’t listen to these folks. Audio: Music is fine. I don’t see
    why this is a huge issue. If you don’t like it, throw something else on.
    The sounds the cars make are okay at best. They just sound kind of
    generic and uninspired. They certainly don’t blow me away. Overall: It’s
    more fun than not most of the time but it’s definitely frustrating to
    the point where anything in excess of 1 hour of gameplay is all I can
    handle. I think in another year (when the game is actually complete and
    “firing on all cylinders”) we’ll have a game that’s worthy of the 7.9
    out of 10 rating. For the time being that is overly-generous and I just
    hope the next racer coming out next month hasn’t botched things as badly
    as Evolution have. So my recommendation is to hard pass on this, save
    yourself 70 dollars, and let this 4 out of 10 racer collect dust on
    store shelves.

  • Victor Lavon Richardson

    Got this game via gamefly today, this review may be a bit harsh though I do find the game to be very boring and uninspired.

  • TraceSkipper

    This review should be removed.