Driveclub isn’t PGR, and that’s OK

It is safe to say that Driveclub has had a troubled life. What was originally meant to be a launch title for the PS4 was subsequently delayed by a year, only to be accompanied with catastrophic server problems which rendered the online features of the game useless; which is critical as these were the defining aspects that separated from other racing games prior.

Driveclub was also meant to launch alongside a PS Plus edition which would be a stripped down version of the game featuring a limited number of vehicles, and a set number of tracks for the only available location of India. At the time of writing this version still eludes us, which is a shame as playing is believing with Driveclub. Then again in the week that I’ve been playing it there have been a couple of times where the servers have played up, and unless all server problems can be resolved a buggy PS Plus version can only do more harm.

I’ve been keeping my eye out on Driveclub for quite some time, but I was always hesitant about getting it, not because of the server problems, but because I was concerned how the game would actually play. The reason for this is that whilst I do love a good racing game, I am quite picky about the ones that I play. Project Gotham Racing 3 and 4 were two of my favourite pure racing games as they managed to strike the perfect balance between arcade racer and the more realistic (almost simulation) racers. The controls were spot on, and whilst it might have been a bit too drift happy for some, both games provided hours of fun for both myself and my flat-mates.

Unfortunately with Bizarre Creations (the studio behind the games) having been shut down by Activision and with it any hope of a sequel I had to look elsewhere for my racing game fix. I had tried Forza in the past (before PGR’s demise) but for me it leaned too far towards the racing sim. I logically thought that Gran Turismo would be the answer, after all there are a considerable number of people who are obsessed with the series, and my former flat-mate was just one of them. He once locked himself away in his room whilst taking part in a real time Le Mans challenge. After he had returned to the real world and moved his PS3 to the lounge to create some distance from it I was given the opportunity to try it out.

I was severely disappointed; the cars all felt slow, including the supposed “super” cars, and I just couldn’t get to grips with how the cars would corner. Then there was the menu system which was inefficient to navigate and seemed to forget what decade it was in. I wondered why people had waited years for this game. For me this meant that my search for a PGR replacement continued.

When Driveclub was first announced one of the developers spoke of how they wanted to make an accessible but realistic racing game. This was exactly what I wanted to hear, but playing is believing, which was why I was waiting for the PS Plus edition (which is essentially a glorified demo) so that I could get a feel for the game before I put down money. Yet three months have passed and still no PS Plus edition, but on the plus side (with the exception of downtime here and there) the game is stable and key features, such as the dynamic weather, are in the game with additional content (often free) being routinely added to the game.

With this in mind when Sony provided a 10% off voucher for a weekend I thought now was probably a good chance to dive in, as a full version of the game for PS Plus members was going for a decent price, and my racing itch was becoming more pronounced.

After just a couple of races I was already happy with how the cars handled, and just the hatchbacks were providing a sense a speed that was noticeably absent from Gran Turismo. I was so impressed that I tweeted it was ‘everything I wanted out of a racing game’. This happened to get retweeted by a couple of members from Evolution Studios (developers of the game), although my joy was a little premature. Don’t get me wrong, Driveclub is a great racing game, the best I have played in years; but unfortunately it’s no PGR.

The main difference for me is how the cars drift, which is odd for a game that puts a surprising amount of emphasis on drifting with there being a number of drift based challenges. In PGR getting an almost perfect drift was fairly easy to achieve, very satisfying, and also a great way to rack up kudos points (the games scoring system). The cornering might be precise in Driveclub but it feels like a completely different action to drifting, there will be times where you’ll go around a corner in a way that feels like a PGR style drift, but the game only recognises it as simply cornering. Drifts seem to have to be over the top and imprecise and it can be frustrating trying to generate fame (Driveclub’s leveling system) in this way.

Another, albeit less important, difference is the soundtrack to both games. Both PGR 3 and 4 (although particularly 3) had one of the best videogame soundtracks, second only to SSX: On Tour, so good that they have influenced my music interests to this day. Driveclub, on the other hand, has gone with an original score, which is nice for the menu screens, but the developers made the odd decision to mute it by default in the actual game, as they wanted the sound design to take precedence. This is a shame as it can help alleviate some of the tension during a high pressure race.

PGR4 was not the first racing game to include weather, but it was one of the more successful racing game to do so, once precipitation began to fall the race could alter dramatically. Driveclub has its own dynamic weather system, except this is not present in the main tour (it’s possibly only in the newer tours but I can’t confirm), so unless you create a single race and select dynamic weather, or play an online race that happens to have it turned on it is a feature you might miss. Which is a shame as when combined with the constant shifting of time of day makes for a really engaging experience.

Despite my affection for PGR, the track designs are inspired. To be fair PGR was mostly comprised of city tracks which was why they were also covered by barriers, whereas Driveclub takes place either on dedicated race circuits or “open” roads. The circuits can be a joy to race on and can be a true test of how fast you are able to go, and the road tracks (which are either lap based or rally-like setups) provide a constant challenge with varying terrain to cover. It really is something to be able to start a race in the middle of the day to then end it atop a mountain service in the pitch of darkness with nothing but your headlights to guide you.

Unfortunately the AI can be very aggressive, which is problematic for a game that penalises you if you make contact with another vehicle. It is good that it deters you from using your opponents as bumpers to propel you round corners (a particular strategy that I utilised in PGR) but often I will be shouting profanities at the screen when an opponent smashes into me causing me to spin out and lose a number of positions. Yet when you go through a tough race constantly tailed by an opponent and then come out victorious by less than a second is very rewarding.

When I decided to finally download Driveclub I was looking for something to fill the void left by the absence of PGR. In a way Driveclub has succeeded in that role. It is very much its own game. It can be very challenging (there is a reason the later tour trophies are so rare) but aside from an overly aggressive AI at times the game seems fair because of how well the cars handle and the excellent design of the tracks. If a new PGR game were to be announced, providing it handled the same as before, I would get it on day one. But for now I am ultimately very happy with Driveclub and I recommend you to give it a go, regardless of when the PS Plus version eventually comes out.

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