16 Months After Release, Driveclub’s Still Got It

Driveclub 41 February 22, 2016 by
A Ruf in its natural stance: oversteer. Image courtesy of torque99.

Looking at my in-game statistics for Driveclub, you’d be forgiven for thinking I’m a superfan of the title. Maxed out XP, all Elite levels achieved, platinum trophies for both vanilla DC and the Bikes expansion plus more accolades than a war veteran. There’s no doubt whatsoever – no current generation game has even came close to the time I have played Evolution Studios’ middling racer (outside of a certain kart racer). I’ve raced in over 2,000 events, earning every single star.

At risk of going on about how much I have actually played of this game, I will cut it short. My main starting point for this discussion piece is that even though I have more than had my money’s worth (and enjoyment) from Driveclub, would I say its a fantastic ‘must own’ game for the PS4? The fact I even have to ask myself this question should say how conflicted my feelings are about this title. Through this piece I aim to show what makes Driveclub top class… and conversely what pushes people away.

The Exige is part of Driveclub’s Original Roster. Image courtesy of MeanElf.

Rough Beginnings

A week prior to the release of Sony’s first proper PS4 racing exclusive a trailer was released showing off what it had to offer combined with multiple quotes from media outlets. The most out of place quote coming from VG24/7 stating Driveclub was a “Forza Killer”, complete with a slightly gaudy clip of a ‘Playstation Blue’ car totalling an ‘Xbox Green’ car straight off the road. Confidence ‘carsonified’.

Driveclub formally released worldwide October 7th 2014 after numerous delays, finally making it out the door in less-than-ideal fashion. Thanks to an abundance of server issues and release problems that Evolution and Sony described as “embarrassing”, and a testament to “why games are delayed”, huge damage was done to the title’s reputation. For many, this was the point Evolution Studios lost a huge chunk of potential fanbase.

Problems and kinks weren’t the only thing that stalled Driveclub though… luke-warm reception from critics (71 Metascore) and players (6.0 User score) gave a general consensus that although pretty, the racer was shallow and didn’t offer anything new to the racing genre as a result of the half-baked club mechanic and linear career mode compared to competitors. Furthermore, the disastrous Sony-promised PS-Plus version of the game was delayed indefinitely.

Despite this the game did develop a fanbase. Being platform exclusive it already had a reliable group to defend short-comings whilst it was subject to criticism from every direction. Plus, the more people played the game it became apparent that there might just be a decent driving game underneath the slightly-generic paint Driveclub is coated with.

It seemed then, that Driveclub was destined to fall to the wayside and be forgotten about. Promises of a season pass which detailed how much would be included but no detailed content and a weather mode; footage of which was restricted to a ten second Twitter video didn’t seem to give the game any sort of reprieve in the minds of gamers and critics alike. Driveclub became the symbolic representative of what the modern game industry lacks; customer care and consideration.

However, Evolution Studios wouldn’t ditch their brainchild and thus the rescue mission began… to make Driveclub great.

Old Town (added in the February Update) is Driveclub’s first city circuit. Image courtesy of RL_23.

Like A Phoenix From the Ashes

Accused of broken promises and half-baked ideas, Evolution’s main focus was getting the Driveclub servers at an operational level whilst working on gameplay tweaks and alterations. The first major update was the addition of the promised weather mode which was every bit as impressive as its initial reveal from a visual stand-point. Weather gave the predictable vanilla release a new lease of life and the dynamic possibilities of Driveclub’s weather system is something not matched by anything in the genre.

From here Evolution hit a good stride, as a good-will gesture the first few bouts of season pass content were made free to everyone(with the promise those with Season Passes would still get their value through an extension) and the game received monthly updates adding welcome fan-feedback-enabled changes. The incremental approach worked incredibly well for the team who, rather than seal themselves away in seclusion, embraced what the players had to say. As opposed to staying in developer ‘safe zones’ like NeoGAF and fan-sites the team would openly discuss on public platforms like Facebook and Twitter about where the title was and where they wanted it to be.

The feature list grew for the game and eventually the PS-Plus version of the game released to cries of “the full game should have been free!” from players/bandwagoners still burned by the game’s initial release. This comment allows a segue into the next interesting topic regarding Driveclub; Value for money.

BMW plays a large part in Driveclub’s car list. Image courtesy of Delicious.

Redefining the Post-Game Support Cycle

Driveclub’s botched launch almost played well into Evo’s hand in the long-run. It didn’t take very long at all for the game to plummet to less than half-price and for the Driveclub PS4 bundle to become the most commonly reduced set in stores. The price made the game attractive to possible players since there still wasn’t much competition and the mixed-views meant to most it might be worth a punt at least.

Driveclub is the highest selling exclusive on PS4 and I’d happily hedge my bets this is down to the insanely cheap prices Driveclub could – and still can be – found for. The standard price of the game coming down on the PS Store could be interpreted by many as a sign of acceptance that the game didn’t have the impact they would have liked (e.g: The Order 1886).

