Driv3r already has a bunch of negative reviews attached to it. I wanted to try out the game to see if it was as bad as everyone was saying, so I went out and rented the game figuring Atari probably won’t provide us with a review copy.
I enjoyed the other two Driver games and they really were well received games when they came out on the Playstation. Driv3r (yes, lame name, but I can see why it is called that) has been in production for over 2 years. The gaming world was pretty excited when EGM first announced that Driver 3 was in development (the title was later changed to the elite speak Driv3r). Reflections made no bones about the fact that they were going to take on Grand Theft Auto III/Vice City with a Driver game that would have both in-car and on foot sections. Somewhere along the way though, Reflections and Atari decided they needed to distance themselves from the GTA3 comparisons and it is obvious why as I delve more into the review. The sad thing is, as much as they wanted to distance themselves from the comparison, they’ve left in a Tommy look-alike called Timmy that you can kill. This section is a lot like getting the briefcases in GTA3, the same type of concept is presented here, but instead you are killing Tommy’s rip-off Timmy.
When you first boot up Driv3r it is obvious that Reflections has put a lot of time into presenting this as a Hollywood-like action movie/game before you even get into the game. The opening CG movie alone, along with the interspersed CG movies during the game, show that they put a lot of time and care into them. They have also enlisted the help of Hollywood voiceovers. Michael Madsen (Kill Bill) voices Tanner, Ving Rhames (Mission: Impossible) as Tobias Jones, Michelle Rodriguez (SWAT) as Calita, Mickey Rourke (9 1/2 Weeks) as Jericho and Iggy Pop in a short stint. It is obvious a lot of money went toward the movies and voiceovers, but how about the game? Let’s see, shall we?
This is a very tough section to score. On one hand, the cities (Miami, Nice and Istanbul) and cars (as well as the damage they take) presented in the game look absolutely breathtaking, but on the other hand there are a lot of clipping issues, draw-in at different lengths and framerate problems while in the car.
Reflections has obviously spent a lot of time researching each city so they can get most of the buildings and look of the cities down pat on the screen. I’ve personally never been to any of these cities, but I hear they are spot-on and photorealistic representations of them. The only game you can really compare this game to would be True Crime: Streets of LA. You could compare it to GTA3 or Vice City, but those cities are just fictional representations of actual cities. Driv3r‘s cities look more realistic than Los Angeles does in True Crime, but this game is bothered by framerate issues. The framerate will often waver from pretty smooth to jerky as you are driving around the cities. There’s nothing you can key into about exactly what is making the jerky framerate happen because the awful draw-in is not necessarily the culprit here.
The draw-in is absolutely terrible in this game. Instead of having a constant stream draw-in far ahead of you, there is a good chance that cars will suddenly appear out of thin air very close to you as well as other items being drawn-in at all lengths on the screen. You’d think this would coincide with the drops in framerate, but the game keeps at a pretty steady pulse when you’re cruising down the road in your car at a high speed.
The great part about the driving sections of the game is the damage the cars can take and the fireworks that can go off when you ram into others. Unlike other games, if you hit a lightpost it isn’t going to fall down. Instead your car is going to take a massive amount of damage which is nicely displayed. There are also a number of jumps in the game as well where you can pull off Stuntman like moves. I really think if Reflections had honed in more on fixing framerate problems and draw-in lengths the graphics would have been far better in the car driving sections.
Now we’ll talk about the other 20% of the game, the on foot sections. The graphics are actually really good here, but the camera is way too close for comfort when having to move vertically, such as going up stairs. There is a lot of clipping going on in these sections though and you can actually get Tanner permanently stuck in places, meaning you have to restart the whole mission over again. There’s also the whole “walking on water” problem that pops up here and there during your water missions. The biggest problem for me in this section is Tanner’s sideways movement. If you press left or right on the analog stick, Tanner will keep his torso front and center, but he will run sideways. He must be quite the contortionist to pull this off, but it just looks horrid. If you’re going to try to kind of be like the Grand Theft Auto series, at least have free movement and not this pseudo-strafing crap. Most of the time is spent with Tanner running around with gun firing here and there.
I have to give this section a score in the 90s. This really is a well done game in the graphics department, especially in the cars, cities and CG movies. The issues both in the car and on foot will be very frustrating to you though because a game like True Crime did it pretty easily with minimal issues. This game has higher graphics because of the need for the cities to look photorealistic, but I have a feeling they could have struck a more equal balance between the cities you only go through about 10% of and keeping the draw-in, clipping and framerate stutters to a minimum. If you look at this game purely from the environmental and CG movie experience, it is at the top of its game.
The music just plain sucks, although you do have the ability to import your soundtracks from your Xbox in this game. The sound on the other hand is top notch. Each vehicle sounds realistic, although I can say I haven’t driven any of these machines before. The opening muscle car certainly sounds like a muscle car though. The weapon sounds are excellent as well.
