DriveClub PS4 PlayStation 4 1

In many ways, Evolution Studios got lucky. DriveClub's launch was an unmitigated disaster, but the developer was able to quietly solve many of the title's issues while a much bigger storm gathered around games like Assassin's Creed Unity. Once that had cleared, the Runcorn-based developer responded with a rain cloud of its own, and ironically, it's bad weather that's somewhat responsible for changing the public's perception of the PlayStation 4 exclusive racer.

To focus solely on the title's glitzy dew drops would be to undersell the improvements that have occurred under the hood, though, as this is a much better experience than the one that we reviewed in late October – and we even pumped the brakes on that critique before following through. You can make an argument that a game should be fully finished before it's released, and we'd agree – but that doesn't mean that we can't talk about where this particular product's at right now.

And the simple fact is that it's spectacular. The core concept hasn't changed – this is still a track-based racer – but it's a different game with all of its features working flawlessly. The structure, which hinges on learning a course's intricacies, felt empty offline, but the Challenges mode has completely changed that. This essentially allows you to look through any of your session's most recent runs, and send your times to your friends; a simple idea, but a phenomenally well implemented one.

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The two things that give this longevity are execution and variety. There may not be an enormous number of courses in the game, but the dynamic lighting and weather engines mean that you can race on the same road a hundred times, and still find yourself up against unexpected conditions. Whether it's a slippy surface in the blazing sun or a thunder storm in the middle of the night, you'll be at the mercy of the game's systems at times – and that's a beautiful thing.

And there are stakes in almost everything that you do. Face-Offs give you mini-targets to beat while you hit a hairpin or tackle a straight, while the whole Club infrastructure ensures that you always have something to play for. There's nothing wrong with racing for your own personal gains, of course, but completing team objectives and submitting points to your squad is the only way to access certain pieces of content, so there's a constant sense of community even in single player.

It's evolving at a rapid pace, too. Even ignoring the substantial weather patch, we're writing this shortly after the addition of Japan – a free update which includes several new meticulously manufactured facsimiles of the East Asian nation. Meanwhile, our review criticism of artificial intelligence-inflicted collision penalties has been utterly eroded, while rainbows and other such visual flourishes have been thrown in for good measure.

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But despite the sweeping changes across the board, the release has remained committed to one key tenet: pick up and play. In a world where Grand Theft Auto V leaves you waiting up to three or four minutes before you even get your first glimpse of Los Santos, you can be in and out of a race in DriveClub in a similar span of time. Moreover, the handling model is delightfully inviting, but has enough depth to keep addicts occupied; it's pretty much perfectly balanced like that.

There was some criticism at launch for the release's relative lack of ambition, but the absence of an open world here is a positive in our opinion. The focus on pre-designed tracks has allowed the developer to delve into the minutiae of every single course, and while we love the circuits, we reckon that it's the point-to-point layouts that really stand out; between long stretches of shrubbery-bordered straights to drift hotspots on a decline, the studio shows a real eye for pacing.

And all of these assets culminate in an outstanding experience – one that was teased at launch, but has finally arrived. The hotly anticipated PlayStation Plus version is, of course, still the elephant in the crowd, but unless you actively dislike racing games, then we'd recommend skipping the trial and strapping yourself in to the full release. The launch issues were unforgivable, you'll never hear us argue otherwise – but as it stands right now, this is a front runner for the PS4's most immediately enjoyable release.

Do you agree that DriveClub is finally deserving of a podium position, or should it forever be cast to the back of the pack for its abhorrent launch issues? Are you tempted to pick up the racer, or are you waiting for news on the PlayStation Plus version first? Tell us how fast you want to go in the comments section below.

Are you planning to buy DriveClub in the next six weeks? (66 votes)

  1. Yes, now I know that it’s working I can’t wait any longer8%
  2. Hmm, I’m waiting for more information on the PlayStation Plus version30%
  3. No, I’m not a fan of racing games and don’t care for this9%
  4. Er, I’ve actually already got the game53%

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