The racing game PS4 owners have been waiting for since launch is finally here and it's facing a hell of a lot of pressure after a prolonged development that has seen some mixed messages emerge during the course. It's not been the smoothest of launches either, with the online side of the game being blocked off to most gamers. So, our review is going to be a short while yet as there's no point reviewing half a game. In the meantime though, let's have a look at some of the highs and lows we've experienced in our first four days with the game.
Superb Track Design
With so many games opting to recreate real-life professional racing circuits, it's always nice to race on brand new track, especially road ones. DriveClub excels with its collection of unique tracks spread around countries like India, Scotland, Chile, Canada and Norway. If you found the recent Need For Speed entries' abundance of straight roads to be a bore, then you'll adore the curves and wriggles offered in DriveClub. To be honest, they feel more like rally tracks, minus the handbrake turns, which is just fantastic seeing as rallying has been on the backfoot in recent years on PlayStation.
The pressure was on for Evolution to produce the PS4's first gorgeous racer and they've certainly delivered. The car models are suitably polished on the outside and the interior models will be appreciated by those favouring the driver's camera angle. You're going to have a lot of accidents while gawping at the race environments too, from the little things like swirling clouds of trackside leaves, floating balloons and fireworks to the as real as you can get dour and overcast Scottish countryside.
It's Feels Fast
Like Gran Turismo, DriveClub gives you a few pedestrian motors to get you started, but unlike Polyphony's title, they actually feel fast. When a straight bit of road opens up in front of you, even the VW Beetle feels like a rocket, especially when said straight bit of road has slight turns that require only the slightest steering while keeping the pedal to the metal. It was during these sections that I renamed the L2 button (braking) the 'I'm scared' button. And that's a Beetle; imagine what the super and hyper cars feel like!
While we're talking about speed, the loading times for the game are fantastic. From the menus, it takes less than 15 seconds to start the race and afterwards about six seconds to get back to the race selection menu. I can't remember a quicker turnaround in a racing game.
Night Events are Too Dark
Play around with your TV settings all you want, but those night events are always going to be like plunging into the unknown for the duration. Your car's headlights barely make a scratch into the darkness ahead of you and most tracks don't have any street lighting either. A few contain red cat-eyes, which mercifully guide you through, but most will force you to rely upon the map for a decent idea of upcoming turns. Even the tracks during the day -but underneath stormy clouds- are a bit difficult to navigate in the half-light gloom. Can we just have a bit of extra light please!
Penalty System is Screwed
If you hit the track wall or an opponent, you'll get some Fame points knocked off which shouldn't be a big deal. Although, even when an opponent slams you, you will lose points. Annoying but not the end of the world. However, the game will deem some knocks more serious than others and inflict a penalty that sees your acceleration held at a hideously low RPM for varying amounts of time, allowing pretty much everyone to pass you unless you weave like a madman. When you're getting these penalties for accidents that weren't your fault, all you'll want to do is snap the disc in two. It's really inconsistent too even when a collision may be your fault, i.e. nothing for slamming into them for 'assisted cornering' but a slight side-on paint swap will be punished with yet another stun from the heavens. There's also random penalties imposed for 'cutting corners', which may deem one wheel enough to be considered cheating in what we'd normally assume would be a valid line in most racing games. Best yet, going wide on a corner, really messing up and losing time, and still being accused of trying to cheat. Or maybe you get slammed into a wall on the last corner, spin out and watch your car go into 'ghost form' allowing the whole AI field to pass through you unhindered. Just, bollocks.
Borked Online Since Launch
We imagine the fucked up penalty system is going to be all the more annoying when racing online as clean racers will be screwed from many a victory by Sammy Slamalot. Well, if we can ever get onto the servers that is. I've had no luck yet since getting the game on Thursday. The online issues have also neutered DriveClub's main selling points in online challenges and forming clubs with your friends. We could maybe forgive the servers taking a hammering at launch for online races, but when the game can't handle basic stat-tracking (which is all the challenges are), it's a complete omnishambles. People compare the challenge tracking to NFS's 2010 Autolog features, but Burnout: Paradise managed to get this going from day one back in 2008.
So, What's the Verdict?
Seeing as so much of DriveClub's hype was based on the online features, we're still a long way from giving our full verdict on the game, which is why you're reading a Sunday Seven, rather than a review. We're not sure what other sites have been reviewing, but with most players unable to get online, we're not going to hop on the 'me first' train and give you a hollow verdict. That said, our time with the campaign modes has shown some excellent track design and gorgeous visuals, but the blind night events and truly awful penalty system have raised some serious concerns that probably aren't going to be helped much by an online connection. We are looking forwards to forming a club though and challenging our mates over times and scores. Stay tuned, and we'll -hopefully- have a complete review for you soon.
Did you pick up DriveClub yet? How are you finding it? Or have you even managed to get online and form a club? We want to hear about it. Also, has anyone worked out how to get to top-tier awards in the drift events?