When Sony unveiled Driveclub in February 2013 much was made of the attention to detail that had gone into crafting the cars. Paint jobs were layered like in real life. Look closely and you could pick out individual strands of carbon fibre, or the sweaty imprint of the last driver’s backside on the seats. OK, maybe not that one.
But while Driveclub’s attention to detail is simulator-standard, it’s a game that’s less po-faced and more about screeching around corners than either of its super-serious rivals.
IT'S A SOCIAL THING
The clubs of the title are like the crews formed in GTA V Online: join forces with up to five other people and you earn rewards for stuff they do and vice versa, even when you’re not playing the game.
Your individual progress is also tracked, but the only way of unlocking all the cars the game has to offer is as part of a team. That doesn’t mean Driveclub is a multiplayer-only experience. We had hands-on time with a single-player race in India, one of five locations in the game, behind the wheel of a Ferrari F12 Berlinetta. The driving is reminiscent of Forza Horizon or Dirt 3. Play it like a simulator – slow in, fast out of the corners – and it’ll reward you accordingly. Play it like Need For Speed and you’ll get a closer look at the scenery, although the braking has been turbo-charged to make it easier to save a corner if you go in a touch too fast.
While our races had the AI-controlled cars set to easy, the drivers were a touch on the slow side but not stupid or robotic. They’ll hold position and aim to hit the racing line without blindly moving across you if you beat them to the apex, sending you spinning out. Ramping up the difficulty makes them faster but doesn’t affect how hard your car is to drive.
Within races you’ll also get Showdowns, essentially mini-games similar to the challenges in Forza Horizon. At particular points of a lap you’ll be challenged to beat an average speed, earn points by drifting or stick closely to the racing line through a section of bends, with your scores compared to your previous laps and those of your friends. These are repeated each lap, offering an extra way to earn points if you’re way behind (or way out in front).
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The mind-blowing level of detail in the cars also transfers to the environments that you speed through.
While the tracks and environments aren’t direct replicas of real places, they’re based on extensive scouting trips by the developers – and it shows. Running at 30fps in 1080p it looks gorgeous. Leaves are thrown up by the car’s wheels, roadside flares burn and depending on the time of day you’ve picked the sun will slowly rise or set in the distance - it’s almost a shame you’re restricted to the roads.
The atmospheric effects aren’t just there to look nice. All the shadows in Driveclub are dynamic, meaning they’re cast from a genuine light source (the sun, the cars’ headlights, street lamps, etc), which in turn means the time of day you choose to race at will affect how the track appears - and the way in which you'll have to drive.
We didn’t get to play enough different modes to find out whether all this was enough to give Driveclub the variety and longevity required of a driving game, although its social nature is clearly designed to tap into the same competitive urges that keep people coming back to first-person shooters such as Call Of Duty and Battlefield.
For petrolheads who find themselves bumping their heads on the glass ceiling of hardcore racing games, Driveclub is shaping up to be a serious racer with the sharper edges sanded off.
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