Back in the day, Driv3r was a game I'd been highly anticipating. Driver was great. Driver 2 was great. So naturally I thought Driv3r was going to be great, especially considering the fact that it would be the first game in its series to come out on a then current generation platform (the first two games were released on the PSX). Sadly though, it wasn't great. Not in the slightest.
The game should have been a winner. It's not like I was expecting a GTA beater, but I must admit that reading the previews and marveling at the pre-release screenshots did leave me under the impression that this game was going to be a big deal, and certainly be one of the best and most groundbreaking games in it's genre for some time. While there were a couple of odd aspects of the game that did live up to my expectations, the main problem is that Driv3r is just broken. That's right, broken.
Hardly anything about the game has been executed to a satisfying level. While the plot and story was fine by me, the game itself certainly wasn't. If you want to get the gist of the game's background, basically you (the player) return as the undercover cop Tanner, and this time you're trying to infiltrate a car thief ring in Miami, which plans to export forty fancy, flashy cars and ship them out of the city and worldwide. As you progress through Miami and uncover more and more of the case you'll eventually end up in Nice, France and even Istanbul. Naturally you work undercover with the crooks for the most part, meaning that a lot of the old formula is still present...to an extent.
You see, with a title like 'Driv3r', and the gameplay of its predecessors, you get the impression that the game is mostly going to be all about driving, but a majority of it isn't. A lot of missions require you to go around on foot, and while Driver 2 had this function, it was not nearly used to the same degree as it is here. While I'm not especially complaining that many missions are all about shooting and on-foot combat, the trouble is that it's just flawed. Tanner has very limited control, and his movement is sloppy and clumsy. He can run, jump, shoot and roll, but this still isn't enough to actually make the gameplay WORK in that respect.
Aiming and shooting at an enemy is a chore, especially with the default inverted look and auto-aim turned off. Even if you do change this, it still feels sloppy and unfinished. Not only is it difficult to actually aim at someone, the guns at hand don't feel satisfying either. They are your standard pistol and SMG affair for the most part, and they don't have much range or accuracy, meaning they aren't much fun to use. Plus, there is NO melee attack whatsoever, which just makes things even more awkward than they already are. The limited movement and lack of a cover system means you're an easy target too, and it's extremely difficult to avoid enemy fire. Most of the time, you'll find yourself standing in the open running at gunfire and taking a lot of health damage, and as you've probably guessed it all becomes very frustrating, very, very fast.
What the game really needs is more control features such as the ability to sprint properly, roll sideways and take cover behind structures and vehicles, only then would this proportion of the game actually work relatively well. I don't have anything against on-foot missions in games like this, as GTA has always pulled it off well, but if it's broke, then it needs fixing, instead of just leaving the player under the impression that an important part of the game has been left unfinished despite the fact that it takes up a majority of the game. Oh, and swimming in the game is even worse. Just don't even go there. You can only swim at a set speed, i.e. you can't vary the speed you swim AND after a little while you start to take damage. It just makes you think why the developers even bothered in the first place. All in all, Reflections really failed with this side of the game.
More importantly, how did the driving side of things hold up? In all honesty, almost as bad as the on-foot portion of the game. No, really. The driving physics aren't the worst I've ever seen by any means, but they aren't exactly stable and it can be frustrating when turning corners. Cars seem to get around sharper corners better without using the handbrake, leaving the handbrake itself useless for the most part. Other than that the physics themselves aren't actually that bad, however, there are a whole lot of other driving-related annoyances to be had instead.
First of all, the cops are virtually impossible to outrun in a straight line, regardless of what car or bike you're driving. This is just a stupid programming idea that I've seen before in other games. It makes any kind of mission that involves escaping authority ridiculously hard to beat in an unfair way. Plus, if you are in a hot pursuit, there are all kinds of irritating obstacles to avoid when being chased. Sure, they might test your driving skills, but trust me, crashing into a lamp post every five seconds is not much fun. Obstacles like this should have been designed in the way that they were in GTA or most other games like it in fact, i.e. they should fall down so then at least you have the chance to carry on and drive. AND when you crash in GTA it doesn't affect your health…well it does in Driv3r. Realism is not everything.
This brings me onto another obstacle-related driving rant. Because most of the missions in Driv3r are of punishing difficulty, crashing just once can make you fail a mission completely. For example, one of the EARLY missions requires you to follow a cop (who drives like an absolute maniac, rarely slows down and of course, NEVER crashes despite his dangerous driving) to a destination, and you have to keep up with him within a certain distance. This is fair enough, but due to the game's stupidly difficult driving and AI, if you hit a lap post just once, you've lost this guy and you have to restart. I'd be surprised if you could complete this mission first time, I know I didn't.
Don't get me wrong, I like a challenge, but Driv3r just takes it too far. And the sad thing is, a lot of the time it's not even the mission that's difficult; it's the stupid gameplay mechanics that I've been telling you about…annoying car physics and obstacles, lack of on-foot skills and movement etc. Had these problems been fixed, then it would make a lot of the missions a whole lot more fun, because at least you wouldn't be restarting most of them over and over again…which you will if you haven't already guessed, at the START of the game too.
