Well, here’s a surprise. PS4’s best car game, suddenly available with bikes instead. Whether as DLC for existing Driveclub owners, or in its comparatively diminutive standalone state, this is very literally ‘Driveclub but with bikes in’. It’s the same tracks, same structure, same breathtaking graphics and same online competition. But it’s most noteworthy because it fixes modern bike games’ biggest problem – frustration.
In this post-arcade era where realism is king, a bike’s relationship with the road is too fragile to be fun, at least for most people. Clearly, in a game as fast and frantic as Driveclub, there’s no way the player could be expected to tiptoe around each bend like in MotoGP 15, gently applying the brakes and trying not to breathe too heavily on the throttle for fear of high-siding. Driveclub Bikes takes all that worry away.
It’s still possible to crash, but you either have to smash into a wall at significant speed and at an obtuse angle, or do a wheelie or stoppie (back wheelie) so outrageous you end up with the bike riding you. In either situation, you’re simply reset to the track in a flash, almost immediately back up to speed, having fun.
The unfortunate trade-off is that there are no “look mum, I’m wrapped around a tree,” ragdoll physics for you or the other riders, which cuts out a lot of potential spectacle. But presumably running down fallen riders, Road Rash-style, wouldn’t sit very well with PEGI and that 3+ rating. Still, it’s a shame that even the cars’ modest spills are more spectacular.
The bikes feel just as fast as the cars, which is especially true if you opt for the terrifying helmet cam. Onlookers in the room will probably start making worried noises as they watch you hurtle through narrow lanes in the middle of a thunderstorm (in the dark). The finicky, twitchy behaviour of the bike’s front end couples with the often-indistinct corners to make first-person views too difficult to use seriously, but it’s still at least worth watching the replays in them to see the incredible job that Evolution has done with the visuals.
The rain streams over the windshield in beautiful clarity, only occasionally obscured by the blurrier drops streaming outwards on your virtual visor. Best of all, the weather is dynamic. Sure, there are forks of lightning now, but it might brighten up at any minute.
There’s evidently a realistic physics simulation at work as the bike’s rear wheel squirms around under acceleration, excitingly ‘stepping out over the line’, Bruce Springsteen-style, only to be wrangled back before you come completely unstuck. There’s just enough of a wild side to keep the bikes challenging and rewarding to ride, but plenty of scope for correcting a poor cornering angle – certainly more than with the cars – making it instantly accessible and fun.
The bikes are kept separate from the cars, so you won’t mix the two, Motorstorm style. Indeed, there’s a 50/50 split on the DLC version’s menu where you choose cars or bikes. As with the core game, there’s a wealth of short solo events to plough through in which you must meet somewhat arbitrary criteria to win stars and unlock the next tier. If you’re already familiar with Driveclub, netting all 162 stars can take just two evenings’ play. But that really isn’t the point.
Driveclub is all about online competition and that hasn’t changed here. Sure, there’s traditional online PvP racing, but the game is at its best when you’re challenging your friends and rival clubs to beat a time or score you’ve set. Racing against a human rival’s ghost is incredibly addictive and, if anything, the increased precision and discipline required from racing on only two wheels makes for even more incremental gains and losses. Get stuck into this competitively and you’ll be hooked for weeks.
Evolution has done a superb job of fitting bikes into the Driveclub template. This isn’t just great DLC – it’s the best bike racer in years.
This review also appears in Official PlayStation Magazine.