The latest gang of car games have multiplayer set as a high priority and none have greater social aspirations than Driveclub.
The concept featured a club of six drivers, sharing points and growing as a team. There's an app to check up on progress while on the move and an assortment of customisations to make your club stand-out.
In practice, Driveclub is plagued with server issues that render most of the social aspects largely unplayable. We delayed this review to give Playstation a chance to get everything working properly, but at time of writing the Driveclub online experience is still painful online.
Take the social side out of the equation and you're left with a racing game that's slightly above average.
Driveclub dives in somewhere between an arcade and sim racing experience. The game will punish you if you head in to a corner at full speed, yet races are winnable even with crashing as one of your key tactics. While tapping the breaks is advised, there's very little to punish any destruction derby dreams. Crash damage is only aesthetic, meaning sending an opponent in to a wall is often the best move, despite the game penalising you some points.
This mix of play styles is a bit of a gamble, no doubt designed to appeal to as many gamers as possible. Some features, such as the three second countdown when you go off-road, are going to greatly annoy arcade players, while the smash-happy AI and slightly forgiving handling will irk the hardcore sim fans.
The racing is still quite enjoyable thanks to impressive visuals, solid audio and some interesting tracks. In short bursts the gameplay is fun, but prolonged play sees boredom setting in.
Single player longevity comes in the shape of challenges rather than the races. In addition to the common achievement system for certain finish times, the game also comes with a number of in-race mini challenges. One might see you following a race line through a number of bends or another will require you to keep your average speed up across a section of the track. They're small but significant additions to the mix and again bring Driveclub up above the mediocre.
Leveling up is done via a points system that encourages pretty driving. This is the same sort of system that will force players in other genres to painstakingly avoid detection or only use a certain weapon, but unfortunately the risk and rewards don't feel the same in Driveclub. If you lose a few points because of a sloppy crash, you can simply race again. There is no limit that forces you to maximise your points.
Motorsport would be nothing without the cars and Driveclub does a decent job at recreating a lot of big brand favourites. Cars are awarded with each level-up, restricting the real beasts to the more experienced players. This makes sense in the overall multi-player match-making scheme of things, but I would love some amount of choice as the game often gives you a seemingly inferior car that you'll never actually use. The lack of customisation is disappointing, with no tweaking of set-ups or upgrading of parts.
Driveclub is a real missed opportunity. Some friendly competition would have elevated the game, but the server issues are such that the promised plus is just a rage-inducing negative. When you have to fully close an application due to a hung network, you're unlikely to play the game again anytime soon.
While Driveclub is fun to play, it's definitely not an essential racing game at present. As the server issues are fixed and the free PSN+ version comes online, the social aspects might get some gamers addicted, but I wonder how many have already set their sights on the upcoming The Crew and its promise of a continent of gameplay.