Does it Hold Up? - DriveClub

Does it Hold Up? - DriveClub

We examine last year's triple-A games to see where they stand after twelve months.

This is a rather unusual addition to our Does it Hold Up series, since all the games we've covered so far scored quite highly. DriveClub wasn't so well received — when I reviewed it, I gave it 3.5 stars out of 5. However, during the fourteen months since it launched, developer Evolution Studios has constantly worked on the game, so I thought it seemed prudent to revisit it to see just how much it's changed.

What we said at the time

My reaction to the game was fairly mixed, and I had both positive and negative things to say about it: "DriveClub generally looks gorgeous, and the Scotland levels in particular are excellent. However, while the lighting is often stunning and photo-realistic, the dynamic lighting changes, particularly contrast, is sometimes overly aggressive. It can be very difficult to see into the distance on some tracks, especially on fairly circular tracks where you're spending time driving into and out of the sunlight. The continual changes in contrast almost makes you feel like you've developed nyctalopia."

"The omnipresent lens flare here is a particular pet peeve of mine. A first-person view is meant to represent viewing through the eyes of the player. Can you remember the last time you saw lens flare while looking at something? Exactly. Lens flare 'til your heart's content on the cinematics, but please don't stick lens flare into "my" cornea. It just feels a bit old-fashioned."

"DriveClub is a smorgasbord of racing — as much as anyone could possibly consume. It works well, and the constant dynamic insertion of challenges into whatever race you're in helps make everything exciting and stimulating. Despite the occasional wobbly handling, some rough edges, and tracks that aren't as exciting as they should be, DriveClub is still fun to drive. It's just a shame that it lacks any kind of feeling of reward or progression."

I summed up the game saying, "A great multiplayer racer, but quite dreary as a single-player game, DriveClub feels like it needed more time in development to polish out its dings and flaws."

In hindsight...

DriveClub was plagued by a troubled launch, and many of those who bought and tried to play it encountered severe server connection issues. It just didn't seem to be quite ready for primetime, and for a game that was touted for its connected multiplayer aspects, and on-the-fly online challenges, it was pretty much a disaster. Indeed, DriveClub's launch issues were so endemic that Sony ended up giving away the first set of premium DLC that was supposed to be pay-to-play as a way of an apology.

The issues didn't end there, however. Sony had promised that a cut-down, free-to-play PlayStation Plus version of DriveClub was to launch at the same time as the full premium game. However, that was postponed to ease the load on DriveClub's servers, and didn't end up appearing until June of this year, some seven months after it was initially mooted. That version of the game is no longer available, but if you own a PS Plus account, you can buy the game at a discounted price of $14.99, compared to the full-priced cost of $39.99.

Despite these issues, the game was fairly well received in terms of its reviews, scoring 71 on Metacritic. At the high end, PlayStation Universe said that DriveClub, "Blends the complexity of realistic simulation with inviting mechanics and gives just enough leeway to evoke heart-pumping power and intensity in every kind of racing fan." While at the low end of the scale, Giant Bomb noted, " It just isn't much fun to play. The core act of driving a car feels off in a way that completely put me off of playing the game. Without that in place, the rest of it just falls apart. The PlayStation 4 has been without a serious racing option since launch, and Driveclub doesn't fill that gap."

Most reviews praised the game's outstanding looks, while its handling proved somewhat divisive. Arcade in nature, many criticized the game for not having a good driving feel. I was one of those people, which was a surprise to me, since I'd been blown away by the game at the previous E3, and had predicted that it could well be my racing game of the year. It turned out to be far from that, unfortunately. As I said at the time, "Coming into this review, I had high expectations. Maybe I set them too high? That's something I'll be trying to reconcile as I write this review, because to me, DriveClub has somehow snatched defeat from the jaws of victory, and fallen short."

Content since release

There have been 24 content updates released for DriveClub over the past fourteen months. Each has added refinements to the game – such as raising the level cap and incorporating dynamic weather – as well as fixing numerous issues and bugs, which in turn has helped the game become more usable, and deliver a far more reliable online experience.

Alongside the content patches, plenty of new DLC has been made available for the game pretty much monthly. These packs have added new cars and tracks, new liveries, a new country (Japan), as well as new events and challenges. Most DLC packs are quite reasonably priced, and the season pass is now available at a quite modest $12.99.

However, the biggest addition has come in the form of the DriveClub Bikes expansion pack, which I reviewed at the end of October. This standalone expansion adds 12 motorcycles, and a host of new events to the game, which take place on DriveClub's existing 78 tracks. While it's playable as a standalone game, it’s integrated into DriveClub in a smart way so that you can switch between the two games very quickly and easily, should you own them both.

So does it hold up?

DriveClub's numerous updates have helped the game come a long way from its flawed and buggy inception. I've been playing it over the last few days to get a good feel for the game in preparation for this revisit, and I've been very impressed by the way it performs. I haven't really played it seriously since I reviewed it back in October of 2014, a time when it was having the worst of its problems, so it's been a pleasure replaying the game and seeing it work absolutely as intended: no glitches or issues whatsoever.

What I liked about the game originally, and still do, is that it seamlessly throws up dynamic leaderboard challenges while racing, giving you additional objectives to aim at, ranging from hitting a top speed or time within a certain sector of the track, or even drifting or sticking to a racing line. These help add interest to the racing, and even if you're not doing particularly well in the race itself, nailing a challenge can be a nice boost to your overall score.

I'd also forgotten how challenging the game is, particularly while racing the high-end cars in poor weather. Many courses are quite narrow, so you really have to plan your passing maneuvers carefully. You also need to be quite gentle with the controls – if you're leaden of thumb, cars can be easily spun out. It took me a while to adjust to the game's handling, but once I'd gotten used to finessing the cars around the track, rather than wrestling them, I started to make serious progress again.

DriveClub is not quite as good-looking as the absolutely outstanding Project CARS, but it's a close second – which is quite impressive considering the game is over a year old at this point. Some of the tracks are very pretty indeed, and the cars are highly detailed. The new dynamic weather also looks great, and the wet roads are exceptionally realistic. Overall, the game still looks fresh, and hasn't really aged much at all.

Verdict: It's still not perfect, but DriveClub is definitely a better, more refined and – as you might expect – far more stable game than it was when it launched fourteen months ago. Indeed, with its numerous refinements and updates, I'd say that the game is now in far better shape than it was initially, and were I to review it again, I'd raise its score by half a star. Some of its issues are still present – the overly aggressive contrast on its lighting can still make the game challenging to play sometimes, the handling still takes some getting used to, and the game still doesn't feel particularly rewarding in terms of the way it doles out prize cars – but overall, DriveClub is an enjoyable arcade racer that's well worth checking out.

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