Release Date: Out Now
Driv3r (that’s Driver 3 for the hard of thinking) will no doubt be seen to be yet another GTA3/Vice City clone by some younger gamers, but the truth is without Driver and Driver 2 as inspiration, it’s quite possible Rockstar’s mega-selling franchise would never have existed. Long before Tommy Vercetti, a maverick cop named Tanner roamed the virtual streets of Miami, LA, San Francisco, New York and ... ummm... Havana was it?? – Anyway, in Driver 2 he got to jump out of his car for the first time and roam the streets, shoot people and use vehicles other than his own, and Badda Bing! – Driver 2 – not GTA 3 - had invented a whole new genre.
So after what seems like a generation (hey, it is four years), here comes the sequel – can it give the forthcoming GTA San Andreas something to think about?
The quick answer, if you want the quick answer, without hesitation, or prevarication, is: no, not much. Despite an amazing physics engine (that got its first workout in Stuntman) that you can play around with all day (just about everything that isn’t bolted down or concreted in can be shot, smashed, blown up or at least moved – the amount of carnage is a joy) - Driv3r just isn’t "up there", for a number of reasons. On your first outing (whether it’s in the undercover story mode or on a free ride) you’ll be pleased with the realistic look – less "comic book" than GTA’s, but straight away you can’t fail to notice the pop up and pop down (cars & buildings appear and disappear 3 or 400 yards away) and sloppy frame rate – both things that I’d hoped wouldn’t be a problem on our supposedly mighty Xbox.
Starting out, poor old Tanner still isn’t the best animated guy around, and he runs in a rather wooden, unconvincing way. Some of the spot animations are great – pull a motorist out of a car and it looks smart, but just getting Tanner to get in a car can sometimes be annoyingly fiddly – more about that later. Driving around the sprawling city is a pleasure though. Superb lighting, deep, real time shadowing and authentic architecture captures the diverse look of Miami perfectly.
Choose the ‘Take A Ride’ mode, and you can choose which city, the time of day and weather conditions and turn the Cops on or off to take an exploratory free drive to familiarise yourself with the surroundings. Cruising around, I soon bumped into a remarkably familiar-looking figure – who immediately started shooting at me with an automatic rifle! After a battle that reminded me of the Terminator chase in T2 (he just keeps coming and coming at you, and will NEVER stop) I managed to kill the Hawaiian shirt-wearing thug – turns out his name is Timmy Vermicelli!, and this wry ‘pop’ at GTA includes “Timmy” being equipped with water wings (Tanner can swim, unlike Vice City’s aquaphobic Tommy Vercetti, see?) - there are ten Timmys to find in each city, as well as some other secrets. Tanner’s stiff animation extends to the shootout gameplay, which is basic but considerably less annoying than GTA’s. You can jump (but Tanner is yet another action hero who can’t climb over anything over waist high), duck and roll, but rarely actually need to, so simplistic are the shootouts.
Typically enjoyable Reflections handling and physics make the cars/trucks/buses and even bikes fun to drive whilst managing a realistic enough feel when you go over the limit and skid – spectacularly wild hand brake turns, power slides and burnouts are possible – Driver veterans will be glad to hear that you still have the good old ‘Burnout’ button (B), which gives you instant full power and allows for some extravagant take offs (even in the wimpiest motors) – there are no traction control systems to worry about in Driv3r. All kinds of stunts, crashes and jumps are possible, and actively encouraged with a liberal sprinkling of ramps, humps and drop-offs. The vehicles look great too – convincing reflections (ironically a first for a Reflections game I think) and a remarkable level of damage modelling that runs from slight dents to the total destruction and disintegration of a vehicle when it explodes – surely one of Driv3r’s most impressive moments.
Like GTA, you can nick any car you come across, point your weapon at any car and the driver will usually pull over and flee (no need for lock picking, Mafia-style). And for truckers, there’s an awesome 18-wheeler artic available - you can even hitch/unhitch the trailer and play around with it.
