When Driveclub arrived last year, it was a hot mess. The servers were so flaky, not only was the game's main selling point - its online clubs - reduced to a scintillating game of 'can I even connect today?', Sony decided it was pointless releasing the PS Plus-exclusive trial edition. Well, that's all changed. Not only is the PS Plus edition now on PSN, the original game has been updated (for free) in so many ways, our original review no longer reflected its quality. So it's time to evaluate the Driveclub experience once again.
If you're here because you want to know what the the PS Plus Edition is like then, quite simply, it's just like the main game detailed below, but smaller. It gives you all of the game modes, but only one location (India), 11 tracks and 10 cars. You can upgrade to the full experience whenever you like and maintain your existing Club. As for online play, well, to avoid the same problems as last time, that is gradually being rolled out over the coming days and weeks to make sure the servers can cope with the (likely huge) influx of players. But believe me, it'll be worth the wait.
Just to be clear, this is not an open world racer like The Crew. You don't cruise around with your team and challenge other people by revving up at lights. Driveclub is a game of separated racing events on realistic (but not real) roads in various locations around the globe. You pick an event or series, you race on it, you pick another. While it might have been fun to prowl around country lanes in a gang of supercars, the reality is far clearer on what you actually need to do every time you play. And it really works.
The good-but-underwhelming racer I reviewed in October didn't feel exactly like a sim or an arcade experience, which left it straddling a strange middle ground. While it hasn't fundamentally changed in that time, several free additions have made it feel slightly more of an arcadey experience. And while it still doesn't fit perfectly into either camp, it does now have an identity. It feels like Driveclub.
Brakes? What are they?
Driveclub is quite a forgiving racing game and there are several very long, very straight roads on which you can just put pedal to the metal and cycle through the camera views until you hit bumper cam and say 'whoa' like early-'90s Keanu Reeves. But there is a complex physics engine at work and there's a load of time to be found by getting your line right and keeping the car in good, grippy contact with the road. So use the brakes!
Driveclub is exhilarating. It constantly challenges you to be better. Better than the computer, better than your friends… better than yourself. Whether it's PSN ID-emblazoned average speed challenge zones, blue racing lines to hug through chicanes or multiple ghosts on the track with you, you're always given a feeling of involvement and competition. Even in the tour mode, you always have this sense of rivalry - something that's augmented brilliantly by the club system.
Joining a club with some mates is much more rewarding than it sounds. Logging in to see someone on your crew has boosted the club's rep by topping a leaderboard or three is surprisingly exciting, and boosting your club's level one mark higher all by yourself feels like you're contributing to a team effort. But it really comes into its own when you have a rival club of people you know to fight against.
The challenge system in Driveclub is superb. Complete any event and you can use your time and ghost to set a challenge. You can aim the challenge at a single person, or a single club, or widen the entry list to allow for other people to have a go. You can set the time limit, too, allowing for a frantic half-hour of shaving seconds and tenths from lap times, or several days of back-and-forth leaderboard topping. It's riveting. And getting a notification on your phone (via the PSN app) that someone's challenged you will make you load up the game if you get that involved.
This is the system as it was supposed to be and the community is growing. But the game is growing too. For starters, it's amazing to think we didn't even have wet weather races when the game launched, as the weather effects in the current version are so good, they're arguably worth the price of admission on their own. Water streams across the windscreen and is affected by the car's movements. Puddles in the road reflect the gorgeously-rendered trackside scenery and make for incredible photographs.
And oh, god – the Photo mode. It's just the best photo mode I've ever seen in any game ever. When a console as powerful as PS4 is taking upwards of 10 seconds to render a single frame, you know the results are going to be special, but some of these pictures are unreal. Start getting into it and you'll find you can't drive more than a few corners without thinking 'oh, that would make for a great photo' and hitting the touchpad to get into the filters and blur settings. It's a game in itself and the community has produced some superlative imagery. The best screenshots from any racing game, ever.
Even when Photo mode debuted, you would occasionally miss the perfect shot by a split-second. Well, no longer. There are now replays too, and you can hit the touch pad at any point to freeze the replay and start taking more photos. The replays look sensational too, really showing off PS4's power. In fact, Driveclub has become one of the best adverts for the console around.
All of this would be for nought if Driveclub was dull to play, but even that has been fixed thanks to the many tiny tweaks since launch. The real-time, dynamic weather is incredible to behold. The game feels faster. The drift challenges have been tweaked and better reward skill. There are more events (and I do recommend you buy the DLC season pass, too) meaning this already-big game can be absolutely huge if you want it to be. Some tracks have even been added for free; Lake Shoji in particular is an incredible course for time attack.
It's still not quite a five-star experience. The licensed cars may look lovely, but they don't crash very impressively. A few dents and scratches are present, but when you flip the car at 200mph, there should be a satisfying scene of destruction. As it is, you scrape along the barriers and the car resets and off you go on your merry way.
Also, if you don't play online (but do run the updates), you won't have as fulfilling an experience as the online element is so integral to the game. It's also strange to note that actual online races aren't amazing, again probably because the game isn't set up for the close-contact scrapping that human vs human racing inevitably brings. You'll have more fun in the challenges than straight-up races.
But even the tour mode feels like it's had some liquid vitality injected into its fuel tank. Driveclub had a slow, sleepy start, but the version that you can buy right now looks incredible, is enjoyable for beginners and racing veterans, and is one of the best examples of online integration yet seen. And any game that frequently has me saying 'I can't believe how good this is' has got to be doing something right. Driveclub is absolutely the best racing game on PS4, and I can't wait to see how it develops next.