DriveClub's online issues have been well documented since release, and it was only fair that we held off publishing our review until Evolution had time to iron out the kinks and we could actually play it online. Two weeks since release and it’s ‘pencil’s down’ time.
First up, single-player. The campaign is a lengthy selection of events in which you earn fame points that in turn level you up, unlocking more events and faster vehicles. The events themselves have a heavy reliance on time trials over multi-vehicle racing, making it seem like a very lonely game at times. There are drift events too, but the less said about those the better. There are three star awards for each event based on criteria like finishing position, clean laps, lap times or beating racing line or drift challenges.
Races would be quite enjoyable if DriveClub didn't try so hard to make your life difficult. The rubber-banding is merciless, meaning you can never truly get away from the pack and in a straight line they’re much faster than you, even when driving the same car. It's the penalty system that really beggars belief though. Cutting corners and colliding heavily with other vehicles is punished by a stun to the car's acceleration for an indeterminate amount of time. In theory, this isn't too bad, but the game's implementation of it is a disaster. You'll be penalised for going wide on a corner (not exactly cheating), having a tire off the track and sometimes the most minor paint-trades are punished. Racing carefully isn't the key either as the aggressive AI racers will slam into you like a drunk every chance they get and frequently spin you off the track, as they speed off ahead it's obvious the same rules don't apply. Better yet, YOU will be given a stun penalty for their mistakes. That's not to say you won't find yourself getting away with murder every now and then too.
It's not all bad though. In fact, the track design is superb. Despite being all tarmac, they seem to have been designed with a rally-game spirit in mind as events often boil down to a case of speed vs bravery, with me renaming L2 the 'I'm scared'' button. You'll need to learn the twists and turns of each track as races are so fast that you won't really have time to check the minimap and the coloured corner flags roadside seem to have the green and yellow ones the wrong way around for most corners. There's an odd lack of lighting for night events too which are just far too dark and some of the gloomier daytime events in Scotland are strangely straining on the eyes. As far as the racing lines of the roads go though - just fantastic.
The loading times are really short too. We're talking about ten seconds from race selection to a green light. It's a fantastic achievement given the exceptionally high graphical standards that permeate every race environment.
The car handling seems caught in two minds between sim and arcade. Points are awarded for drifting around corners, but -hyper cars aside- if you're drifting, you're doing the corner wrong and losing too much speed to make it worthwhile. Sometimes, the slightest of pavement bumps can cause utter chaos too. There are zero options to upgrade your car or tinker under the hood too.
I did have fun with a lot of the events in DriveClub offline, but the inconsistencies of the penalty system and the maddeningly cheaty rubber-banding AI ensured that I could only remain interested as a warm up to the main meat of the game -the online multiplayer.
It took me nearly a week to stay online long enough to form a DriveClub, which you can then invite up to five friends to join. Any points earned thereafter playing online or in the solo campaign go towards increasing the club's rank and unlocking new vehicles. So it was quite annoying that I'd almost finished the campaign before being able to form a club as those points would have bought me a rank or two.
You may have noticed I didn't really mention the in-race challenges during the campaign section of the review and that's because they were mainly absent save for a few placeholder ones like beating a racing line or drift score for a section of the track. The idea being that we'd be able to set our own challenges for our friends and the greater online community. Two weeks since release and the option is still greyed out.
I have managed to get a few online races under my belt though. The best advice I can give for spending a few hours racing is to have a magazine to hand. You choose a race from a slim selection of random event servers that have a countdown timer to their 'start'. Even picking one ending in less than thirty seconds will see a wait of at least two minutes before you get to the track. Despite numerous patches, I'd still say I only managed to get through to about one in five races (I’ve been getting through a lot of reading). Getting through isn't always fun either as you'll either be told after a few minutes wait that you don't have the required car yet but you'll be lent one, but won't earn any points for the event. My favourite server issue though is finishing a race and then it crapping out before awarding your fame points. It's like the game itself is constantly rage quitting.
When you manage to find yourself in an actual online race, you can have a wildly varying experience thanks to a mix of the failings of the game and people in general. Connection wise, I've had some brilliantly smooth races with loads of vehicles co-existing together. Other races though have seen cars ghost around and glitch all over the track, making a safe racing line impossible to judge.
It's that penalty system again that's the most off-putting element though as you'll find racers smashing you off the track and zooming off into the distance without a stun penalty -or you'll get it instead. It's so easy to tap somebody out from behind and it's a technique that's almost impossible to defend yourself against. Nice guys don’t always finish last, but they certainly struggle to place. Your best hope for topping the podium is to be randomly selected as starting in the top three. If you can get away from the clusterfuck that is the first corner, chances are you'll not have to see the pack again. The damage modelling only includes the paint job and minor crumpling, with nothing mechanical being at risk for sloppy driving. Doesn’t exactly scream ‘next-gen’ does it?
Of course, not everyone out there races like a twat. But with connectivity issues plaguing the game, managing to meet up with specific friends is hard to organise and it only takes one racer to mess things up for everyone. DriveClub can't be blamed for people's behaviour, but the penalty system either needs fixing or dumping because it mainly punishes the wrong people. There's no excuse for the nightmare that is trying to connect to DriveClub's servers. So much of the game's hype was about forming an online club and sending challenge, and that side of the game is still horribly broke or absent, leaving a very average racer behind, albeit a pretty one with some wonderful tracks for those daring to go faster.
- Track design is excellent
- Gorgeous visuals
- Brief moments of brilliance
- Server issues are killing it
- Penalty system is broken
- Project Cars isn't out until 2015
The Short Version: The fact that DriveClub is still mostly a wreck for ALL of its online functions is frankly embarrassing and the lack of a large public beta was remarkably short-sighted. Once you've wrangled the handling model, there's a solid driving game underneath it all with fun tracks to tear down at terrifying speeds as you zoom through the incredibly detailed environments. But if the netcode isn’t fixed soon, this’ll be an abandoned rusty roadside wreck by Christmas.