DriveClub PS4, Review

DriveClub’s beauty is fatiguing. Evolution’s PS4 racer looks remarkable, a subdued colour palette and dynamic lighting conspiring to create an occasionally photoreal backdrop for the game’s achingly pretty car models. But given the fanatical attention to detail on show this, lest we forget, is a game in which carbon-fibre weaves have been accurately modelled for each car you’d think that the talented team behind it could have found time to model a sun visor. We wouldn’t even have minded if a generic one had been used across every car it would have been a small price to pay for less time spent squinting into the track obscuring glare of DriveClub’s blinding sun.

The problems caused by such uncompromising environmental realism lessen as you begin to learn the tracks, and it’s clear that Evolution has designed these moments to increase the challenge in some of the events that make up its modestly sized single player campaign. But not being able to see where you’re going for any amount of time is disconcerting in a game that delivers such a thoroughly convincing sense of speed.

Evolution’s decision to cap the refresh rate at 30 fps has prompted no little Scepticism, but it’s had no ill effect. Trackside furniture whips past at terrifying speed once you’re racing hypercars, and even less powerful vehicles feel quick. It’s all helped along by a handling model that pushes towards the sim end of the scale and favours clean lines over showboating excess.

But for players expecting something more light hearted, the opening hours may be a disappointment. Cars stick unfashionably to the road around corners, understeer and the squeal of protesting tyres the only evidence you’re pushing the vehicle further than you should. But any perceived sterility masks a nuanced, consistent handling model that reveals itself gradually as you test its limits. That understeer can be corrected with a little lift-off oversteer to bring your line closer to the apex, for example, while a sudden change in camber can throw your poise into disarray on a fast straight.

If only your opponents were so well judged. While DriveClub opts for subtle realism in almost every other aspect, the virtual drivers you find yourself racing with are more blunt, absentmindedly ramming into you as you attempt to brake for corners and paying little heed to your position on track at any other time. This antagonistic competitiveness is directed towards other AI drivers, too, resulting is some spectacular looking overtaking and accidents. But the crunching impacts are
wearing when you’re trying manage weight transfer through a tricky corner. Make a mistake, or be forced into one, and you’ll likely see the whole field sail past you thanks to some conspicuous rubber banding.
Driving well in DriveClub is as rewarding as it is involved, requiring you to pay close attention to the road surface
These issues are compounded by DriveClub’s readiness to penalise you for every transgression of its frustratingly inconsistent rules, whether you’re to blame or not. Everything you do earns fame, a currency that allows you to level up and earn new cars, but you’ll be fined for impacts and off-track excursions, and incur temporary speed restrictions for even slightly cutting corners. Well, some corners, because the boundaries seem to have been placed at the whim of whoever built each track. An overbearing track reset, meanwhile, begins a three second countdown the instant you put a wheel wrong. It feels especially patronising in the context of the game’s challenging handling model.

But as grating as all of this is, it’s quickly forgotten once you have the road to yourself. Driving well in DriveClub is as rewarding as it is involved, requiring you to pay close attention to the road surface and your car’s attitude as you negotiate each roadway. When you do break traction, it feels, crucially, earned there’s no separate physics model for drift events here. Evolution has even replicated the way manumatic gearboxes prevent potentially damaging bad selections, meaning that, for once, spamming downshifts to unrealistically bleed off speed into a corner simply isn’t an option.

The combined result is one of the most finely balanced time trial simulations yet. The game’s road based tracks might meander without much incident, but its fictional circuits are excellent. Each of the five race tracks features three variants, and while there’s nothing here to rival the likes of Gran Turismo’s Trial Mountain or Forza’s Maple Valley, we lost a few hours looping the particularly moreish Scottish raceway in a BAC Mono.

It’s this that drives the asynchronous multiplayer, too. The much-vaunted club system is- underwhelming, lacking any real sense of collaboration beyond an ascending club fame meter, but taking on friends in Challenges and Face Offs proves considerably more successful. The latter of these take the shape of average speed, drift and cornering measurements, which take place during most events and reward the best driver with fame bonuses. Challenges, meanwhile, are more
in-depth, allowing you to send particularly good lap times or even entire races to friends and other clubs to try to beat. And the aggressive AI is slightly less objectionable when you’re trying to best a friend’s race performance, since you know they also had to  fight their way through the pack.

For all its successes, the fact remains that even after significant delays, what’s been delivered is far from finished. And of even greater concern is the jarring disparity between Evolution’s careful recreation of real world conditions and driving physics, and the outdated opponent AI that clogs up its roads. But despite these disappointments, there still remains a great deal of driving pleasure to be extracted from  DriveClub’s social aspects and excellent handling especially given that ghost opponents can’t dent your car.


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