“Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.” – Ferris Bueller, 1986.
This quote works twofold for DCL – The Game: drone racing is a new and futuristic sport that is very much a ‘shape of things to come’ as we hurtle through the 21st century, but also, these drones are bloody nippy when tested around circuits.
DCL – The Game is the official videogame of the Drone Champions League, the world’s largest live drone racing league. On the surface this may look like a simple digital representation of drone racing in the same vein that Formula 1 games are to the sport or FIFA games are to football. But this game also wants to unearth the next great drone pilot. And that could even be you.
DCL puts a huge emphasis on allowing players to learn how to fly real racing drones, feeling very much like a drone simulator. Even from the very first menu there are multiple links to various articles regarding the real-life DCL that – annoyingly open in Microsoft Edge – allude to the 2020 calendar and DCL Draft Selection. There is also a countdown timer on the screen informing players how long is left until the draft.
That is because anyone who completes the DCL 2020 Draft Selection Qualification Event can be considered for the draft! Never have the lines between the real and virtual worlds become so blurred, and it feels exciting to be competing for something more substantial.
Other events are also available too, albeit only on offer on certain days; the game provides a full list of upcoming events and when they are scheduled so you don’t miss any of them.
Of course, it isn’t as simple as picking up your controller and being instantly amazing at controlling a drone. There are various different ways of flying your drone, and these equate to a difficulty level of sorts. By far the easiest mode is Arcade, where the only things you need to worry about are speed and when to turn; altitude is automatically adjusted for you here. Then there are GPS and Angle options that feature stabilisation features that are usually found on more amateur racing drone types. The hardest – but also how real racing drones are flown – is Acro. Acro – short for acrobatic – just uses the thumbsticks in a traditional drone flying method. Get these flight skills nailed though and you will find yourself comfortably and regularly sat at the top of the leaderboards.
If qualifying for the real-life DCL and being able to travel the world isn’t your cup of tea – or like me you simply can’t get the hang of Acro at all – then there are a couple of other game modes available. Time Attack is the biggest of these and likely where you will spend most of your time. Here you can race through a variety of tracks all based on real-life parts of the world that host DCL events. You can choose one of three drone types across three difficulties, and then take to the skies to try and earn props; the cool and trendy term for propellers. Props are awarded based on your time in the event, up to a maximum of five. You will be racing against other players’ ghosts similar to the Drivatar system in Forza games, but these won’t have an impact on your performance. Ultimately it is you versus the clock.
The times in this mode will test you, but top marks can be achieved even when using the limited Arcade mode. The tracks and locations are very well designed but aren’t the prettiest to look at. When high above the area you can see a long way, but only the area immediately surrounding the track itself has any detail, and in particular the Test Tracks look ugly with only sponsorship logos receiving any care and attention, it would seem. Buildings and foliage are just blocks with absolutely no definition on them at all.
Also, in both single player and multiplayer the game doesn’t pause properly. In multiplayer that’s expected but it wrongly doesn’t work in single player, when other racers continue round the track while you’re ‘paused’.
In the multiplayer portion, racers are dropped into a lobby during Free Flow events. During these, players race around the randomly chosen track for a period of time to get a feel for it, and earn credits based on the number of laps completed. Once the time is up, one final race occurs for podium places, and further credits are awarded based on final position. The lobby then rolls on to the next track without the need to go back to the menus.
Credits are used to buy different skins and trails for your drones. There is a decent selection and the more expensive ones are very creative and imaginative. But when we say expensive, we mean having to race hundreds and hundreds of times to afford them all.
DCL – The Game launches with 39 achievements in total, but currently some of these appear to be glitched with regards to number of events completed and aren’t unlocking properly. That and the majority of these achievements will require a lot of grinding such as completing 500 Time Attacks and flying a drone for 100 hours, so be prepared for a long one if you want the full 1000G. On the plus side though, nearly all achievements also come with a healthy boost to your credits, giving you in-game awards as well as contributing to the metagame of achievement hunting.
With the huge emphasis on qualifying for the DCL 2020 Draft that is happening at the beginning of May, you’d be forgiven for thinking that that was all there was to DCL – The Game on Xbox One. But it also contains a decent Time Attack mode that should keep you busy should your draft bid be unsuccessful. The use of different flight options can almost act like a training simulator, but for those looking to invest in a drone without the hefty price tag, this would be a good place to start.