In defence of Driveclub (and why it's time to get back behind the wheel)

My own feelings towards Driveclub will always be a bit... complicated. As a lifelong racing game fan I approached it with equal parts enthusiasm and intense scrutiny. A scrutiny which the game absolutely stood up to during my review process, which took part on the game's public servers prior to release. Handling: yep. Graphics: as promised. Meaningful social element: absolutely, and I'd been hugely sceptical about that promise in the game's pre-release period. As it turns out, seeing your own collective of games journalists outpaced by a French website by 0.3 seconds is all it takes for the concept of an online racing club to click. It felt fastidious, luxurious, a true leap ahead of Need For Speed's half-baked, quasi-online Rivals. I awarded it a 9/10 (Though GR+'s Justin gave it 4/5), and wrote the following sentence: “Driveclub works.”

Time makes a fool of us all, of course, but most people are at least spared the indignity of having italicised their naivety. The game went live, and the public servers which had worked so well for me prior to launch fell over spectacularly, apparently unable to deal with the volume of active users. Many couldn't log in at all, and those who did were routinely kicked out mid-session. The touted PS Plus edition is still yet to materialise.

This wasn't a launch day, or even a launch week, problem. Servers continued to backfire for long enough after launch that many – justifiably – gave up on the game entirely, and Mr. It Works here was left looking like a madman honking nonsense at strangers in the supermarket with one hand down his tracksuit bottoms. However: that was back in October 2014, which is actually a really long time ago now. Long enough that while we've all been going about our lives, not thinking about Driveclub, Evolution Studios quietly transformed its racer into something not just functional, but even better than the promised product.

The list of additions it's enjoyed since October goes way beyond achieving server stability (which is admittedly crucial). Japan, an entirely new location full of pastel shaded foliage and dramatic views of Mount Fuji, made its way into Driveclub in January, free of charge. Before that, impressive dynamic weather effects were rolled out without much fanfare, likewise Photo Mode. Shortly after release, both the Ignition and Photo Finish DLC packs – previously penned in as a paid content drop – were released for free by means of apology, adding five new cars, 22 new events, new livery options and trophies.

Fearing a backlash from season pass owners seeing their paid content released for free, Evolution extended the season pass content to include even more cars and events – it's still going on actually, and won't be finished until July. As if to perfectly illustrate my point, there's a Lamborghini expansion out today in North America, March 25th in Europe, adding four Lambos to an already teeming car list.

On the same day, update 1.12 goes live (for free) and adds replay functionality and a level 50 reward car, among other nips, tucks, and trinkets. Evolution's failure to get its game up and running at launch is inarguable, but the British studio has done anything but run and hide from the resulting disaster. In fact, it's done the opposite: it's made the game better than the 9/10 experience I played. It deserves a second chance.

Not just so that my initial review reads less like the lunatic scribblings of someone who found a Ritz cracker on the floor and proclaimed it to be an uncut diamond dropped by the gods themselves. Although – sure – saving face is a factor. But mainly because we're all sitting here missing out on a genuinely great racing game on PS4 because debacles like Driveclub's launch tend to seal a title's fate forevermore. This isn't an industry that forgives slip-ups, because generally the market's fertile enough that we can find a replacement for our unfulfilled fix instantaneously. As any driving game aficionado will tell you, that couldn't be further from the case right now on PS4. Project CARS will probably fill the void when it arrives in May, but all the while poor old Driveclub's sitting there, all reinvigorated and excellent... in exile.

Earlier this week the news broke that Evolution's laying off roughly half its staff. That's upsetting news to hear about any studio, but it strikes a particular chord with me in Driveclub's case because I think it's handled the post-launch fiasco brilliantly, and even though it took much longer than expected, did eventually deliver a truly wonderful driving game.

The exception to that statement comes with the continued absence of its promised PS Plus Edition. The team has recently confirmed that it is still in the pipeline, but its continued nonattendance only furthers the damage to Drivelub's reputation and stifles its potential online community. Perhaps people will come crawling back to the game once the PS Plus Edition drops, perhaps they won't. I can understand why you'd want to wait for it on principle, but if you were to take the financial plunge on the game as it is today I think you'd be genuinely surprised.

Driveclub's legacy is a many-tentacled beast: it made us here at OPM re-evaluate our approach to reviewing online-dependent games pre-release. It's no doubt given terrible nightmares to developers the world over, and redoubled the industry's efforts to stress-test game servers before the public swarm them. But the one aspect in which it's perhaps overlooked is as a pioneering, utterly beautiful racing game – and diving back into it now can rectify that injustice.

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