--- 14/1/15 Game Update 1.09 - Challenges reenabled, Dynamic Weather added, Free Tour DLC released ---
With challenges reactivated and server troubles appearing to have been fixed, DriveClub's latest updates end months of issues for Evolution's troubled title.
After further testing, DriveClub now works almost as well as it did at the time of my initial review, with challenges fully functional and leaderboards updating instantly. The server errors that plagued the game at launch appear to have vanished, and browsing, competing and sending Challenges to other players is now immediate and faultless. The Notifications bar and Recent Activity menu remain disabled, but it's far from the frustrating, broken game it was back in October. For all intents and purposes, DriveClub now functions largely as it should.
The dynamic weather introduced in December's update adds a phenomenal new dimension to the racing as well, with the game's photo-realistic effects reinforcing its position as one of the best-looking (and sounding) console games ever made. Raindrops streaking across the windscreen, cracks of lightning piercing through clouds and pools of water forming on the track make for sensational eye-candy, and are reason enough to give DriveClub another go should you have given up on it all those months ago.
It's unfortunate, however, that Tour events featuring weather are restricted to premium DLC. You're still able to create single events or compete in challenges with weather enabled, but as one of DriveClub's greatest assets it's disappointing to see Evolution failing to make good use of said weather in the base game. A handful of events created by the developer could have gone some way for making up for the trouble at launch.
Instead, early buyers have been given free access to two other DLC packs, but neither of them are particularly exciting, simply consisting of a few new cars and events around the same locations. They're underwhelming extensions that could have easily slotted anywhere into the main campaign, and had they been released at full price as originally intended I'd certainly find them difficult to recommend.
But even though DriveClub is now fully functional, there's still the question of whether it's all a little too late. DriveClub's reputation has been damaged significantly as a result of its disastrous launch, and a quick look at the game's Facebook page makes it clear that a lot of players have already run out of patience with Evolution, with the initial buzz largely replaced by an overwhelming sense of anger and cynicism. I didn't have any problem finding new challenges or public multiplayer races during the time I spent with it for this re-review, but I have little doubt that overall player numbers will have been affected by the initial trouble.
That said, if you're still intrigued by DriveClub, now is as good a time as any to give it a shot. It's a superb game with excellent visuals, stunning weather effects and - finally - a working, compelling hook. The release of the PS Plus Edition may be the jump start it needs to really get things moving again, but if you're still waiting for that to help you make up your mind, do yourself a favour and pick it up at the lower price you can find it for now. It's taken a few months to get there, but DriveClub can finally take pride of place as one of the best racers available on PS4.
--- 21/11/2014 | Game Update 1.07 ---
Score lowered to 6/10
With server issues continuing to plague DriveClub, the current experience offered by the game does not reflect that which we experienced when producing our original review. Though we tested the game on public servers against real people prior to release, launch woes have meant that those buying the game have not been able to play DriveClub the way it was presented to us at the time of our review. As such, we have re-evaluated the game and updated our review to include our thoughts on what the PS4 racer currently offers. It's also worth noting that the PS Plus Edition is not currently available, with Sony unable to give a date for its release.
With Challenges still offline, a huge part of DriveClub feels lost. As noted in our initial review, the core appeal of Evolution's racer comes in browsing Challenges and beating friends and rival clubs before the event comes to an close. Without them, the game's overall hook and lasting appeal is significantly weakened.
Navigating the main menu reinforces the belief that you're playing a broken game, too, with the live sub-menu removed and the Challenges area greyed out. You can still compete against others to some degree; Leaderboards appear to function correctly, and it's possible for you to manually beat a friend's time by finding their entry in the leaderboard. But it isn't anywhere close to being as fluid or compelling as the initial premise would suggest.
Heading into competitive multiplayer consistently raised problems, too. We experienced ongoing issues while attempting to connect to multiplayer matches and failed to connect to a single game during our re-evaluation.
It isn't all bad news, though. Introduced with title update 1.07, DriveClub's new Photo Mode is an excellent feature that emphasises the game's outstanding visuals and allows players to compose striking shots by tweaking the range of camera settings. It's easy to use and leads to some gorgeous results, but it's an added bonus that likely won't affect the purchasing decision of most. Cynics may argue that it should have been there day one, too.
As a result of DriveClub's current state, we've decided to lower our review score. The game remains an excellent racer with superb handling and a fun (albeit generic) campaign. But the disabled Challenges and ongoing server troubles make a significant impact on the overall experience and, at the moment, DriveClub can only really be recommended to those prepared to accept that it isn't yet the game it promised to be.
Original review published 7/10/2014
Original review score: 8/10
DriveClub is a game for pricks. Pricks who like driving their big fast car around big fast roads, before bragging to their mates about how quickly they drove their big fast car around those big fast roads the next day.
Time trials and online leaderboards are part and parcel of modern day racers, of course. Heck, Need For Speed's been doing Autolog for years. But the stellar integration of DriveClub's asynchronous Challenge system makes competing online feel far closer to a sport - and far more of a battle - than in those that came before it.
It's a powerful system that drives the entire backend, letting you invite other friends, clubs or the world to beat your time or drift score immediately after each race, and which feeds their progress back through a series of live menus and dynamic mid-race Face-Offs. Competing is stupidly compelling, with the impressive load times, instant restarts, and constant flow of new challenges routinely tempting you into having just one more go. It's Hot Pursuit on heat.
