Foreword: Before everyone flames this post as ‘clickbait’, please make sure you see that the title of the article reads “MY Game of the Year for 2014″. This article does not go into the myriad server and PS+ delay issues as there are already countless articles, reviews and forum posts on those subjects. These views are based entirely my own experience and I’m not defending Evolution Studios or refuting the aspersions put forth by current owners and PS+ subscribers regarding the current state of this game (PS+ version still isn’t available at the time of this article).
Now, if you are interested in my brazen, counter-current-culture-bomb-of-a-statement of why I believe this could be MY GOTY for 2014, read on.
GOTY SPOILER ALERT!
South Park: The Stick of Truth is currently my front runner for Game of the Year in 2014. In terms of mechanics, the game was a straight-foward “Paper Mario/Child of Light/Costume Quest”-style RPG. However, in terms of story and fan service, The Stick of Truth worked to repair 99.9% of the damage that Acclaim did to the property when they held the license. Unequivocally, it’s been the best experience I’ve had this year.
South Park got it’s start back in 1992 with a student video that was later dubbed “Jesus vs. Frosty” and three years later followed up with one of the first viral videos, “Jesus vs. Santa“. Almost 20 years later the show still takes pole position in delivering both irreverent humor and cutting edge commentary. While the show is not everyone’s cup of tea (and, in fact, there are staffers here at ++Good Games that CAN’T STAND South Park), Trey Parker and Matt Stone pulled no punches and delivered a game experience that was targeted squarely at their core audience. As a member of their of that core audience, I’d have to say they hit it out of the park.
SO, WAIT, WHAT DOES ALL THIS HAVE TO DO WITH DRIVECLUB?!?
With my increasing age, there’s a good chance I could be talking about the World Series one second and then the properties of a quality spoon in the next. How we get from South Park to DRIVECLUB is a bit more grounded than that and it has everything to do with my gaming age and gaming experience(s).
South Park, like video games, has been part of my culture and DNA for more than 20 years. While we were being introduced to South Park in the 1990’s the world was also in the midst of an epic console transition from 16-bit to 32-bit machines. Titles like Rock N’ Roll Racing, Road Rage, Jaguar XJ-220 and more were starting to get better than the arcade games of the 80’s and racing games became more like tech demos that could show off what could be done with each new system’s processing power. A perfect example of this was Crash and Burn which should provide an example of how enormous the leap was between 16 and 32 bit consoles (and certainly caused my jaw to drop when seeing it in the window of Electronics Boutique). While I never personally owned Crash and Burn, I did eventually purchase a 3DO and, with it, picked up a game that still sits on my top 50 games of all time list, Need for Speed.
LOOK AT IT! I MEAN REALLY LOOK AT IT! This is a game came out in 1994 (20 years ago) and it looked this good! If you aren’t impressed, I present “Exhibit B” which should give you an idea of what passed for ‘next-generation’ back in the day.
TRULY AHEAD OF THE CURVE
In the original Need for Speed on 3DO, tracks were masterfully crafted around mountain passes, coastlines, balloon fairs and more. In addition to it being a visual feast, each car in the game, from the NSX to the RX-7 to the Lamborghini Diablo, possessed different driving mechanics. If you took a rear wheel drive car like the Viper into a curve filled track, you needed to be prepared to have your back end kick out on you if you accelerate too quickly. While we presently take these kinds of gameplay elements for granted, in 1994, Electronic Arts was blazing new ground with Need for Speed. In 1996 the launch of the PlayStation console brought gamers Ridge Racer which upped the ante in visual fidelity. Games like Daytona USA, Driver and Wipeout all benefitted from the extra power these new processors provided and the promise of the ‘arcade in your home’ was finally being realized*.
*At the same time all this was happening, Sony was allowing gamers the options of linking two consoles and two televisions together to engage in side by side racing with the likes of Test Drive 4 and Wipeout XL (don’t even get me started on how amazingly-analog-awesome having a pair of NegCon controllers were).
By the time Need for Speed III hit the PlayStation (1998) the rumblings of the next generation had already begun but we were having to much fun perfecting our times on Red Rock Ridge to pay attention.
The entire post to this point has been to establish some early, personal history with arcade-style console racing games. While I’ve played and enjoyed games like Test Drive LeMans, Gran Turismo and Forza over the years, those games involve a great deal of customization, dedication and focus before you’re truly rewarded. Additionally, titles like Burnout and Rivals are too “over-the-top-arcade” to actually feel like you’re racing. Just like the fighting genre, for every exacting brawler like Street Fighter, Tekken and King of Fighters, there’s room for over-the-top games like Mortal Kombat and Super Smash Bros. Stretching that metaphor, I’d say that the DRIVECLUB series is to racing what the Dead or Alive series is to fighting.
With it’s explosive visuals and frenetic pace, DOA5 shares a great deal of similarities to the jaw-droopingly gorgeous scenery of DRIVECLUB. When the weather pack releases in TBD 2015 the game will become a feast for the eyeballs.
All of these histrionics, metaphors and examples work to build the case for why someone (like myself) could actually be enjoying DRIVECLUB in a way that would make it their favorite game in 2014. Sure, the game can’t get online for any length of time and the gamers who purchased PS+ exclusively for this title (which, if you have a PS4, there is absolutely ZERO reason you should NOT have PS+, DRIVECLUB is just a bonus) have a legitimate grievance with Sony’s aloof tech updates. For those willing to look beyond the launch woes, you’ll find a game that rewards you with some of the most beautiful visuals ever to grace your television. The races are fast and the AI competition is brutal and doesn’t allow you a moments rest in the corners. DRIVECLUB, for me, plays a lot like GT5 Prologue where users can hone there abilities for when the game fully comes online (whenever that may be).
I’m one of the people that purchased a copy at retail on day 1 and have fully been blown away with how this game looks, plays and how it has answered my prayers for driving experience like that of the original Need For Speed games. From the detail of the cars to the environments that live and breathe with birds, bags and balloons this game gives you a taste of what the PS4 will be doing three years from now. The rear view and side view mirrors provide some of the most convincing looking facsimiles of real life that I’ve ever witnessed in ANY game. The slight camera bobble as you accelerate to top speed makes your eyes dry out and your lungs tight. In it’s current state, this game is as visceral as any racing game I’ve had the pleasure of playing and it’s only going to get better once the issues are hammered out.
At nearly one month since it’s release, it’s almost too late to remove the stigma of it’s rocky start. If you cut through the forum treacle, you’ll find that the game isn’t close to as awful as you’re being led to believe. When servers come online and both photo mode and dynamic weather get enabled, I personally hope that people will be able to see and experience DRIVECLUB for what it really is, a game that harkens back to a time when racers were about fun and fantastic visuals over infinite cars and customization. Until that time, it appears that I’ll have wide open road ahead to enjoy the game as a single player experience and to rank up in the leaderboards before the mass torrent of PS+ users come online to reveal how mediocre I am at competitive video games.