However, I personally believe this was an intentional ploy to make players more likely to shell out on the Season Pass. It is certainly appealing: for just under the price of a full retail title you could get a full retail title and a season pass chock-full of premium content not many games match. In the end, the craving for more content is what made Driveclub realize its new status as a ‘service’ as opposed to an entry in a newly born series as it was initially intended to be. Rather than exist until fading to obscurity, Driveclub continued to evolve by tackling common fan complaints like a too Euro-centric car list and a lacking track selection with aplomb. Introducing entire new locales and adding fan favourites like the Nissan GT-R and very recently the R34.

Quite simply, you will be hard pressed to find any game on the market that even places itself in the same level as Driveclub when it comes to the car-list. Outside of a lacking, sadly ignored Hot Hatch category, each car class has a plethora of vehicles for an arcade racer. Ranging from supercar staples like the Ferrari 458 to future beauty in the Renault R.S01.

Evolution Studios have hit a point for me where I don’t even consider not buying the DLC: it’s a formality. As an individual who isn’t a fan of the modern gaming industry I consider this a big deal, as aside from a few outliers DLC doesn’t usually impress me. Driveclub’s DLC does feel like an investment: value is practically guaranteed.

The Civic-R is the first Japanese Hot Hatch to appear in Driveclub. Image courtesy of sebmugi.

Contrasting Opinions

With all Driveclub has to offer and its admirable rise to glory, it shouldn’t be outlandish to suggest that it deserves to have a place in every PS4 player’s library. However, the divisiveness of the title comes from two core areas in my opinion: on the track, and personality. Driveclub’s physics are a decently enjoyable romp, there’s no special asset that feels like it sells the physics but they suffice for the type of game it is. Evolution have left the physics mostly unchanged, however small tweaks and a new Hardcore mode were added fairly recently for those who felt it was too forgiving. The ‘feel’ of Driveclub’s physics engine has a tendency to isolate simulation fans and casuals alike for vastly different reasons.

Looking at comments from casuals, the game is accused of being ‘too heavy’ for an arcade racer. Obviously the discussion topic is based upon a unified idea of what an arcade racer is instead of accepting that there are sub definitions like ‘semi-simulation’ that are now commonly used. For many casual racing fans/general gamers Driveclub hits an awkward level between flow and weight of movement.

For simulation fans, its the polar opposite. Many complain that Driveclub’s physics engine doesn’t even emulate what a real car would drive like within ‘Arcade’ constraints or not and for these people it is the true deal-breaker. From a personal stand-point, I don’t mind racing games having vastly different handling engines. The contrast between something like Ridge Racer and Driveclub highlight just how vast a category ‘Arcade’ really is.

The other point I made note of was Driveclub’s lack of personality. This is something I whole-heartedly agree on, Driveclub is devoid of a ‘soul’ – so to speak. As an example, Gran Turismo may have had an arguable quality drop but it still brings people toward it due to its charm. Driveclub doesn’t have an easily-associable ‘charm’. It’s a serviceable racer that has a good car roster and pretty graphics but unfortunately in an age where we expect more innovation, it doesn’t stick as well as it might have a generation or two ago. Previously, racing games had a purpose of showing the power that a console was capable of whereas now more than ever, other genres are preferred to service this requirement (action games especially).

That’s not to say Driveclub isn’t deserved of its dogged photo-mode fanbase and luscious looks, in my opinion no game looks better from a visual stand-point and the comprise of dropping 60fps in favour of half that pays off visually (if leaving myself longing for what 60fps would look like…).

Bringing it back to the main point – Evolution could patch in every car in existence but it can’t patch in a soul and thus this extended support could fall on deaf ears.

Before updates, this photo wouldn’t have had the cars, weather or location on display. Driveclub has come very far. Image courtesy of Nato_777.

The Final Straight

Driveclub is a very interesting title to consider within the racing genre. For all the things it has done right since launch, it is still unlikely to budge those who have decided it’s just not for them with valid reasons. However, without sounding like a bad salesman: if you haven’t tried Driveclub yet, go for it! There’s been no better time to do so at the price point of the base game and resulting season pass. Controversially, I wouldn’t recommend just purchasing the base game. I feel to get the most out of the game you need the season pass (which is basically always on sale and never full price).

Driveclub always pulls me back in despite my acknowledgement (and admittance) of the shortcomings it won’t overcome. Without the incredible post-game support I probably wouldn’t still be playing the title but that just proves how fresh Evolution have kept the game. Little over 16 months since release and I still feel the hype about some new events and cars. Driveclub is starting to feel like the service Sony now tout it as and for me this deserves your hard-earned gaming time. So, until your chosen simulation of choice takes over your life… why not give Driveclub a try? You might end up loving it more than you expect.

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