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Driveclub’s racing contests force you to treat the road with respect.
You’ll find no easy difficulty settings here, no points for hitting other cars, no enticement (or even capability) to rocket off into the landscape as you see in Forza 2 Horizon or other, more forgiving games.
Sony’s new racer, a $60 PlayStation 4 exclusive from Evolution Studios and launching today, harkens to the tradition set by Gran Turismo and the realism-at-all-costs school of driving games. That’s why, when it sometimes fails to reward skill above all else, it feels like Driveclub cheats you.
But the racer’s replayability is nearly as legendary as its last race series, and for those willing to put up with the occasional quirk, Driveclub represents the best racing game on the PlayStation 4. I played the retail version using a standard controller on Sony’s prerelease servers, which the company was still updating at press time.
What you’ll like
A custom club experience that matters
The “club” in Driveclub refers to the social aspects. While it’s possible to play offline, I don’t recommend it. Some of the objectives in most race collections almost require the cars unlocked by club membership and play over the PlayStation Network.
Starting or joining a six-person club requires only a few button clicks. You can keep your club closed or open. Even if you allow strangers to join, it’s up to you how much you interact with them.
So what’s the point, you ask? The clubs offer several key gameplay enhancements. First, the accolades and experience your club collects unlock cars and paint jobs that aren’t available in the collection you earn with solo play. Clubs can also issue challenges to each other and to the public (as can individual drivers), and these challenges add significant entertainment.
Sadly, racing in challenges is far more interesting than creating them. The limited choices and the lack of customization make them easy but unrewarding to set up.
Facing off for fun and profit in solo and multiplayer
Standard 12-player multiplayer races are available as well, though Sony’s matchmaking servers had issues for most of the pre-release test week. They often dropped connections as recently as Sunday. Those multiplayer matches I was able to enter went smoothly and posed the typical additional challenge versus the A.I.
In solo and multiplayer races, you’ll see face-offs: mini-challenges based on computer-assigned times, your own earlier records, or other players’ records.
These test your cornering, drifting, speed, and time against those earlier marks, and offer fun minigames within the overall driving challenge. It’s a great use of Driveclub’s social nature to extend meaningful gameplay.
A wide variety of courses
Driveclub offers dozens of tracks, primarily country roads, that open up in collections based on the points you earn in competition and your overall level. The scenery varies widely, from snow-capped mountains to palm-tree-strewn deserts, and the courses themselves offer terrific challenges.
Little interferes with your view of the road, in keeping with the serious take on the driving. You’ll see confetti, leaves, dust, perhaps the occasional plastic bag. Spectators will crowd the corners of some contests, but they’re definitely background noise, with clunky five-year-old animation styles.
Don’t think that Evolution’s previous success with the MotorStorm series means you’ll be off-roading: Invisible walls keep you from plunging off the edge of high roads, and going off the pavement for more than 3 seconds places you firmly back on the asphalt with a small penalty.
Oh, those cars
The terrific car selection in Driveclub includes hundreds of real models representing a huge variety of racing metal. They are beautifully crafted, smoothly animated, gorgeous creatures.
The damage modeling when you crash into things is pretty rudimentary, but the way your headlights sweep and reflect along the side of a Alfa Romeo 4C when you nose it out of the way on the track is breathtaking.
The dozens of models open at the start include many I’ve owned in real life (think Mini Cooper S and Jetta Turbo), and the driving experience delights even when unrealistic.
Among cars you unlock, I could live without a few — I’d be happy to never see another race with the Hennessey Venom GT in it, that slippery bastard — but most offer tradeoffs that lead to greater rewards. (Hello, Ferrari FF.)
Paint jobs are nearly infinitely varied, with hundreds of colors to choose from, a huge variety of patterns you earn with your skill, and badges for various accomplishments. Unfortunately, paint is the only thing you can customize on Driveclub’s cars.