Before you start exploring challenges, though, DriveClub can seem fairly underwhelming. The complex UI, generic campaign and early, slower cars make for a poor first impression, particularly after Forza Horizon 2's ecstasy-fuelled rave. But once the faster cars and more exciting events start to unlock, DriveClub begins to shine. Handling is weighty and realistic, albeit more forgiving than Gran Turismo, and the game's terrific sense of speed makes throwing cars around the track a pleasure. This is video game driving at some of its very best - and with visuals as good as these, often at its most breathtaking, too. DriveClub looks phenomenal.
It isn't all dynamic sunshine and rainbows, though. Tracks are beautiful but rarely memorable, the 6-player club size feels too small, customisation is limited, corner flags can be inaccurate, the soundtrack is almost non-existent, and the XP system is slightly unbalanced. Why Evo chose to penalise the player for being rear-ended by an over-aggressive AI, for example, I will never fully understand. The lack of weather at launch, too, is another sign of DriveClub feeling slightly undercooked - a surprise given its lengthy delay.
But even with its shortfalls there are few racers that manage to marry up the joy of driving with the thrill of competing against friends and strangers as successfully as this, which makes popping a score on the end of this review one of DriveClub's toughest challenges yet. I stayed up until the early hours of the morning one night frantically trying to beat a challenge set by another games site. They won. I lost. But the desperate desire to win - and the urge to silently brag about the victory - made the race deeply exciting.
And it's intense rivalries like this that lie at the heart of DriveClub. It's a game whose appeal lives and dies in its online time trials and sensational visuals, and whose sense of one-upmanship and competition is leaps above the rest of the pack.
I didn't realise I was a prick. Until I played DriveClub.
Should you upgrade from the PS Plus Edition?
Look, the PS Plus Edition is a demo. Sony (perhaps inadvertently) admitted so much earlier in the week. But should you upgrade to the full version or is there enough content here to recommend sticking to the free download?
Essentially, the PS Plus Edition grants all PlayStation Plus subscribers access to one-fifth of the game's content, including 11 tracks from the game's India environment. You'll also gain access to all of the game's modes, including Clubs, Challenges and online multiplayer, but the single-player Tour will be limited to just 5 events, with other modes restricted to the available tracks.
As for the cars included, you'll be able to take 10 cars out for a spin in total split between each of the 5 categories listed below, but the level spread between them raises concerns over the pacing of the PS Plus Edition. In the full game, you'll regularly unlock new cars as you level up your personal Driver profile and your Club profile, with 50 to unlock in total. But with limited cars and tracks available in the PS Plus Edition, it seems as if players will need to invest a considerable amount of time racing the same few cars across the same few tracks if they wish to access all 10.
Note: The levels referenced below highlight the level required to unlock the car in the full version. Sony didn't provide access to the PS Plus Edition prior to this review, but it is assumed that level requirements will be the same across both versions to avoid potential balancing issues.
- Mini John Cooper Works GP - Unlocked at startVolkswagen Golf GTI - Club Lvl. 1
- Bentley Continental GT V8 - Club Lvl. 3Mercedes-Benz A45 AMG - Unlocked at start
- BMW M3 GTS - Club Lvl. 6Maserati GranTurismo MC Stradale - Driver Lvl. 5
- Audi R8 V10 Coupe Plus - Driver Lvl. 11BAC Mono - Club Lvl. 10
- Pagani Zonda R - Club Lvl. 15RUF CTR3 Clubsport - Driver Lvl. 15
PS Plus Edition owners will also receive the upcoming updates, including dynamic weather, photo mode, replays and additional DLC tracks for India for free. A nice touch from Sony, although we still don't know when exactly it'll all become available.
That said, India, while pretty, isn't the game's most interesting location either, with Norway and Canada both providing a far more exciting backdrop to the racing. Scotland and Chile also become unlocked after upgrading to the full version.
So, while the PS Plus Edition may provide a decent taster of what to expect from DriveClub, just like any other demo, I can't see it being too long until players start to tire of repeating the same few races in the same few cars on one of the game's least exciting locations. And for the relatively low price of £34.99 (or cheaper if you shop around), an upgrade to the full edition comes heartily recommended.
Second Opinion: Tom Orry, Editorial Director
Most of my time with DriveClub has been via the Vita thanks to Remote Play, and I'm pleased to report that the game holds up pretty well, and in some ways might actually be the ideal way to play. Other than the fact that the gorgeous visuals take a hit when compressed down to a network-friendly bit-rate and the responsiveness is a fraction off, quick challenges suit the pick-up-and-play Vita incredibly well.
This won't apply so much if your PS4 is turned off, but if your console is on you can grab the Vita, quickly hop into a challenge, and have a few tries during an ad-break. I managed to put in about 15 minutes on a drift challenge during X Factor, replaying the same 20-second section of track enough times to break into the top 10.
You can customise controls for remote play, which is good, but neither the shoulder buttons or the face buttons feel quite right, leaving my hand in a claw-like grip of pain after a while. DriveClub is a game that features a lot of text inside the menus, be it in the form of challenge details or pop-ups or in-game face-offs. This doesn't translate brilliantly to the Vita, meaning I often miss messages and can't make out the challenges that occur mid-race.
As an aside from the Remote Play, DriveClub feels very much like the kind of game the PS4 was missing. A racer with a real competitive hook. I love open-world racers, but the sectioned-off event racing on offer here, for me, is easier to get into. I spend so long cruising around in big worlds that it's hard to get into the racing properly. Here the racing is all there is to get into, and I like it.
Second Opinion not reflected in final score.