The main story ‘Undercover’ mode sees Tanner chase a car-nicking gang from Miami to Nice, and on to Istanbul (yes, I said Istanbul). The three cities are huge, each have their own look and ambience, and their own set of traffic. Driv3r has no licensed vehicles but unmistakable Mustang, Ferrari, Corvette, BMW, Renault, Citroen, Fiat, Jaguar and Aston Martin look-alikes are spread around the cities. There are three secret cars in each city too – we’ve found several, the best so far being a GT40 clone and a go-kart (complete with racing circuit). Missions vary from typical Driver-style chases (still with annoyingly tight time and distance limits), on-foot rooftop chases, more imaginative shoot outs (sadly the enemy AI is poor to say the least – the bad guys (and Cops) tend to just stand and shoot until they kill you or you kill them - and when you do see an enemy run for cover or duck it almost comes as a shock – ironically the Tommy Vercetti clone is the most aggressive enemy in the game!), Next you might be shooting out the back of a speeding truck to get rid chasing cops or bad guys, or there's a brilliant one that sees you drive stolen cars into the trailer of a moving truck – Italian Job style, then maybe an imaginative SPEED-rip-off, with a booby-trapped car-that-can't-slow-down car chase. The guys at Reflections really tried to bring something different to the GTA table, and certainly succeeded in many respects.
The story is told with excellent rendered sequences that segue straight into gameplay – tough guy Michael Madsen supplies Tanner’s voice, and big names like Ving Rhames, Michelle Rodriguez, Mickey Rourke and Iggy Pop also have their say in the action. The story is undeniably cool, dramatic and atmospheric, but I found it difficult to form the same sort of attachment to Tanner as I did with Tommy Vercetti, probably not aided by the fact that on his psycho-path through the game this particular "undercover cop" seems to kill more fellow cops that organised crime ever has. Preposterous is too believable a word for the way Tanner treats other cops, and it's difficult to suspend belief that much, even in a game like Driv3r.
The 25 ‘Undercover’ missions spanning Miami, Nice and Istanbul aren’t the most difficult, and won’t last all that long, but the free ride modes (there are 60+ vehicles) and mini games give the game some legs. Quick Chase, Quick Getaway, Trail Blazer, Survival, Checkpoint Race and Gate Race all have two versions in each city.
For me Driv3r’s jewel in its (slipped) crown is its film director mode, which allows you to review and edit up replays of missions, free rides or mini games, with, it has to be said, some remarkable results when you get the hang of it. Then you can upload it to Xbox Live and show your mates how you did a specific mission, stunt, crash etc. and also how good a film director you are! I could spend hours (and have) messing around with this excellent feature. The director mode is something that obviously should have been in Stuntman and wasn’t, and saveable replays should be mandatory in this genre from now on.
I’ve already read some ridiculously over-critical reviews of Driv3r, the same people who whinge so vehemently about the bugs and glitches in a game of this scope obviously expect to be able to walk across a real city and not come across a wonky paving slab or a dog turd. So having said that, off I go into whinge mode: Here are some of Driv3r's lowest points for me: Video sequences that seem to skip intermittently (and we’ve tried it on two different Xboxes), dodgy collisions, sticky scenery (indestructible lampposts – even with a TRUCK?). Sometimes when you want Tanner to get into a car he blankly refuses - for no apparent reason – and then if you run round the car and come back he will – it's annoying, it makes no sense and can literally cost his life during tougher missions. We’ve even had Tanner just freeze on the spot when dropping down in some places – even from the roof of a car or truck. The tight streets of Istanbul really show the pop up at its worst, and make the frame rate chug - down to an almost intolerable level... And yet I always wanted one more go...
I could carry on pointing out a few more glitches and annoyances, but the fact is that the difficulty of modelling cities as expansive as Driv3r's is as massive as the cities themselves - testing collisions detections and checking every surface thoroughly from every possible angle would take 20 years, not 4. So yes, I think Driv3r has its problems and is a bit disappointing, but when I review a game I prefer to simply analyze it for the enjoyment it supplies, and I enjoyed Driv3r a LOT. If you like GTA you should enjoy much of what Driv3r offers too, and the excellent director mode is a game in itself, one that I enjoy immensely. But the game simply doesn't feel new or polished enough… Some uneven difficulty and the game’s forced and scripted nature means it just isn’t as much fun as GTA3 or Vice City. In Vice City if things get too tough, you just go for a drive/ride/flight/boatride/shooting spree/package hunt and then find something else to do or try again – the game flows… in Driv3r you have to quit the Undercover mode to go for a chill-out spin. Oh heck - yet another game that suffers in comparison to GTA. Driv3r tries hard – maybe too hard, and sometimes in the wrong places, but there’s undeniably plenty of action to be had.
- 3 HUGE cities to explore.
- Loads of damage to inflict.
- Superb lighting.
- Loads of vehicles.
- Tanner can swim!
- The Director mode.
- Upload replays to Xbox Live.
- Frame rate problems.
- Pop up.
- Numerous glitches.
- Dumb enemy AI in shootouts.
- Rigid game structure.
- Daft time/distance limits.
- How many cops can a cop kill?