Driver 3 Updated Impressions

We get an exclusive look at a more-complete version of the latest entry in the Driver series.

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Driver 3 is the anticipated third entry in Atari and Reflections Interactive's popular action series that has blended racing and cinematic storytelling into one engaging package. While we've gotten glimpses of what the latest entry in the series is going to offer over the course of the past year, we haven't had the chance to have a proper sit-down with the game until now. We recently got our hands on work-in-progress versions of the PlayStation 2 and Xbox games to see how they've come together.

Don't you hate it when people don't know when to leave you alone?

You'll find three modes of play in Driver 3: undercover, take a ride, and driving games. Undercover is the game's story mode, and it features roughly 30 missions that are set in the three cities of Miami, Florida; Nice, France; and Istanbul, Turkey. The game's narrative follows the adventures of Tanner, once again. The undercover police officer who has starred in the previous entries in the series returns for more death-defying action. While quite a bit of time has passed since we last saw him in Driver 2, he hasn't mellowed at all. Driver 3 finds the surly cop attempting to infiltrate a global car-theft ring. Tanner is intent on discovering the identity of a mysterious buyer who has ordered the theft of 40 high-performance cars. Furthermore, Tanner desperately wants to both stop the buyer and thwart his deal. But, as usual, his cover is always perilously close to being blown, and time is of the essence. In fact, judging from the opening cinema, Tanner's latest adventure is going to have some interesting twists to it.

Take a ride is a free-ride mode that lets you tool around the cities and lets you absorb the work the development team has put into creating the vast virtual environments in the game, as well as its realistic vehicles. You'll be able to both choose a city and customize the experience a bit by adjusting a few options. You'll be able to choose from one of four times of day--day, dusk, night, and dawn--which will change the lighting in the city and can affect one of the game's three weather conditions--rain, dry, and overcast. You'll also have the option to toggle the police presence in your city on or off. Finally, you'll be able to choose your wheels from a wide variety of vehicles that run the gamut from traditional (like Tanner's sleek, black muscle car), to badass (like motorcycles), to quirky (like a speedboat).

Finally, the driving games mode lets you play minigames in the city of your choice. You'll find six game types in all: quick getaway, trail blazer, survival, checkpoint race, gate race, and quick chase. Each of these game types also offers one to three starting point variations to give the races some variety. As you'd expect, hauling ass is a running theme through each of the games, which are nice, fast-paced diversions.

You'll be able to take the wheel of a variety of different vehicles..

In addition to the traditional gameplay modes, Driver 3 will also feature an upgrade to the replay mode seen in Driver 2. You'll be able to add to or edit the camera angles from replays of what you've just accomplished in the game. You'll be able to choose from chase, first-person, rear, wheel, and tripod cameras. To spice up the visuals, you'll be able to add effects, such as motion blur, slow-mo, and zoom. You'll also have access to a thrill cam, which lets you check out any incredibly cool or insane moments you've performed during the game. While there isn't much difference, in terms of content, between the PlayStation 2 and Xbox games, Driver 3 will be Xbox Live aware, so be sure to log on to the service as soon as you boot it up so that your friends can get ahold of you.

Driver 3 follows a pretty standard, linear-mission-based structure that alternates between cinematics and two main gameplay types. Your time will be split between driving an assortment of vehicles and racing around on foot shooting people. Your vehicular adventures will usually involve you racing to a point on your map while trying to catch up to someone or trying to get away from your foes. The racing model in the game has been upgraded from the franchise's PlayStation roots but still features a solid level of challenge. The on-foot sequences are a little more hit or miss due to rough controls, although there are two different setups for you to choose from.

The graphics in the game are a mix of solid and slightly rough elements that don't impress us as much as we'd like. The computer-generated movies that tell the game's story feature impressively detailed high-res models that are appropriately gritty. As for the game itself, Reflections has put an impressive amount of work into modeling the cities you'll be tooling through, which is cool. You'll find detailed, expansive environments to race through in a car and similar interiors to run around when you're on foot. The downside is that the frame rate in our work-in-progress versions for both platforms fluctuated quite a bit during intense crashes. As mentioned, we're also not fans of the third-person camera when you're on foot, although you can thankfully switch to a first-person view when on foot or behind the wheel of a car. Finally, the environments feature sparse pedestrian and car populations, and there's quite a bit of repetition in the cars you'll see on the streets. As far as the breakdown between the two platforms goes, the PlayStation 2 is a little jaggier than it's Xbox cousin. While the Xbox does benefit from cleaner textures, the game isn't a huge leap over the PlayStation 2 in terms of graphical quality.

While you'll play on foot for many missions, Driver 3's meat and potatoes is driving.

The audio in the game is equally mixed. The celebrity talent voicing the cast is solid, and engine roars from the cars you'll use over the course of the game are good. Gunfire is more of a mixed bag and doesn't pack as much of a punch. The music in the game ranges from nicely atmospheric to more-generic fare.

Based on what we played so far, if you're looking to Driver 3 to offer a new experience that takes the series to the next level, you may want to readjust your expectations some. If you're expecting a Grand Theft Auto-style makeover for the franchise, don't. Driver 3 offers a good dose of what the series is known for: challenging races, a stronger emphasis on storytelling, and some nice, extra play modes. However, while the selection of racing modes is fair enough, the overall experience feels a bit underwhelming at this point. The core single-player mode's gameplay doesn't stray too far from the game's PlayStation roots and winds up feeling dated. The extra modes are engaging enough but don't appear to gel into a cohesive package that ends up being more than the sum of its parts. For the final word on the game, check out our full review when the game ships later this month for the PlayStation 2 and Xbox.

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