DriveClub review: car culture

Game Info
Platform PS4
Publisher Sony Computer Entertainment
Developer Evolution Studios
Release Date Oct 7, 2014

More than anything, DriveClub wants to reconcile two disparate ways to play racing games: faster, more direct single-player modes, and more intense, competitive multiplayer.

I love racing games, but I'm one of those odd ones who often prefers playing alone. It's fun to know that I'm beating my friends, but I usually want to jump into a race, zoom through and cross the finish line without having to get together a group of people or wait around in a lobby.

DriveClub's greatest contribution to the racing genre is how it manages to seamlessly blend the act of racing solo with asynchronous competition against your friends. That one major boon is aided by a solid (if unremarkable) core and some of the best visuals of this generation so far.

DriveClub is a relatively no-frills driving experience

From the start, DriveClub is a relatively no-frills driving experience. There's a tour mode that lets you work through mostly racing-focused events building up to amateur, pro and legend trophy tournaments. You can jump into a single event across 50-some tracks that send you all around the world, from Canada to Scotland to India. And then a multiplayer mode allows you to register for scheduled competitive events, such as Italian and German sports cars facing off on a snowy Norwegian mountain.

All of these basics are easy to access through DriveClub's slick menu presentation. Once I got into the races, I quickly discovered that the game feels right in that kind-of-intangible way that good racing games pull off. The track design is solid and uses smart visual cues in the form of colored flags to help you prepare for sharp corners. DriveClub falls more on the arcade than simulation side of the genre, but it still manages to make each of its cars feel accurately different.

Those differences are especially notable in DriveClub's first-person cockpit view, which I strongly recommend using. Every car has a unique, fully rendered interior, and there's no better way to take in the game's gorgeous environments than through this point of view.

It's not just the world itself that's impressive in DriveClub. It's the small shifts in your view — the way the sun gets in your eyes when you come over a hill, or the minor but perceptible change in how far ahead on the track you can see when the sky turns gloomy. Rotating weather and day/night cycles feel less like back-of-the-box bullet points here and more like a necessity to the whole experience.

The races look great, but DriveClub's main hook is its smart, multi-level progression system. Any time you're in an event, regardless of whether single or multiplayer, you'll notice points flashing across your screen for various skillful actions — passing a competitor, drifting, completing a section of a race without going off the track and so on. You can also lose points by slamming into another car or crashing into a barrier. At the end of each race, your total points earned are calculated and added to your Driver Level. Each level gained earns new cars, which in turn allow you to perform better in future events.

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Some people are going to dislike how DriveClub forces you to wait for unlocks rather than allowing you to purchase vehicles at your discretion. For me, this design choice simply provided encouragement to keep moving through new events in tour mode, cycling back around to previous events with unlocked vehicles later on. It kept me trying different things instead of hitting my head against a single event that I couldn't improve on.

Driveclubs allow for a sense of progress even when you're not playing
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Editor's note: online play

While club functionality and challenges were up and running during our review, we had a limited amount of time with DriveClub's multiplayer event mode on pre-release servers. We'll continue testing this feature following the game's launch and will update our review if it significantly impacts our assessment of the game.

Your progression and unlocks will be aided greatly if you're part of a "driveclub," the titular draw of the game. When you join a driveclub with up to five other friends, all of your points earned will also be added into a second pool that increases your club's level. As a club levels up, all of its members gain access to special cars as well as unique logos and paint jobs. This allows for a sense of progress even when you're not playing; every time I turned on the game to discover my club had gained a level or two and opened up a new car, I felt more motivated to keep playing and contribute to that effort.

While the additional vehicles and visual flourishes are nice, clubs also expand the best part of the game: face-offs. Though racing is the core of the DriveClub experience, the game is always offering up other things to do on top of that.

As I blasted through one lap-based race in an arid, mountainous region in Chile, I came across a section of the track with multiple tight corners packed up one right after the other. An orange box floating above the track before the first turn indicated a cornering face-off. Once I passed the box, a line appeared on the track showing off the perfect line to take through these corners — the longer I stuck to that line, the more points I got.

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Challenges provide a great quick hit of entertainment

In addition to providing boosts to my overall experience gain upon a track's completion, face-offs were crucial to keeping me engaged in DriveClub at all times. Particularly for a game that's missing some of the extras I've grown used to with racing games over the last generation — there's no rewind option and no ability to use an always-on driving line — face-offs convinced me to keep going even when I was having a bad race and was not likely to fulfill my main objectives.

Those primary objectives are surprisingly diverse as well. Each event in tour mode comes with two or three goals; a top-three finish is almost always one of those, but even if you can't pull that off, there's other stuff to aim for. In one memorable event midway through the amateur portion of the tour, I was put into a faster car than I'd ever driven previously and one of my goals was to hit 250 miles per hour at some point during the race. I may have ended up flipping the car, but damn it, I pulled it off.

Even if you manage to clear out every one of those objectives in tour mode and take home the Legend trophy, DriveClub has a potentially endless source of new content in the form of player-created challenges. Think you're better than your buddies at drifting through the Hurrungane track in Norway? You can turn that into a challenge and forward it along to your friends, and then let them forward it to their friends as well. Once the timer expires for the challenge, each player who has participated will win experience points based off their placement.

Challenges can be focused on solo players or presented to whole clubs, but whatever form you prefer, they provide a great quick hit of entertainment. I often turned to them as a nice opener when I was first starting a session of DriveClub or as a great way to close out my evening with the game. Also, as with face-offs, challenges provide the competitive rush of multiplayer without actually having to deal with other people, which I greatly appreciated.

Wrap Up:

DriveClub isn't a huge leap forward but has smart ideas in its multiplayer

DriveClub doesn't have any one element that makes it an incredible game or a huge leap forward for the racing genre, but it makes some smart choices underneath top-of-the-line presentation. And in embracing a social media-influenced setup to build enjoyable asynchronous multiplayer, it teaches a few important lessons other developers should learn from.

DriveClub was reviewed using a final retail PS4 copy of the game provided by Sony. You can find additional information on Polygon's ethics policy here.

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7.5 PS4