How can a character so cool be treated so badly? What kind of cruel fate is this?
DriveClub is almost insultingly late to the party. The game presents storied multiplayer concepts as revolutionary, and then fails to iterate on them in any meaningful way. Combine this with a lack of meaningful options, single-minded AI, and mediocre track design, and you’ve got a game that wouldn’t even have fit in with the launch crowd.
The central hook of the game lies in the title. You can found or join a six-person Club; think a Quake clan, but with cars. Hypothetically, this would give you and your pals a sense of Fast and Furious-esque, “Ride or Die”-style camaraderie, but in practice, all it does is lock cars behind another level of progression.
Completing races will net you experience, but performing certain moves on the track will also result in a bonus — or a penalty. Drifting real well around a corner will net you some points, but colliding with another vehicle (even if it’s not your fault) will result in a deduction. These points go towards your overall level, which dictates which cars you can use. As you gain in level, your experience is also deposited in your Club’s level…which also dictates which cars you can use. So if you’re stuck in a club with incompetent fools, good luck unlocking those rad sports cars!
Clubs can also set challenges within the club or challenge other clubs. These gauntlets can take the form of a time trial challenge or a drift challenge, for example. It’s not an unwelcome addition, but I found myself ignoring challenges — partially because I knew a more talented driver in my club would inevitably post a score worth bragging about.
The multiplayer races have a neat little concept where the lobbies have a timer to them. So you can join a lobby and then mess around in the single races while you wait for the lobby to open. I could see this working more in a Call of Duty, where matchmaking happens while you play through the Spec Ops or something, but here it’s just another hoop to jump through. It’s a concept that only works in a game with a decent offline component. So, not DriveClub.
I’m not just down on the single player because of any one particular flaw; rather, I’m denouncing the Tour mode because it’s not very compelling. Wow, races where you can only drive hatchbacks? That’s quite the innovation! Online challenges pop up as you race, like a test between you and a random player to see who can get the fastest average speed in a certain stretch of track. This is also not new, and only serves to distract.
The tracks don’t seem to be very well designed either — I never quite felt like I was ever going as fast as I should be. Whenever I had just recovered from a series of sharp corners, another group appeared. This wouldn’t be a problem if the game’s drifting wasn’t so confusing. I followed the instructions given in the press kit, and I still had difficulty grasping this concept. The AI drivers seem to have a perfect grasp of where to be at all times, which means staying out of their way long enough to make it to the next lap is a meaty challenge on its own, let alone actually beating them across the finish line.
I had to resort to the press kit because the game contains almost no tutorials. Upon starting the game, you’re thrown into a race. This is about par for the course these days, but for a driving game with mechanics that have to be explained on a separate document, it’s a little much. But this wouldn’t be an issue if the game had any meaningful options. You can’t add driving assistance like in Forza; you can’t drop the AI difficulty; the cars lack proper customization; the whole thing feels like an auteur project from 2007.
At the very least, when DriveClub looks great, it looks really great. The snow-capped tracks of Norway are gorgeous, and some of the other tracks are visually distinctive. Some of the uglier tracks can be real hard to look at, but they are thankfully in the minority.
If one wanted to summarize DriveClub, look no further than its music. No, not the lack of a licensed soundtrack — rather, the music is off by default because the game wants you to hear the incredibly realistic car sounds. You are being taken for a ride by this game, whether you want to or not.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with a singular vision, but that line of thinking usually applies to works that have a central thesis: something bigger to say about the human condition or whatever. DriveClub has no such undercurrent: this is a game where you get in a car and go fast, but there’s also leaderboards? That’s not a particularly bold statement, and it most certainly doesn’t deserve this level of unyielding design choices.