Genre: Driving / Action
Release Date: June 21, 2004
Driv3r. How does one pronounce such a sassy title as “Driv3r”? Drivv-three-are? Is it meant to be read as “Driver 3”? No, the game is officially pronounced “Driver”, exactly the same pronunciation as the first title in the series, named simply “Driver”, leaving any number-noted coolness far from its title. So Driv3r is simply Driver with a slight visual alteration as an update. This is a direct metaphor for the game itself. Driv3r is Driver, or perhaps more like Driver 2, but this metaphor still holds: the new Driver game is an old car with a new coat of paint. That would be fine under some circumstances, but the engine on this car isn’t running like it used to; a paintjob isn’t what we were expecting here. For a game that spent years in development hell, Driv3r doesn’t bring much new to the table. Driver 2 was an evolution in gaming, if it was a bit off during the on-foot portions. Driv3r is a huge step back in the current gaming climate, and it still isn’t very good during the on-foot portions. Hey, Reflections: Grand Theft Auto III happened years ago.
In Driv3r you play as Tanner, a FBI agent attached to the Miami PD who goes undercover to bust a group of international car thieves who are intent on making off with a bevy of expensive and rare automobiles. As Tanner goes deeper and deeper undercover he finds himself in various shades of grey between being a cop and being a criminal, and often finds assistance in those he is trying to capture and hostile intent coming from those who he used to consider his allies. One of the few things Driv3r does right is plot development as dictated by both high quality CGI cutscenes and in-game voiceovers which have a good amount of emotion and inflection in nearly every character. In-game cutscenes are significantly lower in quality for reasons to be further explained later, but as far as what they portray and how they portray it isn’t that bad at all, such as the Driver-series staple of showing a car chase from the viewpoint of the pursuing cars front-right tire.
Maybe Reflections was angry that Rockstar changed the course of gaming with their fully 3d Grand Theft Auto games. [actually, I’m sure of it – Driv3r contains a minigame where you find and kill 10 Timmy Vermicelli characters to access unlockables. Yes, that is an obvious shot at Rockstar’s Grand Theft Auto: Vice City!] After all, the games share similar concepts in play: urban settings, action in and out of vehicles, organized crime. But, being first, Reflections was not content to emulate Rockstars all-too-established Grand Theft Auto formula, and felt it was right to stick with their own path. Thus, Driv3r does not feel like a Grand Theft Auto-clone. Normally, this would raise a hallelujah from my lips; far too many games have taken on Rockstar’s “proven” gameplay, from platformer sequels to Simpsons games. But Driv3r would have been a better game had it taken on a more open ended Rockstar flavor; at least GTA’s gameplay feels like it was from this decade. Driv3r, in its four years of development time, has not been brought up to the times. Normally a talented development team, I wonder why Reflections dropped the ball on this one. I’m convinced they were angry over Rockstar’s games receiving all the attention, while their games sat on the ever-shrinking PSOne shelves gathering the dust of irrelevance. I can hear the guys at reflections now: “We were there first, damn it!”
Driv3r’s progression takes plance on a per-mission basis. You play as an undercover cop, taking on dangerous jobs like chasing cars, gunning on foot, delivering stolen cars, and more. These mission objectives sound exciting enough, but the extremely linear way in which they play out will surely leave most gamers cold. Driv3r is filled with trial-and-error gameplay, but it lacks the grace of games like Contra: Shattered Soldier, Sin and Punishment, Ikaruga, or even Splinter Cell, so this is a definite negative. The missions simply aren’t fun on the third or fourth try. Grand Theft Auto fans will hate the game for its lack of open-ended sections, as they will be used to being able to lollygag around the city after failing a mission. Driv3r just sends you to a menu allowing you to give the mission another try.
When it comes to the actual driving physics in Driv3r, Reflections definitely has Rockstar beat. Tight control and great physics put this game in a league far above any other cars-‘n-crime game out there. Yeah, even Simpsons: Road Rage. Reflections is renowned for their vehicle destruction techniques, and that is clearly present here. Cars take on realistic damage, the kind that has you doing a double take to make sure your car should be technically allowed to keep running. The problem lies in the level design; it’s all boring. The game has a great engine, but it plays out terribly. This is a perfect example as to why game designers are detrimental to the fun-value of a game nowdays: programmers simply don’t have the time to fine-tune a game’s overall feel, as they need to focus their energy on making the mechanics all work as they should. Driv3r feels so close to good, but it’s so, so bad as a whole.
At least it looks okay, right? There’s a few graphical errors about, mainly in the textures, but these are faults present in all but the uppermost top-tier releases on the Playstation 2, thanks to the inferior amount of texture memory available in the hardware. All in all, the game looks really good. It sounds great, too, with an impressive barrage of Hollywood actors handling the voices and high-quality music and sound effects all around.
Driv3r is Driver. Not much more, but at least nothing less. In 2004, it lacks the charm its predecessors had due to the slew of similar games available, many of which do the genre much more justice. Solid vehicle controls, great physics, good graphics, not even Hollywood voice actors can save Driv3r. This game is mediocrity in every sense of the word, and it’s all the designers’ fault.