Note: this is an offline review as the servers are currently not functioning.
Motorstorm developers Evolution Studios return to the track with DriveClub in the hope that their online-focused social racer will pick them up some much needed plaudits after an eleven month delay and amidst a continuing nightmare of server issues. With those servers well and truly bricked, I venture into what the game has to offer offline players.
The game wastes no time placing you behind the wheel of your first car and it’s here where the game makes a distinct first impression. Visuals are crisp and appealing with some picturesque vistas punctuating the landscape. There’s a great sense of place in DriveClub and the fidelity extends to the cars themselves. They’re beautifully crafted with neat details like sunlight reflecting off the hood and windscreen. Lighting is well-realised as their day/night cycle takes full effect across wide, varied locales that take you to fictional parts of Scotland, Chile, India and beyond. Engines roar appropriately and different surfaces skitter under your tires. One of the early joys of DriveClub is the envy accompanying the squeal of an engine ahead of you that you just can’t wait to drive yourself.
Tour mode serves as the single-player campaign and dishes out numerous events to compete in. You’ll gain stars by meeting certain objectives which will unlock new tiers of events whilst fame, gained by racing cleanly and passing cars contribute to your overall drivers level. This gates your access to new cars and rather meaningless paint schemes.
Progression is smooth for the first couple of tiers but the rate at which you climb slows down significantly into a grind of retrying events for the last star just so you can unlock the next event. At least the plethora of tracks and locations allow the game to still feel fresh. Event types are very basic with just your standard race, time trial and drift events to participate in. Time trials do take away the chaos of a cluttered track and do give you a rare opportunity to be precise and drive cleanly. Drift events are somewhat middling. With the cars being so glued to the track, forcing a drift takes a bit of work. The handbrake gets you sideways but maintaining it can sometimes be an element of luck. Luckily these events are in short supply and are brief but the lack of variety means you are racing the majority of the time.
Handling has been one of DriveClub’s most divisive aspects and it certainly leans towards an arcade feel. Cars are exceptionally grippy whilst not being prone to understeer. You can really slam the brakes on into a corner and still make the apex. It allows to use a more aggressive style which is required against the game’s oblivious AI.
The opposition are very much aware of each other but not so much aware of you. They’ll glue to the racing line but effectively try to drive through you if you’re defending. Its not courteous or smart so your best course of action is just to attack. Luckily the game rarely punishes you for doing so. You’ll get speed limiting penalties for corner-cutting or if you cause a hefty collision but the game mostly opts to penalise score over direct intervention.
Races are always tight so a chain of events can very easily crop up where you go from first to dead last courtesy of the competitors. There’s no rewind function so you have no option but to restart. There’s fun and frustration to be had in very hard swings and equal measure.
This is a game trying its damnedest to be accessible at track level but it feels so limited in comparison to its fellow luminaries. The racing is occasionally fun but the online aspects are relied on to keep the game fresh. Its a short-term game with short burst of joy punctuating an experience that just isn’t quite up to standard. I’ll revisit this once the servers return but, without that hook, the game suffers. Its not bad, its just not right. PlayStation Plus subscribers should still give the freebie a shot. Those that paid for it will have to decide whether they’re in for the long haul.