Ever since the PlayStation 4 was first teased over a year ago, Driveclub was there, filling out the essential racing spot in the promised lineup. A fusion of Need for Speed-like social challenges, Gran Turismo-style car realism and car-collecting reminscent of Forza, Driveclub claimed to be something new in racers: a reinvented type of online racing game. It's finally available starting today, so was it worth the wait? I tried playing for a while, and came away feeling curiously numb.
Prior to everyone piling into online challenges, it's hard to judge Driveclub on its connected efforts. And, I have to warn you, I'm not a hardcore car guy. But I do love racing games, and giving Driveclub's various modes a try I walked away feeling that even though this racer has solid challenges, the whole effort is a few steps short of a game-changer.
Driveclub encourages you to form a club or join a club: these clubs generate extra challenges and become a sort of community. If you create a club and no one else joins it, you'll have to wait for validation. If a club has fewer than two members, challenges won't start flowing in. I ended up ditching my club and joining one called "The Killers."
Race tracks are set across a variety of locations: India, Norway, Chile and more. The scenery is gorgeous, expansive and crisp: between the serene music and the attention to car detail, the vibe feels very Gran Turismo. And that's part of the problem, because although the racing is impressive, it has an air of sterility. It's not an aggressive, exciting experience: it's technical.
Turns feel physically realistic. Braking and drifting are a surprising challenge, and not forgiving. But that type of slow-down-and-drive-properly undertone, which carries over into penalties for car damage and reckless behavior, make Driveclub feel a little more like a driver's school meets race circuit.
It's still fun to play: I enjoyed many of the single-player racing challenges, and found the achievements hard to pull off. Collecting stars from the races -- sometimes placing third or better, other times outperforming a challenger on the track in drifting -- and leveling up trigger extras, including earned cars.
Once in a club, extra challenges start flowing in. These are weekly events, which count down before expiring. Challenges can be accepted, and sent out to others. But Driveclub isn't the first game to try this: Need for Speed from EA had it years ago. And even in the heart of a challenge, the game never really heated up.
Driveclub feels like exactly that: a club for driving enthusiasts. As a sort-of would-be Gran Turismo 6, it's a welcome addition to the PlayStation 4 game library. But my initial impression is that it's not as good as either Forza game on the Xbox One, and it's not as guttural, aggressive, or interesting as I'd hoped. It's beautiful. And meditative.
But is that what we really wanted a PlayStation racing game to be? I remember how I felt when MotorStorm debuted early in the PlayStation 3's life. Big, brash, and beautiful, I was mesmerized. It was an incredible show.
Driveclub, developed by Evolution Studios -- the same UK studio behind both the MotorStorm series and the rally-racing World Rally Championship games -- isn't a showstopper. But it is a solid game. I'm just not sure that's going to be enough for me. I wish it had a little more MotorStorm in its heart, and a little less technical rally-racer.
Is that unfair? Maybe. But what I love most about first-party PlayStation games isn't quite as present here. Driveclub, in a world of accomplished, car-collecting, socially connected games, just feels like another solid racer in the bunch.
If you're curious, download the free version if you're a PlayStation Plus subscriber: it's available today. Play it. At least you can decide for yourself.