Traditionally arcade and simulation are two sides of the same coin, especially for racers. Simulation racers pride themselves on replicating the driving experience, on recreating the idea of driving, on putting tyres to bitumen. Arcade racers instead pride themselves on the intangible idea of being ‘fun’. DRIVECLUB tries to be both, a simulation racer that’s ‘fun’, and it winds up not really being either.

DRIVECLUB simulates so much it’s almost inconceivable. We’re talking about a game that models individual leaves on trees to better refract light. A game that tracks temperature changes in the game world, and has the weather react accordingly (or maybe the temperature reacts to the weather, I’m not a meteorologist). Everything you see in-game is mapped out, an object you could go to, if this were any other sort of game.


It’s gorgeous, a real show stopper graphically. There’s an attention to detail that you can't help but fall in love with, and it carries to every part of the game. The beautifully rendered car interiors see you spending a lot of time in cockpit view, even if you prefer racing from behind the car, but the amazing car audio which changes depending on the camera’s position relative to the car will see you experimenting anyway.

DRIVE ANGRY
But the more time you spend racing through its picturesque locations India, Canada, Scotland, Chile and Norway the creepier it becomes. None of these places have any life to them. The roads are all empty. The streets are impeccably clean. I wouldn't have noticed it, except that everything in the game is so immaculate. It’s like what Agent Smith described of the first version of the Matrix, and my mind couldn’t stop reacting to the facade.
BEAUTIFULLY RENDERED CAR INTERIORS SEE YOU SPENDING A LOT OF TIME IN COCKPIT VIEW
The locations aren't the only things that are robotically perfect. In many racing games Artificial Intelligence has come a long way from being a simple obstacle for you to navigate as the racing track scrolled towards you.

DRIVECLUB is not one of those games. Where other racing games pride themselves on their realistic opponents, who block overtakes, draft for speed and can even take corners three abreast, there are times when you’ll be convinced that DRIVECLUB’s opponents don't even realise you’re there. There are other times when they play like white blood cells, attempting to rid the race track of the disease that is the player. And whichever version they’re playing as, you can rest assured that the whole time you’ll be penalised for their aggressive driving. Yay!

This is painful, because the game revolves around two progression systems Fame, and Stars. You earn stars for completing objectives each race come first, finish in the top three, beat the “Drift Challenge” and these are easy enough to come by. But Fame, the game’s currency, lowers whenever you're penalised, and you’re constantly losing Fame because the AI isn’t aware of your existence.

There is an even harsher penalty, the ultra gamey ‘forced slowdown’. It’s such an anomaly in a game like DRIVECLUB, which works so hard to keep its hands off the driving experience. It’s so odd that the game removes driving assists that are common in arcade racers only to ham fistedly remove control when the player collides with another car or cuts a corner.

CROSSING LINES
I cut so many corners, too. Evolution Studios inexplicably removed all forms of racing line from the game, instead relying on a system of flag indicators as you approach a corner. You can use the flags to work out the distance from the corner, what sort it will be (green means slight, red means tight) and it’s actually a fairly decent approach at least, it would be in real life. In DRIVECLUB though it's nigh on pointless. It’s designed to help you learn tracks as you repeat them, not for knowing
how to drive them on the fly, which is frustrating when each race is minutes long and any error means a huge setback but it does add some longevity to the game.

The other addition to keep players returning to the game is the main feature, the Club system. Once you join a club you and your friends can challenge one another, challenge other clubs and work collectively to increase your club level. This social gaming aspect is the core of the game, and even before you join a club the game will organically challenge you to beat other racers both people on your friends list and strangers.

At first it’s a cool diversion from the Tour (the ‘campaign’ element of the game) but it quickly starts to overwhelm everything. There doesn’t to be any sort of curation for the challenge system, so other clubs start challenging everyone they can willy nilly. It’s a bit like if Twitter didn't have a follow system so you got updates from everyone using it. Eventually the challenges become a bit like white noise. It gets worse eventually the game will start to send you “Game Alerts” about challenges when you’re playing other games. The reality is Criterion’s Autolog is similar, better, and it was created years ago.

That sums up DRIVECLUB as a game, really. Everything it’s doing well has been done, or is being done, better elsewhere. It’s a real shame, because it certainly looks like a next-gen game, and the audio work is phenomenal, and all of that is wasted on a very average racing game.