Review – DCL: The Game

Remember when I said that I love when AA publishers like THQ Nordic or Bigben decide to release niche titles aimed at a very specific audience? Over the past few months, companies like these have released titles like a professional European truck racing simulator, a game about being a bee, and a licensed Monster Jam game that ended up being a lot of fun, even though big trucks with tires the size of an European country aren’t exactly my thing. This time around, THQ Nordic has decided to up the ante on the niche scale with their brand new DCL: The Game, a game about professional drone racing. Yep, you read this right: professional drone racing. These damn millennials and their wacky ideas…

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Now I want a Whopper.

This might actually be the single most niche game I have played so far on the PS4. DCL: The Game is aimed at such a specific demographic that I’m impressed someone actually greenlit the project and enlisted the developers behind Dragons: Dawn of New Riders, that one Adventure Time RPG, and a ton of Silent Hill games to oversee it. Everything surrounding DCL: The Game actually sounds more interesting than the game itself. Even though it’s not a bad game, it is exactly what you would expect: a straightforward licensed drone racing simulator.

Technically speaking, DCL: The Game treads the line between decent and mixed. The graphics are overall decent, as the environments you’re racing on are fairly detailed and the framerate is surprisingly rock-solid. With that being said, you can barely look at other drones onscreen, with them being represented by colorful blurry lines.

The sound design, on the other hand, can only be described as terrible. The soundtrack is generic, granted, but it’s actually not too bad. You’ll barely be able to listen to any song in this game’s setlist while you’re racing. You know why? Have you ever seen a drone in real life? Have you ever noticed how painfully loud those things are? It’s the same thing in here. Every single drone is horrendously loud to the point you’ll be forced to play the game on mute. It’s just that unbearable.

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Get ready for a tiny little bit of vertigo. I wish this had VR support…

The best thing about this game is its controls and how they’re tailored to all kinds of players. People with absolutely no idea of how a drone works have the option of just having to worry with accelerating and strafing. Meanwhile, drone enthusiasts can adjust their settings in order to turn the Dualshock into a fully-fledged drone radio transmitter, as you’ll have to worry with your drone’s altitude and pitch as well, all while using two sticks to move it around, just like in real life. The game also features a free-flight mode, but sadly that is only unlocked if you play with a control scheme without an automatic altitude mechanic.

The races themselves are surprisingly brief. After properly planning your takeoff, a race might last only half a minute, depending on the size of the “track”. The races are fast-paced, but they are not simple. DCL is not an easy game. It will beat you up at first, as you’ll need to learn when to properly take off, accelerate, pitch and strafe your drone, and that will result in a handful of crashes and last place finishes. You can still unlock new tracks by doing so, but that’s basically all you’ll be able to do if you decide to play this game offline.

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I have the utmost respect for whoever was in charge of naming this game’s bots.

Let me be clear that, if you’re not someone who plays online, you shouldn’t buy this game, as the meat of the game is centered around online events, official tournaments hosted by the actual real-life DCL organization, and leaderboards. Without a PS+ or Xbox Live Gold accounts, you won’t be able to post your times, and as a result, you won’t be able to earn in-game currency necessary to acquire upgrades and skins for your drones. DCL: The Game wants to be seen and treated as an e-sport; so if you’re not into online gaming, all you’re going to get here is a handful of time trial modes and free-flight, in case you learn the controls.

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Is this the safest place to host a drone race?

DCL: The Game is a very tough title to recommend, because it is not a bad game at all, but it’s not appealing to general gaming audiences. The irritating sound effects and the initially confusing controls, as well as its ultra niche aesthetics, make it a hard sell those just seeking for a regular racing title. Drone racing enthusiasts, on the other hand, will love the game’s physics and gameplay, but that begs the question: don’t these people already own drones in real life? With that being said, all with all the flaws DCL: The Game might have, I need to commend THQ Nordic and Climax Studios for coming up with something so absolutely different and devoid of mass appeal like this game. It just makes me love AA gaming even more.

 

Graphics: 7.0

You can barely see the drones you’re racing against, but the courses are varied and detailed, and the framerate is rock-solid.

Gameplay: 8.0

There are many types of control settings; ranging from a simple arcade control scheme with simplified physics, to a full-simulation scheme in which the Dualshock is basically emulating a drone radio transmitter. No matter the setting you choose, the controls are very responsive, but you’ll need a few races before getting used to them.

Sound: 3.0

Whenever you’re actually able to listen to the background music, it’s not particularly bad, but you’ll mostly hear the insanity-inducing screams of hell that are the noises those bloody drones make all the time.

Fun Factor: 6.0

This is not a bad racing game, but it is aimed at the most specific of niche audiences I’ve ever seen in a non-indie video game. Those gamers more than likely already own a drone in real life anyway.

Final Verdict: 6.5

DCL: The Game is available now on PS4, Xbox One and PC.

Reviewed on PS4.

A copy of DCL: The Game was provided by the publisher.

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