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Archived Review

Driver

If you take a look at most action movies, you will see that they have a common thread: car chases. What is it about our fascination with car chases? It’s a burst of adrenaline, as long as they don’t go on forever. Once a car chase scene goes over about 3 minutes, the audience is likely to lose interest. This is probably the reason there aren’t many movies entirely about speeding cars running from assassins, police, or psychopathic killers. Games are slightly different. Making you the driver can change things drastically, but unfortunately Driver doesn’t.

Driver features what must be one of the lamest story lines ever. You are Tanner, a cop gone undercover as the wheelman for the underworld at large. You are asked to carry out various assignments in an effort to slip your way into a crime ring and bring down a major crime lord. Throughout the game, your Dirty Harry-esque cop interacts with various levels of scum as he works his way from the bottom to the top of the crime syndicate chain of command across four different U.S. cities. This story unfolds through post-mission cut-scenes, which show the story as it is happening. These cut scenes feature dialogue right out of a bad 70’s cop show, which goes hand and hand with the Dirty Harry style interlaced throughout the entire game.

Story isn’t everything, as Grand Theft Auto proved to be quite fun even though it lacked any semblance of cohesive story telling. Driver does not, however, follow suit. Playing the first several missions is quite enjoyable. You generally get to pick from a small choice of missions that range from driving the getaway car for a bank job, to chasing down rival gangs. On occasion these missions can start out being very simple, and end up being two and three part missions that push the limits of time and car damage. Time limits and car damage are the game’s real challenge. In most missions you have a set amount of time to get from point A to point B before the mindless thugs get tired of waiting or the cops get to them first. You are also limited in the amount of damage your car receives; once you reach this limit the mission is over and you are a failure. With these two factors you must balance speed and reckless abandon with the amount of damage you take. This can become challenging in the multi-part missions, as your damage does not reset with the different parts of a single mission. The biggest factor that affects time and damage are the police. They try to block your progress, and simply knock you out of commission. The police, however, feature a primitive AI. They simply try to take the shortest path to get to you. This can cause them to get stuck on the opposite side of a divided highway, trying their best to drive over unsurpassable walls. Once you’ve successfully beaten the first slew of missions, the rest become repetitious, and eventually flat out boring and unchallenging. The most difficult part of the game is the interview you have before you can become a driver for the mob. In this interview you must go down a checklist of maneuvers such as 360 degrees spins, slaloms, and reverse 180 degree spins, all within a set time limit, and a maximum number of times you can hit obstacles without being disqualified.

Driver does have some nice side options that add to the game's lifespan. One of these options I found myself playing more than the game itself. This option allows you to drive around the cities of the game. As you progress in the game you gained access to more cities and cars. In the end you can pick from Miami, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and New York. You can also pick from several different cars, however; these cars are much too similar to one another.. Once you get to the end of the game you gain access to two high-speed cars, which are the only ones noticeably different. In these city tours you can drive around the city as you please. You do still have to obey three traffic laws that are enforced throughout the game: no speeding, no hitting other cars, and no running red lights. Cops don’t seem to care if you drive across medians, on the wrong side of the road or in reverse as long as it doesn’t break the three golden rules. Driving around the city gives you the chance to test out exactly what your car can do, test your police evading skills, or just run wild through the city. Another nice option are driving games in which you can test your cop evading skills against a clock and see how fast you can lose the cop tailing you. Other games you can play include racing, seeing how much damage you can cause to cars on the street, and cross-town checkpoint races.

Driver features, for the most part, mediocre sound effects. They don’t even begin to take advantage of the technology available. The engine sound effects sound the same for any car you drive, and sound more like a motorcycle than a street machine. Dialogue is often fuzzy with low hisses and pops in the background. The soundtrack, which is turned off by default, was awful. It featured several 70’s funk and disco songs, most of which had an odd game show sound to them. The worst of the sound effects came during missions in which it was raining. These were simply horrible. Rain sounded like small items falling on plastic, repeating itself every few seconds. The thunder was just as bad, as it sounded like a low quality version of what an old radio show might use, and it also repeated every few seconds. Had I the choice of avoiding missions that featured these weather effects, I would have gone through the hardest of missions just to bypass them.

The graphics in Driver are not state of the art, but they do an adequate job of making the game life-like. Driver does not feature the sleekly styled, accurately rendered and shaded cars of Need For Speed, and neither does it feature the lifelike realism of Midtown Madness; it does however make an attempt to mix both. The cities feature realistic streets and highways, though the buildings have generally low quality textures plastered on them. The vehicles are more than just boxes on wheels, having deformable hoods and taillights, and working turn signals on them. You car has a reflection, tail exhaust, and skid marks. While it is nice to have an attempt at added realism, they are still somewhat lower quality than could be expected. When driving around the city, you are given a choice of whether to do day or nighttime driving. I often chose nighttime driving because it hid most of the low quality textures and made the game look rather nice with car headlights, flickering street lights, and dark alleys.

As mentioned before, Driver’s AI is primitive at best. The option to change the difficulty of the police seems only to change how aggressive they are towards you and how fast they can go. Otherwise, the only technical aspect of the game that seemed broken was the fact that the auto-run never seemed to work. When the CD was put into the drive the auto-run splash screen would pop up, but the “Run” button was always grayed out, insisting that I needed to install Driver first. The game ran fine when executed through the desktop icon. Not once did Driver crash once loaded, or show any signs of instability.

What Driver tries to be, and what it is in reality are two different things. What Driver tries to be is a mesh of the crime and mayhem of Grand Theft Auto set in a real-time 3D world much like Midtown Madness. What it results in is a mediocre take off on Grand Theft Auto, meshed into a somewhat realistic world that can only aspire to be Midtown Madness. While this may be a bit harsh, the fact is that Driver executes poorly in almost all aspects. Whether it be gameplay, sound or graphics, Driver falls short of the great potential that it has. A poor first offering doesn’t necessarily end all possibility of a sequel that can outshine the first, Heavy Gear 2 being a prime example of this. Despite this, I won’t hold my breath in anticipation of a Driver 2. Unless you’re desperate for some 3D car driving crime, I suggest buying a copy of Grand Theft Auto or Midtown Madness and wait until Driver hits the bargain bins.







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