After a rather long break since Driver 2, Atari and Reflections have teamed up to deliver the third game in the series on the Xbox and PlayStation 2. Thanks to Sorrent's simultaneous mobile release, mobile wheelmen can grab a piece of the action via a quick download. To be sure, the mobile edition is afflicted with a number of control and artificial intelligence problems, but Sorrent has done an admirable job of bringing a console game's functional scope to mobile nevertheless. Though Driver 3 occasionally confounds, it often satisfies and even pleasantly surprises with its large amount of options and content.
Driver 3 brings you to the mean streets of South Beach, Florida, in the guise of Tanner Harvey, undercover cop and speed racer extraordinaire. He's got to infiltrate a gang of international car thieves so that he can tag along with them to the even meaner thoroughfares of Nice, France. And from there he must proceed to Istanbul, Turkey, whose highways seem to be unfit for civilian vehicles of any stripe.
Ironically, the amount of property damage and other havoc Tanner inflicts along the path to justice makes the work of even the most successful ride-boosting cartel pale in comparison. There are a few different goals in Driver 3's mission-based gameplay--including standard offerings like defending a certain ally's car from hot-rodding thugs, whacking rival gang members, or racing through checkpoints--but regardless of a particular scenario's objective, you'll probably end up having to fight off other cars by crashing into them repeatedly until they explode.
Driver 3's gameplay is built around this core tenet. Players get to choose between two sets of controls: directional steering and real steering. Directional steering is absolute to your handset's D pad, meaning that your car will turn in whichever direction you press and then accelerate, regardless of which way it's pointing. This method of steering is probably a little easier for mobile gaming neophytes to pick up, but it has its disadvantages. Specifically, it's very easy to start going in reverse accidentally, and, as cars must move to turn, you must factor in the turning radius carefully to avoid crashing into walls. Real steering, on the other hand, works relative to your car. So, up is always accelerate, down is always brake, and left and right make the appropriate turns. Experienced gamers will also prefer real steering for its emergency-brake and burnout functionality, which allow you to turn sharply in combination with accelerating or braking. This is a very good thing, because getting around corners at fast speeds can be a serious pain without e-brake maneuvering.
Driver 3's driving mechanics are certainly passable relative to similar driving games (especially given the lane change and traction control options, which allow you to tinker with how your car drives), but it doesn't always feel like enough, unfortunately. This is mostly due to the leaden algorithms that drive the other cars through Driver 3's expansive environments. Most of the non-player cars seem to operate on stop-and-go tracks or very rudimentary seek-and-destroy logic. This can create some very frustrating situations wherein cars will stop in the middle of the road for no apparent reason, ignore your presence entirely, or otherwise impede the flow of the level. The worst problems crop up in missions where you must defend a particular car from harm. In some cases, the target car will beat itself to death against an immobile semi before you can react and subsequently remove the blocking vehicle. In addition, Driver 3 has some minor hit detection issues. It's easy to sideswipe cars without meaning to, and if you get into a multicar pileup, it becomes very difficult to aim your attack at a particular vehicle. Your vehicle's stamina meter is perfectly functional and decreases according to velocity and car type, but there's no way to tell how much damage enemy or allied cars can sustain before blowing up. As a result, adding small damage gauges to other cars would have been a nice touch.
Driver 3's gameplay is still enjoyable despite these problems, however, thanks mostly to the variety of vehicles you can drive and their varied levels of responsiveness. It's amazing that Sorrent managed to enable carjacking in a mobile game, even in a very simplified form. And although you can't switch vehicles very often, it's a lot of fun to dash between police cars, sports coupes, and motorcycles, all of which have their own characteristics. Driver 3 also offers some level of environmental interaction, so it's possible to flatten café tables by driving over them, for instance.
In addition, Driver 3 packs more options than the average driving game, including the aforementioned control choices, two different types of screen-scrolling, and vibration. Each level also has a scrollable map, which is a definite novelty in mobile racing titles. You'll get a cheat code for the console games every time you beat story (or "undercover") mode, and you can also practice the different types of objectives separately under the "driving games" heading. Driver 3's graphics aren't stunning, but they're sharp and easy to watch, with brightly colored vehicles and backgrounds modeled on real-life locales. The sound is pretty typical, with a brief opening theme, some honks, and a crashing effect that sounds like a pair of cymbals.
Driver 3 is a very ambitious title for the mobile platform. It packs a lot of features into a small package, and Sorrent spent enough time with the driving physics to make it worth a download--even if your criminal opponents are somewhat less than convincing.