While we’ve played a build of the game that includes dynamic weather, the feature somehow hasn’t made it into the game for launch. It’s a great pity, since it not only dials up DriveClub’s already not-insubstantial visual appeal, but adds some variety to the conditions you’ll find yourself driving in. It will be patched in shortly after launch, we’re told, but Evolution’s spin – that this gives players the chance to learn tracks in the dry first – rings hollow. Another missing aspect is replays, which will be added in time, but are essential for showing off your custom club liveries. its frustratingly inconsistent rules, whether you’re to blame or not. Everything you do earns fame, a currency that allows you to level up and earn new cars, but you’ll be fined for impacts and off-track excursions, and incur temporary speed restrictions for even slightly cutting corners. Well, some corners, because the boundaries seem to have been placed at the whim of whoever built each track. An overbearing track reset, meanwhile, begins a three-second countdown the instant you put a wheel wrong. It feels especially patronising in the context of the game’s challenging handling model.
But as grating as all of this is, it’s quickly forgotten once you have the road to yourself. Driving well in DriveClub is as rewarding as it is involved, requiring you to pay close attention to the road surface and your car’s attitude as you negotiate each roadway. When you do break traction, it feels, crucially, earned – there’s no separate physics model for drift events here. Evolution has even replicated the way manumatic gearboxes prevent potentially damaging bad selections, meaning that, for once, spamming downshifts to unrealistically bleed off speed into a corner simply isn’t an option.
The combined result is one of the most finely balanced time-trial simulations yet. The game’s roadbased tracks might meander without much incident, but its fictional circuits are excellent. Each of the five race tracks features three variants, and while there’s nothing here to rival the likes of Gran Turismo’s Trial Mountain or Forza’s Maple Valley, we lost a few hours looping the particularly moreish Scottish raceway in a BAC Mono.
It’s this that drives the asynchronous multiplayer, too. The much-vaunted club system is underwhelming, lacking any real sense of collaboration beyond an ascending club fame meter, but taking on friends in Challenges and Face-Offs proves considerably more successful. The latter of these take the shape of average speed, drift and cornering measurements, which take place during most events and reward the best driver with fame bonuses. Challenges, meanwhile, are more in-depth, allowing you to send particularly good lap times – or even entire races – to friends and other clubs to try to beat. And the aggressive AI is slightly less objectionable when you’re trying to best a friend’s race performance, since you know they also had to fight their way through the pack.
For all its successes, the fact remains that even after significant delays, what’s been delivered is far from finished. And of even greater concern is the jarring disparity between Evolution’s careful recreation of realworld conditions and driving physics, and the outdated opponent AI that clogs up its roads. But despite these disappointments, there still remains a great deal of driving pleasure to be extracted from DriveClub’s social aspects and excellent handling – especially given that ghost opponents can’t dent your car.