The original Driver is often hailed for its movie-style driving action, simulating a 70’s film style chase scene perfectly – while the gameplay sometimes incorrectly praised for originality and innovation (mission-based, free roaming driving games have been around since the days of the original A.P.B. in the arcades and probably before), all the elements nevertheless came together to create an experience that literally left players feeling as if they were driving through their favorite scenes from The Getaway or The French Connection. As is sometimes the case with successful software titles (that’s a bit of sarcasm, if you hadn’t noticed), a sequel follows, and we’re left inevitably with the questions both of how the game stacks up to the original as well as how well it stands on its own. The answers to those questions are one and the same: not well. Not well at all.
Eye Candy? More Like Eye Boiled Cabbage
Driver 2 has as much excitement as your average OJ Simpson low-speed chase. Sure, there’s a little drama in finding out how each mission ends, but God, getting there’s a chore. The two main problems are the graphics and the difficulty – the game just plain looks bad. It’s too bad developer Reflections decided to keep this title on the PSX rather than upgrading it for the PS2 or even the Dreamcast (as Infogrames originally teased us with in their E3 press materials last year), because they’ve clearly gotten a bit over-ambitious, pushing the PSX beyond what its capable of. There’s more slowdown here than any game in recent memory, and even when running at full speed you’ll feel as if you’re driving under-water – and with a draw distance of a block or so, you’ll be smashing into un-seen buildings that pop up out of nowhere left and right. Not that there seems any reason for it – Driver 2 doesn’t look any better than the original Driver in terms of added detail or improved textures. The cities themselves are bigger, and that could possibly be over-taxing the PSX’s memory somehow, but there’s still no excuse for graphics that are so bad that they actually interfere with the ability to play the game properly.
That’s not to say the game would be easy if it looked as good as it should – while a few of the missions are almost childishly simple, many of them (even in the early going) are ridiculously difficult to the point of almost laughability. Think the final mission in Driver was hard? (You remember – the one where you’re being chased by endless hordes of unmarked cop cars, each of which is both faster and tougher than you are.) Well, almost every mission in Driver 2 is harder than that – and for no good reason. I mean, honestly – who builds fences out into the middle of their back yards or places dumpsters right in the middle of a road? Many of the missions in Driver 2 play almost like near-impossible obstacle courses, and it’s a needless gimmick (much like the poorly executed car-jacking ability). The game must have been both created and play-tested by about six hundred screaming sadists – there’s no other explanation for such needlessly maddening design.
It’s Movie Magic!
If there are any positives about the game, you could at least cite the improved cut-scenes, which were almost a joke in the original. Reflections apparently upgraded their hardware considerably, as the pre-rendered CGI footage now ranks with the best developers out there. But that seems like the wrong area to focus on – what kind of sequel features better non-playable movies while the gameplay gets flushes down the toilet? If you were thinking about buying this game, do yourself a favor and stick with the original Driver – it’s just a better game. Hopefully Reflections will rediscover the magic that made the original such a great game for the inevitable second sequel – and next time, hopefully they’ll develop it for a platform that’s capable of handling the game’s visuals properly.
-- Jeff Williams