Thursday, 12 February 2015

DRIVECLUB: Gamertroll Review - PS4 Exclusive

Gamertroll was walking through a department store yesterday (In disguise, obviously) when a jubilant exclaimation was heard from a fellow shopper, "Nice level flooring in here", he said. This Troll left the shop in a somewhat confused state: could it be that I set the bar for enjoying things too high?
That shopper would probably piss his biege corduroys at the arrival of a free local paper. Let's be fair he probably pisses them in his sleep regardless, but if your expectations in life are similarly limited you might see no problems with Driveclub.

Driveclub (referred to as 'DC' from here).. Hmmmm. What a winding, twisty-turny road this game has travelled to get into our PS4's.
Dunces rejoice, there are only 3 types of corner! Yellow flags denote a medium curve

Lost in development hell, many of us will still have adverts for the DC/PS4 hardware bundle immortalised on our sky+ box recordings from Christmas 2013. Gamertroll has been waiting since October 2014 for the Psplus free edition Sony promised to it's loyal online service subscribers. A promise many saw as an apology for leaving the PS4 without an exclusive 'triple A' racing title for the machine's entire first year. As I'm sure you all know as of Mid February 2015 that 'free edition' has yet to materialise, so like many, Gamertroll just bit the bullet and bought the recently discounted full game upgrade to the non-existent Psplus edition. That constitutes a tangled Web of deceit in anyone's language, but let's flick that filthiness from our fingers and put our best foot forward though, shall we?

Lets's start on a high note in fact. Driveclub is pretty, It's proof that plumbing for 30fps is no bad thing when detail levels can be ramped up as a result. It's also pleasing to see that there's no discernable flicker or handling issues arising from that choice.

Also on the subject of DC's visual merit, (although not present at the bungled launch of the game) the weather affects are now in place and are the best seen in any racing game released to date, but they don't do anything besides look pretty. There is no perceptible difference between pelting along on a scorching dry Indian track to doing a hill climb in the middle of a Noweigian snow blizzard. Same handling, same tire screech. Varying surface conditions, like so many things in DC, clearly didn't make the final cut.

Something that Gamertroll would happily have seen miss the shipping deadline is the 'Fast and Furious' style car decals. They are an tragic on any car but  to see them plastered over an Italian super car is pure automotive blasphemy. Want to pick some club colours and logo from the preset selections to stick on your cars? Knock yourself out, just be aware: you're making some of the most beautiful cars ever made look shit.

Gamertroll would kill the man who did this to his Spyker
Moving swiftly on, there's an extensive online functionality now in place so rival Driveclub's can Duke it out for fame, but there's no glossing over this: it's head-scratchingly fiddly to get everyone in a lobby and half the time it doesn't work. "Connecting with server...." or how about this one, seen so often Gamertroll actually got it on the very day of publishing this article whilst getting screenshots "There has been a problem connecting to the Driveclub server".

This network instability often means that you will have to resort to battling with 'ghosts' of friends' efforts rather than actually racing with them on the track. In the case of the latter message you can't even do that. It's single player events or do some housework. Gamertroll is not saying the Ghost battle challenges with your friends lists arn't fun, only that for all practical purposes, these are solitary drift competitions or time trials and shouldn't be the most enjoyment you can have with the game. It's quite a regrettable situation that they are.

No Driveclub today folks, again

Gamertroll wouldn't want to single out  either Sony's PSN network or Sony's Evolution studio for blame over Driveclub's online failings, only because both parties are in this one up to their necks. Sony blaming Evolution studios for Driveclub is like Bungie blaming Xur for offering a shit selection of guns over the weekend at Destiny's Tower. Which amazingly, Bungie does BTW.
An odd issue with these otherwise entertaining friend challenges is that you can be sent challenges that you know you can Smash but can't enter because you've not grinded up enough levels to get the required car! Why can a challenge be made if you can't fucking compete? Equally, why can you see a Friend's challenge you haven't been invited to attempt? If somebody doesn't want to include you on their latest challenge because you thumped their last one why does the game insist on waving it under your nose? You'll rapidly find the better you play the less invites you'll get.

Gamertroll also discovered that somewhat perplexingly, instead of getting more fun the faster you get, DC seems to get less fun with a turn of speed.
Interiors are beautifully rendered
The more powerful the cars, the more annoying they are to use. There will of course be those few who disagree but just take a look at your friend's track times if get a chance to play it. Soon after the semi-pro cup event the scores peter out... it's clear that very few players can be bothered playing DC once things speed up. The more powerful machines serve to magnify the issues arising from such a basic handling model.

There can be no more contentious issue than that of handling, the element of subjectivity makes such discussions incredibly difficult to arbitrate one way or the other, however, Gamertroll's assessment of DC's handling can be summed up in one word: Superficial. Even by arcade racing standards of yore, DC's handling model is strikingly basic. That's not to say the game is easy to master, quite the opposite. Split-second turning and careful feathering of the throttle is a requirement as the machines get faster. It's a handling model of all or nothing, with a scarcity of anything in between.
The track environments might be a sparse selection but the few you get are 'purty'

Anticipation is of little value here either: If you can see a corner you can brake for it. That's great of course if you've a low attention span or have blasted out your short-term memory smoking weed; but for the rest of us it does peel away a fundamental aspect of race driving. Memorising tracks is only important when chasing track times on the few race track based maps because all the road tracks have colour coded corner flags. Helpfully situated on every corner's outside bend, green, yellow, and Red Flag posts will ensure your brain isn't taxed with the tiresome business of Judging it for yourself. It's DC's less intrusive equivalent of Gran Turismo's or Forza's neon easy mode racing line indicators, only you can't turn the feature off.  

With simplistic handling comes simplistic AI too it would appear. Your rival cars in the campaign have some pretty old school limitations in the AI department, not least of which is some of the worst 'AI Elastic-banding' seen in a game for quite some years. Picture it, you're in first place for two laps and on the third you slide and clip a barrier. Immediately all 11 opponent cars squeeze past, leaving you in last place on the final lap trying to pass 11 vehicles all travelling bumper to bumper in the space of 50yards. This happens all the time in DC'S campaign, fun when you win perhaps but in truth it's really a pathetic throwback to racing games best forgotten.
All those little droplets of rain run indepently off your windows. This isn't just rain, it's Driveclub PRECIPITATION. OOO!

Gamertroll would much rather have had another Motorstorm game. Now that'll never happen as once the remaining skeleton crew at Evolution studios finish associated online maintenance and DLC packs Sony will be winding them down for 'redistribution'.

So there it is, Sony's action against Evolution arguably betrays their assessment of how well the game turned out, but what would Gamertroll give it? After a great deal of play, sadly I can only reach a consensus.

A better than average driving game for sure, but this is not the triple AAA quality promised. PS4 is still left in dire need of a high quality exclusive racing game because Driveclub and it's conspicuous lack of content, is only fun with a little 'f'


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