Driving games should be all about speed, but the development of such games should not. Driveclub has some fantastic-sounding features for an arcade racer, but they’re marred by what can only be considered a rush job. Originally intended for launch-day release on the PlayStation 4, the game is now officially “out,” but good luck using any of the online features designed to set it apart from similar titles, or taking advantage of all the horsepower in its graphical engine, as dynamic weather effects (like rain and snow) are still limited to the drabness of a mere overcast sky. It says a lot that there are more cars scheduled for release than can currently be earned for your garage. Despite featuring a variety of single-player Tour competitions, from drifting and breakneck time-trial challenges to multi-race championships, Driveclub feels as if it’s still stuck in gear.
The design flaws aren’t relegated to spotty online play either. Despite the five major continental settings for the various courses (roughly 55, if you include reversed tracks), there’s little to set them apart, especially if you’re playing in the game’s default view, which limns all that pretty scenery within the cockpit’s frame. Sure, Norway has gigantic floes and icy borders, and Chile’s filled with dusty, dry rock canyons, but then, India’s also got its share of tight dirt roads through burgeoning towns, and Canada’s littered with snowy mountain backdrops and shimmering water. Memorable moments are few and far between, though playing around with the game’s time compression so that a five-minute race contains both sunrise and sunset shows that there are beautiful effects, like the breaking dawn over a set of stony ruins in Scotland—if only you could slow down long enough to observe. Cars like the Aston Martin V12 Zagato and BMW M5 2011 also suffer the ignominious fate of feeling identical, which saps the satisfaction of unlocking them with each new Racer Level earned. You can’t even modify them, unless you count slapping on a superficial paint job a notable feature, which means that (due to the exacting technical challenges of each race) if you want to earn enough stars to progress on the Tour, you’ll be forced to use the cars with the highest stats within each performance class rather than your favorites.
There are also some odd gameplay decisions, mainly to do with the Fame system, which rewards (and punishes) players for “correct” driving. Taking an off-road shortcut is frowned upon, as is any contact with rival vehicles, regardless of whether it’s the AI ramming you in the middle of an attempted drift, or an accidental tap while attempting to draft behind your opponents. If the courses were slightly wider or featured fewer bottlenecks, this might present a welcome challenge for those transitioning from a simulator like Gran Turismo 6 over to a looser racer like Need for Speed. As is, the majority of on- and offline races result in 10-car pileups, while the few fortunate racers to pull ahead of the pack pretty much stay there. Opportunities to earn Fame, especially at the higher Driver and Club levels, are ever harder to come across, which turns even some of the more novel races into experience grinds.
From the pleasing advertisements for each race event to the tire-squealing sound effects (so authentic that the default audio settings literally disable in-game music), Evolution Studios has put no end of polish and chrome into Driveclub. But there are too many dings on the chassis, from the constant inability to activate promised features (like designing and then issuing challenges to friends or rival clubs) and occasionally glitchy effects of current and standard modes (like racing against a “ghost” car that represents your best efforts). In the end, even the most tricked-out junker is still, at heart, a lemon—especially if it can’t perform.