- Developer – Evolution Studios
- Publisher – Sony Computer Entertainment
- Platform – PlayStation 4
- Release date – Boxed version out now, digital version TBA
- Price - £39.99
A lot of games today labour under the misconception that every moment of play, every in-game anecdote or amusing event, is worth sharing. This is why we have Twitch, YouTube, and the PS4 "Share" button.
Now that local multiplayer is dead, because publishers can make more money from online gaming, since it forces friends to buy two copies of the game rather than one, share culture has exploded. "It's better," we're told "to play together."
Racing games, particularly DriveClub by Evolution Studios, are the subjects of this new wave. Ten years ago the crux of a racing simulation was customisation – in Gran Turismo and Need for Speed: Underground, the idea was to buy a car, modify it, improve it, then race it over and over to earn more money to buy more upgrades.
Now, players are encouraged to continually switch cars. Forza Horizon 2 chucks you enough in-game credits per race that you can go buy a Ferrari after about one hour of play. Similarly, DriveClub awards you a new motor, for free, after basically every event.
You're encouraged not to isolate yourself in one, highly personal vehicle, but to share in this broad world of cars that the developers have made. With convenience, you can get out there, and race many different cars against many different opponents across many different locations. Ubisoft's upcoming The Crew, for example, will take place across the entire United States.
That's the philosophy of sharing as represented by gameplay. The idea of racing games now is to spread yourself across different cars and places. Even playing offline, you're this character who is going everywhere, trying everything – Forza Horizon 2 sees you cruising the streets of Italy in a Porsche, stopping to change into a Lamborghini, then cruising the streets of France.
But of course, those share buttons, social networks, and online multiplayer modes are the real meat of this new type of racer. No longer are you competing against anonymous artificial intelligence, recognisable only by the model of car they're using. Now, you're up against XxXRacer69 or Xbox4Life420.
You can design and share custom paint jobs, create challenges for other players to attempt and, in the case of DriveClub, form your own kind of online clan and tour the various racetracks as in a friend group. The intention is pure – developers on these games seem to sincerely believe that playing with others is more fun, more fulfilling – but ultimately you get racing games that are about, not sharing in the children's TV sense, but in a bragging rights, high school clique kind of way.
DriveClub is all about the acquisition of an in-game social currency called "Fame" - the higher your Fame rating, the more races and cars you can access. Likewise, in Forza Horizon 2, which is set around the eponymous Horizon motoring festival, you level up to earn different coloured wristbands. Other players can see your level and the type of band you own displayed above your car as you race. It feels less about sharing and collective enjoyment – less about the joy of motoring – than it does about conspicuous wealth. It's better to play together only in the sense that you can get a vicarious kick from knowing you're the alpha leader of some niche, online pack.
It's exactly the same as the "multiplayer" in Call of Duty or Battlefield, whereby players are in theory working as a team, but in practise are only there to earn points and upgrades for themselves. This is why we have the term "kill-stealing." No-one is happy when their online teammate scores a win – they want it all to themselves. That's the paradox of online multiplayer: by encouraging sharing and co-operation, these games have increased individualism and competition. DriveClub, with its Fame system, is just the latest example of a litany of games where "sharing" actually boils down to "showing off."
And that's a shame, because fundamentally this is a solid racer. The handling on cars has been adapted to better suit first time and casual players, an appropriate choice considering Sony is giving DriveClub away to PS Plus users. The publisher is marketing this not as a videogame, but more like an app, like something people can dip in and out of, like Candy Crush or FarmVille. DriveClub is more of a service than a game, and making it mechanically accessible is a smart decision.
It's also very simple to learn in terms of menus, progression, structure and so on. As opposed to Forza, where you have to drive between various gameplay hubs, choose a championship, choose a car, then drive to the starting point of your selected tournament. DriveClub successively provides you with the right cars for your upcoming races, and lays everything out on this flat-pack, Microsoft Tiles kind of menu screen.
It's ideally suited to pick-up-and-play gamers. Be sure to get the free, digital version of DriveClub when it launches, since it's something you want to keep permanently on your PS4 dashboard and just dip in and out of when you have a minute.
Visually it's muted, all dark greens and light greys. The music, which is actually disabled by default, is soft and inoffensive. DriveClub is an altogether more palatable game than Forza, which repeatedly gets in your face with all its summer, sunshine, happy-go-lucky young people swagger. But it's also, perhaps, just dry.
DriveClub is about as standard issue as racing games come - it's functional, unadorned and comprises all the usual racing game features. Its central conceit, that playing together is better than playing alone, crumbles if you consider that online play is essentially about boasting rather than co-operating.
DriveClub Review Scores
- Gameplay: 7/10 – Accessible and simple, DriveClub is a nicely designed drop-in, drop-out dashboard game for the PS4.
- Graphics: 7/10 – Cars are suitably shiny, but the environments and tracks are dull and poorly detailed.
- Sound: 6/10 – Solid engine noises but crashes and collisions are unfulfilling. Compared to Forza, the dialled-back music is welcome, but also pretty bland.
- Replay value: 6/10 – Depending on how you stomach multiplayer, DriveClub could last indefinitely. However, with such basic, easy-to-master core driving mechanics, even the most fervent online players might lose interest.
- Overall: 6/10 – A solid, well-meaning driving game. DriveClub shares it problems with various other contemporary racers. Speaking more broadly, it's the product of a current, misguided trend towards "social" play.