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Driv3r

Matthew Bacon burns rubber and blows stuff up!

 

Back in July 2002, Atari (then called Infogrames) announced that development had begun on the third instalment of its Driver series. As a big fan of both Driver and Driver 2, I couldn't wait to get my hands on Driv3r. But sadly, delay after delay resulted in the postponing of the game's release until June 2004 - almost two years since the original announcement.

So, as one of the most eagerly awaited PS2 games of the year, does it live up to the hype of the million pound advertising campaign?

First impressions
Upon booting up Driv3r, you are presented with an exploding new-style Fuji symbol, which I think is rather amusing - because that's what I'd do if I met the person who came up with it. I ask you... what was wrong with the original?

[Screen-shot: Exploding Fuji animation]

The main menu is then displayed from which you can choose the following:

  • Undercover
  • Take A Ride
  • Driving Games
  • Options

Going undercover
In Undercover mode, as in Driver and Driver 2, you take on the role of Tanner ("The Driver"), a tough and ruthless undercover FBI officer out to catch the bad guys. Quite how tough and ruthless though is down to you.

Undercover is the story mode and the main game element of Driv3r. Employing a linear, mission-based structure, the story begins with a beautifully crafted animation in which we see Tanner and others (you don't know who they are, but all will become clear) in a shoot-out with police. How did it all come to this? Well, that is what you'll find out by completing all the missions.

Essentially, a gang of Miami car thieves is attempting to ship 40 of the world's most expensive vehicles to a mysterious international buyer. As Tanner, you must infiltrate the gang, by gaining their trust and respect as a getaway driver, prevent the sale of the cars and discover the identity of the buyer.

Sound difficult? Nah, it's all in a day's work for an experienced undercover officer like Tanner. Experienced, I hear you cry! Don't worry, on-the-job training is thankfully provided :-)

[Screen-shot: Intro animation]

[Screen-shot: Intro animation]

[Screen-shot: Intro animation]

Following the animated introduction, you find yourself at Tanner's home in Miami (see screen-shot below). Your first mission is to travel to the Police HQ for induction and weapons training.

If you've ever played Grand Theft Auto (GTA) or The Getaway, you'll immediately feel at home as all three games feature sprawling city landscapes as well as a multitude of vehicles (both on land and on water) and weaponry to use and abuse. The character control system is intuitive (although slightly different from GTA which initially caused some confusion) so you'll soon find yourself running around hijacking vehicles and causing mayhem before you know it.

[Screen-shot: Home Sweet Home]

However, before you step out of your plush Miami apartment into the big bad world, I'd recommend familiarising yourself with the on-screen displays. At the top-left of your screen you'll find your health, felony and damage meters. As logic dictates, you lose health it you're shot, hit by a vehicle or fall from a great height and when it reaches zero you're dead. So it is worth trying to avoid those. But fear not, as you can restore your health by picking up health packs which can be found dotted around... but never when you really need one!

Your felony meter unsurprisingly indicates your felony rating which increases every time you commit a crime in view of an officer of the law. To compound the problem though, as your felony rating rises, the aggression of the police in pursuit also increases until they become practically suicidal (thanks to the game's bizarre AI - but more about that later).

Below the felony meter is your damage meter which rises as you plow your vehicle into solid objects such as walls, lamp posts, other vehicles and most bizarrely, bushes and foliage. Fortunately, once you have destroyed a vehicle, you can always hijack a new, fully working one.

At the top-right of your screen, your current weapon of choice is shown along with the number of rounds and bullets available. Driv3r includes a host of weaponry including pistols, machine guns and hand grenades which are picked up as you progress through the missions. Although not obvious at first, your selection of weapon at a particular point in a mission can mean the difference between success and failure.

However, arguably more important than your weapon display is the continuously updated map which can be found at the bottom-right of your screen. This shows your current location as well as displaying the location of nearby police vehicles and indicating the direction you need to travel during a mission.

Should you need to study the map in greater detail (as it is quite easy to become disorientated when you first start playing the game) at any time, you can enlarge it by pausing the game.

[Screen-shot: Map of Miami]

[Screen-shot: Fire at will]

Having passed your initial training, mission follows mission in which you must learn new skills, as well as use those you have already learnt, to progress to the next stage.

In general, missions can be classified as being either "in car" or "on foot". "In car" missions consist of chasing somebody or being chased while "on foot" missions have you running around using your arsenal of weapons to kill enemies. Now after such an exciting description, you'd be forgiven in thinking that Driv3r is predictable and consequently dull, however, you'd be wrong.

To progress to the next stage/mission, you must first achieve all of the requirements of the current mission (usually a series of mini-missions). This can be both frustrating and satisfying at the same time, because unless you are like my 14 year old cousin, it will take you more than one attempt to complete each mission. Most missions have some kind of twist which, unless you are extremely lucky, will trip you up the first few times. However, once you've worked out how to overcome it you'll wonder why it took you so long to work it out!

