June 24, 2004

[floatleft]http://www.snackbar-games.com/images/reviews/driv3r/cover.jpg[/floatleft]First of all let me explain that I have not even come close to finishing Driv3r, and probably never will. Secondly, let me point out that I loved the original Driver, and I really wanted to like this one.

Driv3r follows the further adventures of Tanner, our undercover wheelman from the other two games, in a new a graphically beautiful setting. This game looks sweet, and the collisions and scraps are not to be missed. The sound compliments the game well, and when further story is needed, top Hollywood talent is there to provide it. But Driv3r is still just a mediocre game, and I was hoping for a whole lot more.

The Driving sequences in Driv3r are quite decent, as they ought to be. The cars handle as I would expect big muscle cars to handle, and the graphics are great. It plays almost exactly like a graphically souped-up Driver, and this is both its greatest strength in driving mode, and its greatest weakness. You see, Driver was an excellent car-chase game, and this plays very much the same only with gorgeous graphics and even better physics. The problem is that many of us have played Driver before, and although we want more of the same, it seems like they haven’t dealt with any of the few minor issues that plagued Driver years ago on the PS1. For starters, there is still a “burnout” button, which should have gone years ago. Most games assign this to a combo of buttons (like handbrake+gas) and these seems no need to waste a button control, or make the player change buttons during the course of their acceleration (from burnout to gas). Also like the original Driver, cars just spawn around you, meaning cops can randomly appear out of nowhere when you make a u-turn. This really takes away the feeling that you are in a living world. Games like GTA also spawn cars locally, but the range is far enough that you usually don’t notice. Still, the driving sim is not bad, and that makes things much worse when you get to the on-foot sequences.

[floatright]http://www.snackbar-games.com/images/reviews/driv3r/ss01_thumb.jpg[/floatright]The big problem is that the driving mode, while realistic, is mercilessly unforgiving. To compound this, the computer is capable of making almost 90 degree turns at top speeds without even applying the handbrake. It’s not that the computer is making impossible turns, but it is driving with top-notch skill from the very first level. Combined with the fact that hitting a telephone pole or large tree stops your car (as it would in real life, but still), this makes chases incredibly frustrating. Often failing a chase means you have to redo the sections that come before it, as well. This unnecessary tedium and frustration has been a trademark of past Reflections games, but here it is just obnoxious and unnecessary.

The on-foot sequences are just awful. Shoddy, slow controls and several glitches make you wonder why this is even in the game. The game isn’t called “Shoot3r” or “Runn3r” and we didn’t need another GTA clone. The game controls like a first-person shooter, which is hard enough on a console, but combined with the third person view, and the general slowness, it comes off as very poor. Auto-aim is a must. I found that the default controls (left stick to move, left to aim) conflicted with my Turok-trained instincts, and there is no way to reset them (more on that later). The on-foot mode feels tacked-on, and if they had to keep it in, they should at least have kept it simple (and rare).

Then there’s the AI in this game. Sometimes cops just stand there looking blankly at you as you exit a vehicle and run off to grab another one. As a matter of a fact, if you get out of your car, the cops will take no action unless you draw a gun or have a very high felony level. Cops and other cars will randomly run you off the road even when you are driving a police car with the siren on (noticeable in your very second mission). Most of the time the AI is not a serious problem because as long as there are people to chase and be chased by along with innocent traffic in the way things are fine. Still, the AI problems are glaring when you encounter them.

[floatleft]http://www.snackbar-games.com/images/reviews/driv3r/ss04_thumb.jpg[/floatleft]The last major negative issue I encountered was my inability to remap controls, something I can still barely believe. Who leaves this option out this day and age? I can sort of adjust for the driving sequences, but the on foot mode is fairly difficult and ponderous for me without the ability to reverse my joysticks. You can change the x-axis inversion and the aiming speed, but the latter always stays pretty slow. The controls also occasionally just don’t do what they are supposed to do. Occasionally my attempts to take a car have been met with my hero’s blank eyed stare as he slightly shifts in position and refuses to enter the vehicle. Landing on angled surfaces can cause your character to float or even take off and fly around a little bit.

One thing to note is that Driv3r still has the “Take a Ride” mode and the driving games that were in the original, as well as the cameras to make your own film. This part still retains its fun, although not much has changed except for how pretty it looks. If you want to kick back and have some fun, simple cop chases and get some nice replays of them, that’s still here. I really do enjoy me some survival mode.

The graphics are pretty damn good, and of course the voice acting comes from top talent, but in the end it isn’t enough to save Driv3r. There is some decent fun to be had with the driving games, but except for the graphical upgrade, you may just want to stick with the first game. Let’s face it, even without the numerous minor glitches this game wouldn’t be that super. I will check the PC version of this game out when it is released, since I have a wheel and there is some hope the on-foot might control better with the classic mouse/WASD combination, but for now, maybe make this a rental.