Driveclub is one of those game's that's had a... less than smooth road to launch. Originally announced as an all singing, all dancing racing game that would launch alongside their similarly all singing, all dancing console, the PS4, Driveclub looked set to be one of the biggest games of the launch - but then, something strange happened. Mere weeks away from its scheduled release, the warning lights came on, the game's engine stuttered and faltered, before finally coming to a stop with its warning lights on, and its bonnet lifted at the side of the road. Without so much as a "tch, it's gonna cost you mate", Driveclub was delayed. And then again. And then again. Now, almost a year after it was originally set to launch - after an extra year of development the game otherwise wouldn't have had - it's finally made it to retail. But was it worth the wait?
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Well, ish. While it's been delayed by a year, it isn't initially obvious where the extra time has gone with Driveclub. We played the game way back when, when it was originally on to be a launch title, and we were impressed with what we saw. If anything, Driveclub now seems slightly toned down. What you're left with is a fairly average racer that doesn't take the social thing as far as it could, and as such, doesn't really stand out.
As with every game, Driveclub has its own, unique hook - and here, it's the game's "social" bent. As the name suggests, you can form your own clubs with friends in the game, and then gain points for your club by completing challenges. Of course, you can do much the same thing playing on your own - but completing challenges, and setting them for your friends are a big part of the appeal here. In fact, it's also the only way you can unlock five of the cars.
When you're racing round the tracks, you'll sometimes come across a random "finish line" in a certain colour, and this signals the start of your challenge. At the bottom of the screen, a tiny piece of text will pop up telling you what it is you have to do (we're not joking - it really is minuscule), and show you the score you have to beat, along with the tiny PSN username of the person who set the score. As far as we can tell, these challenges are random, but whether you're having to out-drift XxSn1pErxX, follow the racing line round a corner better than H34dsh0tUrm0m, or simply finish a section with a higher average speed than TheStig1, we were hopeful this would at least make things a little bit fairer in the game, or kind of work like the great balancer. If you have a crap driver in your club, it wouldn't so much matter, as if they could stick to the racing line better than anyone else, or keep up a higher average speed through the one section, they could still contribute to the team. But beyond unlocking cars and levelling up your club, the points you earn don't really do anything - at least, they don't count towards the results of the race. Who comes first, wins.
So it doesn't quite work as we'd imagined it would - but then, the single player's still pretty fun. With 50 of events on offer, it's up to you to work your way up the ranks from rookie driver to racing pro, unlocking new cars, tracks and events as you go. Whether you're entering your Mini John Cooper Works into a supermini tournament, or taking on the mid-tier sports cars in your shiny new Lotus, the races here work much like in the multiplayer. There's a few different modes on offer, from standard circuit races and courses through to time trials, and a decent range of tracks, too, from the dusty Indian courses, through to the shivering Nordic stages, where the track's the only part that isn't covered with a foot of snow. You'll get given random challenges to complete here, too - both in the form of the on-course challenges, and some more serious "objectives" that earn you stars if you meet their goals. With two or three on offer for each track, these vary from completing a lap in under a certain time, to beating the developer's cornering score (don't worry, it's easier than it sounds), or even completing a clean lap without crashing into anything (this, on the other hand...). So far, so good.
The only problem is, Driveclub, somehow, ends up feeling a little bit... bland. There's nothing that really makes it stand out, nothing that makes you really want to come back and play, and nothing that'll stand in your mind for ages after. Yeah, it's OK, and the courses, tracks and cars are fun enough the throw round a track, but the social aspect doesn't really seem to do enough, there aren't all that many cars on offer (plenty for fans of BMWs, Audis and Mercedes, not much for the rest of us), and bar the snowy tracks, few really stand out. Even visually, it's not all that gob-smacking, and doesn't look too far removed from a PS3 game. Perhaps it's more of an art style thing than a polygon-pushing one.
The game also has a fair few accessibility problems, which is unusual. While it has support for both analogue stick, and motion sensing controls (just tilt your DualShock 4 to steer), there's no option to turn a racing line on showing you where to go - and for the first time, this is a game where we'd actually use it. You see, so much effort has been put into making the tracks look natural, much less thought has gone into making them drivable. Rather than having big obvious chevrons as you approach a bend, instead, you'll have a selection of flags that tend to blend into the background. Coming in either yellow, green or red, these show you the harshness of the bend - but don't show you which way it goes. It may sound silly, but it's something that kept catching us out - if we had a penny for every time we crashed into a corner because we had no idea which way it was going, we'd have at least 20p.S
o, the PS4 debut from the studio that previously bought us the stonking off-road racer Motorstorm is a bit of a disappointment. With its troubled development in mind, you probably could have guessed there'd be something up with Driveclub - but while there's nothing seriously wrong, there's nothing seriously amazing here either. If you're dying for a racing game on your PS4, then this will probably be worth the money. For more casual fans, it's probably best to wait for something with a bit more charisma.
Format Reviewed: Playstation 4