To make matters even more difficult, you can complete the majority of the missions in more than one way. For example, in one of the early missions to capture a villain from hotel apartment, if you go in guns blazing, the target jumps in his car and drives away. But if you try to block his exit, he drives out an alternative route. Clever!

Sadly, unlike GTA, Driv3r strictly adheres to the linear mission based structure which can be infuriating if you cannot complete a particular mission (as you cannot attempt a different mission and return with a fresh perspective and/or weaponry).

However, should you return to playing Driv3r after a break, Driv3r neatly summarizes your progress within the Undercover mode using a cinematic style animation. It is only a little thing, but it shows that a great deal of thought has gone into the production of the game.

Unfortunately though, it appears that no thought was put into refining the physics of the vehicles, especially those of the cars! As a driver for almost a decade, I found the car dynamics in the game completely unrealistic with oversteer a particular problem (no matter what vehicle in use).

[Screen-shot: You want my insurance details? Erm...]

[Screen-shot: You get to drive more than just cars in Driv3r]

Take A Ride
If you're like me, I sometimes just want to go for a drive without the pressure of having to complete a mission and this is what the Take A Ride mode allows. Once you have selected the city (providing you have unlocked it in the Undercover mode), time of day, weather and vehicle you'd like to drive, you can start exploring or simply cause trouble for the locals.

As well providing some welcome relief to the Undercover missions, this mode is invaluable for learning the layout of the city - each of which have lots of hidden nooks and crannies.

With the car dynamics as they are, this mode is also useful to learn how each of the different vehicles behave.

[Screen-shot: Take A Ride menu screen]

[Screen-shot: Have you not seen the film Speed?]

Driving Games
If you fancy a bit of light relief from the Undercover mode but want something a bit more challenging than the Take A Ride mode, Driv3r includes a selection of driving games for you to test your skills behind the wheel.

These include:

  • Quick Chase: Chase and destroy the opponent's car before the time runs out (which is harder than it sounds).
  • Quick Getaway: Ditch the cops in pursuit in the fastest time possible. As in the Undercover mode, the higher your felony rating, the more suicidal the cops become.
  • Trailblazer: Knock over a train of cones placed around the city against the clock.
  • Survival: Survive as long as possible while manic cops ram and try to wreck your vehicle (again, suicidal cops are about with no care or consideration for the general public or your safety).
  • Checkpoint Race: Use the map to help you race from one checkpoint to another in the city in the fastest possible time. My favourite!
  • Gate Race: Drive through as many cones as possible against the clock. If you hit a cone, time is deducted from your total. Difficult, especially after a few drinks.

    Notice from MyAtari Road Safety Department: Do not attempt to drive a real car after drinking. It's bad for you.

[Screen-shot: Driving Games menu]

[Screen-shot: Trailblazer]

[Screen-shot: Film director/replay mode]

Options
As standard in most PS2 games, the Options menu allows you to tweak the audio, graphical and control features of the game. However, in Driv3r, this menu also provides you with access to a variety of bonus material such as the replay management system where you can load, save and delete any saved replays you made. OK, but nothing ground-breaking.

Little niggles

[Screen-shot: Car sinking into ground]

Driv3r has so many good things going for it. But sadly, it also has some major and minor niggles which spoil the overall experience. The three worst offenders for me are:

  1. The unrealistic dynamics of the cars, which is surely unforgivable in a game that is essentially a driving game.
  2. The unpredictable AI of the cops (both inside vehicles and on foot). For example, you can sometimes draw a weapon on a nearby police officer and take a few pot shots before he notices. And when he does, even at close range, he'll find it hard to shoot you.
  3. It crashes! Yes you heard me correctly, Driv3r has a nasty habit of crashing just like a PC. Unforgivable.

Minor niggles include poor collision detection in some areas of the cities, missing textures and object intersection errors (such as in the screen-shot above).

In conclusion... although a graphically slick game (the cut animation is superb, however, the in-game graphics lack the polish of Grand Theft Auto and have a much lower refresh rate than Gran Turismo 3), I can't but help think that Driv3r could have been so much more. As a result, in my opinion, Driv3r simply doesn't have what it takes to stand head and shoulders above the others in an already crowded genre. Fingers crossed for Driver 4.

[Image: The many faces of Driver]

The many faces of the Driver series.


matt@myatari.net

Verdict

Name:

Driv3r

Developer:

Reflections

Publisher:

Atari

Formats:

PC CD-ROM, PlayStation 2 or Xbox (PS2 version reviewed).

Price:

44.99

Pros:

  • Intuitive control system.
  • Sprawling cities to explore .

Cons:

  • Frustrating and unrealistic car dynamics.
  • Poor AI.
  • Hit or miss collision detection (pardon the pun).

Rating:

2/5


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MyAtari magazine - Review #2, September 2004

 
Copyright 2004 MyAtari magazine