November 21, 2005 - The critical meltdown of DRIV3R for consoles was a bitter pill for Atari, as the brand took a major hit in the minds of many gamers. However, one edition of the game escaped the wreckage unscathed -- the mobile version, created by Glu (then Sorrent). Selling well over a million downloads around the world, DRIV3R was a monster success and prompted Atari to give its blessing to Driver Vegas, a dedicated sequel to the console game, but an exclusive for mobile. If gamers want to find out what happened to Tanner, it's not their Xbox they need to hunker down over, but their handsets.

The title gives away the location for this mobile action game: Sin City. The tawdry glitz of this sinister town, masquerading as a family-friendly destination, is the perfect setting for Tanner's grim revenge quest. When we catch up with Tanner, his heart has been jumpstarted and he is under the thumb of an FBI agent. Hunting his quarry, Jericho, is not going to be easy for Tanner, as his mission will take him from the interior of a casino to the reaches of the Nevada desert. But, fortunately for the gamer, it's going to be fun. And lengthy. Driver Vegas spans over twenty missions, and it includes a side order of mini-games where you can practice skills, try to set records, etc. I suspect the majority of time spent with the game will be directly at the story mode, which actually does tell an interesting yarn through succinct dialogue.

As the title suggests, most missions are indeed spent behind the wheel. Whether you are playing crash and bash with trucks in the desert or tailing rides in the city, you'll be impressed with just the overall sense of speed that Glu has managed to recreate in Driver Vegas. You must beware of taking vehicular damage, as you will die if the car you're in blows up as a result of too many high-speed fender benders. Should you break your car, you can hop out a commandeer another. In driving missions, you cannot stay out of the car very long, less you give your objective have extra time to elude you or hunt you down while without the protection of Detroit steel. The canyon missions are markedly different from the city missions, thanks mainly to the change in landscape. The roads in the canyon have more sweeping turns and large embankments for tooling around and engaging enemies. In the city, enemy vehicles are more in-your-grill.

Steering takes a little getting used to in Driver Vegas. You have two different control schemes: directional and standard. Both take a little extra practice to get used to, especially directional. Pressing up moves your car forward in whatever direction it is facing. Pressing left or right turns the wheel, even if that means that turning left really means your car is pointed downward on-screen. Once you're comfortable with this system, you may discover that it gives you a little extra accuracy than just regular steering.

Driver Vegas includes a handful of on-foot missions that are a welcome respite from the mega motor madness. On-foot missions usually are accompanied by serious gunplay, which is made sometimes a little too easy by auto-targeting. However, the mayhem that you can cause inside a casino is fun. You aren't encouraged to shoot innocent civilians (but, really, who's innocent in Vegas?), but it's certainly an option. If Glu continues the Driver franchise on mobile, I hope they consider more on-foot missions but with more varied objectives. Maybe you have to stealthily infiltrate a parking garage to steal a car with a kidnap victim in the trunk? Oh, and then drive out -- because it's Driver.

The driving games offer a wide selection of goals, such as defend, pursuit, evade, and kill. These are simple in-and-out games that are better suited for stolen moments too few to really dig into the story mode. Not to say the story mode missions go on for too long -- their length is suitable for mobile sessions -- but if you don't like getting a story in stop-and-star fits, the driving mini-games might be more your speed.

Driver Vegas features significant graphical upgrades from the first game. (I tested Driver Vegas on an LG VX7000.) The car models enjoy a lot more detail and depth -- even though they are sprites, they have painted on contours that give the illusion of 3D. Cars leave behind tire tracks, spark when they accelerate, flame when they take too much damage, and explode when destroyed. Tanner and the other humans have a decent amount of detail, but they walk a little stiffly. The backdrops, especially Vegas, are very well drawn. I wish the audio in Driver Vegas was a little better, though. The engine noises are okay, but they don't match the quality of the visuals.

Closing Comments
Driver Vegas is an excellent follow-up to Glu's original efforts, a mobile game that handily out-played the console edition. The game certainly offers up some challenge, and some of that is due to controls that must be mastered before you can really get the most out of the game. You will crash and you will burn several times while playing -- and sometimes during the same mission. But once you find "the zone," Driver Vegas really shows its stuff. There is a lot of game play packed in Driver Vegas, which dozens of missions and mini-games that can be played and replayed. I recommend it heartily.

IGN's Ratings for Driver: Vegas (Cell)
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