Obviously where this game gets the biggest thumbs up is in the voiceover department. There’s a reason Reflections/Atari brought in some Hollywood actors to voice these people and they really fill their roles quite well. Regular voice actors probably could have worked as well, but at least with Madsen and Rhames you have some recognizable voices presented here for the mainstream public. The CG cutscenes and their voiceovers are just top notch. You really feel like you are watching a Hollywood action movie, which is exactly what I think Reflections is trying to represent in this game.
Control of the cars is okay. If you’ve played any Reflections games in the past (Driver, Driver 2 and Stuntman), chances are you’ll know what kind of car control you will have in this game. The car driving model is very physics based and you won’t feel like you’re driving around in Rallisport Challenge 2, a more arcade-like racing game, for instance. You won’t be pulling off sharp powersliding techniques in this game, so you have to be aware of how the car handles on the road. Many people are turned off by the simulation aspect of driving in these types of games, so this is a word of warning. Reflections has always been very good with the driving engine, although the framerate issues to make it a bit harder this time around. Granted, the other two Driver games also had their slowdowns, but we’re now years into the higher powered systems and we still have slowdown.
The controls while on foot are horrendous, but a lot of it has to do with how close the camera is to Tanner. My first big annoyance was what I talked about up in the graphics section: Tanner’s left and right movements are like strafing, but they look really ugly. Had Reflections done the simple thing of letting Tanner freely move the way the controller moved, this game would have been so much better. Put the strafing buttons somewhere else on the controller please.
Like in many 3rd person games, the right analog stick will be used for camera movement and aiming of your gun. For most of the time Tanner will be running around, but when it’s time to get down to business you press the black button and out comes the guns. You shoot with the R1 button, change weapons with the X button and jump with the A button. That’s about all you need to know about this game to make it through the missions that are on foot.
You will find yourself overly frustrated when Tanner is on foot. The controls just are not tight enough for him to be getting into a major gunfight and he can easily get himself stuck in a clip and get shot up by the enemy because he can’t move. You’ll enjoy the driving section though as long as you aren’t looking for an arcade experience with it. You’ll enjoy the driving while shooting at enemies section even more exciting.
I think there’s a reason this game is named Driv3r, a title people like to make fun of for its elite speak. The reason I think is that Reflections wants this game to seem like 2 Fast 2 Furious in connection to it being a Hollywood movie. Driv3r is certainly trying to be like a Hollywood action movie with its CG movie cutscenes, but much like the summer popcorn “leave your brain at the door” action movies with no real plot, this game fails to bring top notch gameplay to a level equal to the top notch graphics.
What the heck happened here? Driv3r is a super short game as long as you don’t have to repeat missions over and over again. This game can conceivably be finished in much less than 10 hours. This is a huge disappointment when compared to GTA and even True Crime, because both of those games allowed you to go outside the main storyline if you wanted and do other types of things. In this game with the story mode you are basically following a linear path through the cities and to the end.
The game itself is set up nicely and very Hitman: Contracts like with us looking at the future in the opening movie. Does it ruin the story? Not really, because you’ll be through this game in no time as long as you don’t get frustrated. Tanner, for some reason, is on the case of a global car stealing group that takes him from Miami to Nice and, finally, Istanbul. Car stealing is cool and all, but even Gone in 60 Seconds was only based in one city, this game is based in three. The CG movie cutscenes are just fantastic in this game and was really the only thing outside of driving and shooting while driving that kept me glued to the television.
Driv3r in and of itself is not a bad game, it’s just that all the problems I talked about in the controls and graphics section just totally destroy any fun you could possibly have with this game during both driving (framerate, draw-in) and on foot (clipping, controls) missions. This game has some serious bugs in it, but then so did Vice City. However the difference here is that you don’t get to do anything you want with Tanner. He has a specific linear progression that he has to go through with no side action outside of the “Take a Ride” mode where you can actually see all of the cities you play in if you want. Speaking of that, it generally sucks that you only see a small percentage of the cities in your missions.
Another problem in the gameplay section is the monotony of the missions. They really hone in on chasing, kill someone while on foot or driving, and disarming bombs missions. The chasing missions can be very frustrating. You have to keep within a reasonable distance to the object you are chasing. You fail if you fall too far behind and falling too far behind may include you being only a block away from the object. Yes, you can literally see what you are chasing on the screen, but the game says you lost the object. Then you have to replay the whole damn mission again.
This whole game is just too linear for its own good. I think there are a lot of great things in Driv3r, Reflections just decided to hone in on the CG movies and the city graphics over having any normal sense of gameplay that was fun. It’s a mistake they made in Stuntman as well and it doesn’t look like they’ve fixed it on this grander scale game.
As said in the gameplay section, this game will be over very quickly. There are at most 8 missions in each city for you to go through. Many of the missions are over quickly while some may take some time. If you fail a mission, you have to repeat it and you will get frustrated when you have to do it multiple times. There is a pattern to the driving sections though, so if you can figure them out you won’t have to replay too much.
There is no need to replay this game. You are able to watch all the movies after you have completed the game, so that is a pretty nice bonus. If you kill all the Timmy’s in the cities you also are given bonuses, but it really is the only side missions you can take in this game and it really isn’t all that exciting. This game is easily a rental only endeavor.