DriveClub Review: Off A Cliff

DriveclubboxartI’m going to come right off the bat and say I don’t like DriveClub. I’d refrain from calling it a bad game, but it is a confused one that gets very little right.  Everything from the handling to the tracks to driver AI feels slightly off kilter to the point where nothing in the game feels as though it was developed by the same team.  In the end what we’ve got is a game that seems like a confused mish-mash of a racing game that does nothing particularly wrong, but will probably have most people asking themselves why it exists.

And its been a bit like that in the whole lead up to the game.  What is DriveClub?  Is it an arcade racer?  Is it a simulation racer?  How will the career be structured?  The confusion prior to release was palpable.  Sadly none of these questions are answered now we have the game in our hands, and from the moment you hit the track to the moment you put the game on the shelf to gather dust, you’ll be trying to make sense of how exactly you should be driving.  Taking the racing line won’t get you the speed necessary to beat some of the times required to meet race objectives, but the cars’ handling doesn’t invite the more fast and furious style either, so you’ll constantly be wondering how the game wants you to drive.  And if you manage to make your peace with the handling of the cars, the often narrow and overly complex track design, and dumb-as-dogs-balls opponents will more than likely be the straw that breaks the camel’s back.

DriveClub probably also isn’t going to win any awards for innovative single-player career design, but in that regard I can’t say that it make me screw my nose up in disgust at its conservatism.  Within a couple of button presses you’ll find yourself staring at a matrix of events, starting off with the slower cars, and finishing up with high-powered aerodynamic powerhouses, and aside from objectives for each event which often deviate from winning the race, you’d be hard pressed to differentiate it from what the menu for racing games looked like 15 years ago.  And its this staunch adherence to career structures of yore does work to the game’s advantage, hiding the paradoxically erratic and lethargic handling of the bulk of the game’s cars, behind the less-powerful and less-maneuverable cars found in the lower classes. After all who expects a ‘hot hatch’ to be nimbly and ably making its way around corners and through chicanes?  So to the game’s credit it did take me a while to realise that the game isn’t really my cup of tea, but once I did, by jove that was a long and hard realisation.

Whichever way I look at it, DriveClub is a game that seems to take any opportunity to be unlikeable.  The whole thing feels like it’s been pulled in three different directions, and as a result, is stuck spinning its wheels in the middle, not going far enough in either direction to make a good go of any of them. I think we’ll see a lot of debate as to whether the online portions of the game, which have been the major selling point for the game, ostensibly being offline has resulted in the sour taste it has left in people’s mouths. Perhaps it would have.  But the ability to join clubs and what amounts to ‘levelling up together’ don’t seem to me like they’ll save what is a fundamentally flawed racing game.  Online or off, no amount of leader boards was ever going to stop DriveClub from being stuck somewhere in racing game limbo.

I’m sure the intentions were there, and somewhere in someone’s mind at Evolution Studios, sits a bloody excellent racing game. But the developer’s seeming reluctance to make a decision about what they were setting out to achieve with this game has resulted in a confused and directionless racing game that is very hard to enjoy.  Because of this, despite the very occasional flashes of potential, DriveClub is perhaps first major letdown of the generation.