Driver Review

Driver's core game design is so strikingly original and fun that it can be enjoyed without embellishment.

Like many console-to-PC ports, Driver suffers from being translated verbatim and taking little advantage of the more powerful PC platform. However, Driver's core game design is so strikingly original and fun that it can be enjoyed without embellishment.

As its name implies, Driver is a game about driving - at dangerous speeds through densely populated city streets. The game was designed by the makers of the Destruction Derby series and casts you as an undercover 1970s policeman motoring your way into the heart of mob territory through the criminal application of your cop-honed driving skills. Rather than focussing on racing as in Microsoft's recent city-cruising game Midtown Madness, Driver is all about the interactive re-creation of classic car-chase movies like Bullitt and Freebie and the Bean. Pursuit, evasion, survival, and the judicious implementation of all-out vehicular mayhem compose the core of the action.

Most car games that dispense with racing replace it with predictable hood-mounted gunplay. Not so with Driver: You pilot an array of big bazooka-less American muscle cars that belch exhaust and run great on regular gas - the most dangerous thing shooting out of these wheeled hellhounds is an illegal mix of carbon monoxide and hydrocarbon pollutants. To succeed in Driver, you must master the art of driving like a maniac with precision and control.

Those skills are developed in Driver's main game, a mission-based trek through the streets of Miami, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and New York. The missions are presented as job offers left on an answering machine in a three-dimensional rendering of your character's sleazy apartment, which also acts as the in-game option screen. Your car has two basic attributes: damage and felony. Damage is simply a reverse life bar - when it reaches its upper limit, the car is trashed and the mission ends in failure. Felony is a measurement of police interest in your current activities. It increases if any police cruiser witnesses your vehicle operating illegally. As it rises, the cops will begin to actively pursue you, eventually taking such drastic measures as establishing roadblocks and calling in reinforcements. This gauge introduces a rather original play concept: To win, you must sometimes drive within the limits of the law. Crawling through a busy intersection at a soul-deadening speed while making a rare appearance on the correct side of the road and hoping to God the cop stopped at the light doesn't notice the black smoke pouring out of your crumpled hood is an exciting experience unique to Driver.

You'll also enjoy discovering the many creative ways in which Reflections has used the relatively simple components of its gameworld to concoct a wide variety of interesting scenarios. The missions range from timed trips across town, aggressive pursuits of other vehicles, and eluding the fuzz, to unusual and surprising tasks such as scaring the hell out of an informant by taking him on a wild ride, and sending a message to another gang by smashing through the plate-glass windows of its legitimate businesses. Saving the game is only permitted between missions, but it's a testament to the game's success that this fact never becomes a liability. Playing Driver is such great fun and the levels are designed with enough common-sense brevity that restarting a mission almost never becomes frustrating. Car physics are definitely more arcade-like than realistic, but they make for a thrilling mix of impossible, hubcap-flinging turns and stomach-dropping jumps, especially when careening through the streets of San Francisco.

Once you've completed the game's nearly 50 missions, you can keep yourself occupied with Driver's skills-testing bonus games. Seven are included, the best being survival, in which you must escape a pack of kamikaze police cruisers for as long as possible. Even with an entire city to drive through, the cops are incredibly difficult to elude. But for the average minute, or the extraordinary two minutes, that it takes them to capture you, it's a real blast. Better yet, true to Driver's cinematic roots, a full replay facility is available, complete with a wide variety of camera placement features.

Although undeniably enjoyable, Driver isn't without noticeable flaws. The graphics are good but not up to the standard set by Midtown Madness. The cities are somewhat blocky, and the building textures are often blurry and repetitive. The soundtrack is forgettable, generic '70s funk, and the in-game movies are pretty awful. Driver's mission-loading times, though not unbearable, actually seem to be longer than on the console version. Restarting a mission on the PlayStation was an instantaneous process, but on the PC, the level must be reloaded from scratch. Finally, aside from some graphical enhancements, nothing significant has been added to the game since its console debut. Most sorely missing is any kind of multiplayer mode.

However, none of these drawbacks should deter you from picking up Driver. It is addictive, intuitive, and fun, which are qualities sometimes overlooked in the industry's myopic pursuit of purely technical innovation. With Driver, Reflections has produced the definitive re-creation of the classic urban car-chase movie and has quite possibly introduced a new genre of driving game.

The Good

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The Bad

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