And this brings me to yet ANOTHER flaw with Driv3r. It would've at least been nice if Reflections had given us a proper save or checkpoint system. You can probably see where I'm getting at. While most missions are often split into different sections, they are still often quite lengthy and due to the annoying difficulty, you'll obviously be restarting a lot as I've just said. Each part of the mission needs at least one checkpoint, if not more. Oh, AND a health recharge too. A good example to tell you just what I'm talking about is that in one mission you have to drive to a safehouse to lose the cops – this on it's own is a challenge, but still possible to beat. Problem is, by the time you get to the second half of the mission, you have to drop your passengers off at the safehouse and then drive off and abandon your car in the sea WHILST being chased by the cops. For first part of the mission, I found it nearly impossible to get through without taking nearly all the damage the car can withstand, making it insanely hard to beat the second. And seeing as for the second part of the mission I had cops shooting at me and if I crashed once I would die, this obviously meant I had to restart over and over and over again because of the lack of a fair checkpoint system and the fact that your health and car damage stays the same as it was on the first part of the mission.
All of these flaws just make the entire campaign tiresome and certainly not much fun either. I can't even begin to tell you just how many times I've restarted Driv3r's stupid missions. It's a huge shame because I think I actually would've enjoyed a majority of them had the cumbersome gameplay been tweaked. And I found the actual plot itself to be at least interesting at times, with some OK characters, old and new.
One of the few positives in Driv3r are its visuals. Graphically at the time, this was one of the best looking games for its genre. The cities of Miami, Nice and Istanbul are very nice to look at with plenty of realistic looking buildings, roads and bridges etc. They have also been rendered with dynamic lighting effects, and this adds to the effect very well, with great-looking shadows being cast on buildings, cars and people. The cars are extremely nice to look at, and the car damage is superb. Tanner too, looks great. At core, Driv3r is actually a very pretty game, but of course, even the visual design has been flawed to some extent…
Reflections just can't seem to perfect anything, because the pop-up and glitches in Driv3r are horrendous. Cars and pedestrians just appear in front of you after just a few metres I swear. This not only makes the game look silly, but it also makes driving harder than it already is. Even if the pop-up keeps the game at a smoother frame-rate and saves the systems memory, it should still be better than this, especially for the Xbox version which I'm reviewing. Worryingly, that probably means the PS2 version is either the same or worse due to it being a less powerful system than the Xbox. Seriously though, Driv3r has some of the worst pop-up I've ever seen in a game, despite the draw distance actually being quite good.
The animations are stiff too. Tanner himself is very shaky in the game. Stealing a car just looks flat out lame along with shooting and the terrible swimming animations. Enemy and pedestrian animations are either the same or worse. This aspect of Driv3r just feels rushed. It feels like Reflections put in a lot of effort into the actual graphics and textures, lighting etc, but rushed the rest and left us with the awful pop-up and lackluster character animations. Like I said before, Tanner has been designed well and is nicely detailed, but the fact he animated horribly just lets the game down even more.
Well at least the cut scenes look great. Really, they do. One of Driv3r's goals was obviously to immerse the player into a cinematic movie-like experience, and this respect, Driv3r excels. The videos do look great I must admit, at least for the time, and do leave the player under the impression that they're watching some cheap gangster movie to some extent. For a game, that's actually quite a hard thing to do, particularly back in 2004. The only other games I can think of that tried and succeeded in trying to look like a movie in that period are The Getaway and at times, GTA (for it's cut-scenes).
To make the game look even more movie-like, Reflections included the 'Thrill Cam', which basically displays you and you're driving from a movie perspective and slows the game down for that 'epic' stunt effect. It also adds some nice motion-blur to make things look a little more intense. It's fun to play about with, and does make things like jumps look cool. But to me, it makes a head on collision look spectacular thanks to excellent car damage system. That said however, the thrill cam is almost completely useless in the campaign as actually controlling your vehicle in this perspective is near impossible and makes it harder to avoid obstacles than it already is. Still, it does LOOK great, and is a lot of fun to use when not playing the campaign.
The sounds and music of Driv3r are a mixed bag. The sound effects themselves are pretty terrible, from the car sounds to the gunshots, it all sounds underwhelming. The voice acting is better though. Michael Madsen voices Tanner and Michelle Rodriguez and Mickey Rourke also have roles as Catila and Jericho. While not exactly Hollywood-standard voice acting, they aren't 'bad' performances by any means. The in-game music is pretty sub-standard but at least suits the game, particularly when the cop heat is high. Really, there's nothing particularly special going on in this department as it's not great, but it's not terrible either.
Outside of the story mode are the driving games that also featured in past Driver titles. These include Quick Chase, Quick Getaway, Trail Blazer, Survival, Checkpoint Race and Gate Race, plus there's the Take A Ride mode which lets you simply free roam the cities and cause chaos. It makes me sad to say that most of the time, these mini games are actually more fun than the story itself. They do somewhat, give the game more replay value even though they aren't really up to much. At least the nice thrill cam feature can actually be used to better effect here. However, you probably wont be kept very interested when you realize that there's no multiplayer functions whatsoever.
Yep, that's right; there is no multiplayer at all. None. Naught. Even Driver 2 had split-screen support and had some fun two player driving modes. Well just to makes things worse than already are, Driv3r is a completely single player game. No split-screen, no online, no nothing. While the mini games do give the game a little bit more lifespan, the lack of any competitiveness means there's even less reason to play it.
At the end of the day, Driv3r is a massive disappointment. It could've been great. It should've been great. But instead, we're left with a broken, buggy, glitchy mess of a game that fails in almost every aspect. Even its positives are flawed. Driv3r is a game that looks great…but that's honestly about it. For most of time I spent playing, I was frustrated. While there were a couple of things that I did like about the game, most of time, it just fell flat on its face. Driv3r is the worst game in the series, a game that really isn't worth your time.