When certain things happen in life that are truly magnificent, you remember where you were. For some it would be the JFK shooting, certainly most of us 9/11 and others first born child. On a smaller scale, (yeah, as if I’d place this moment in history above the previous three) mine would have to be standing below the demo TV in GAME, Aylesbury. The year was 1999, the release of Reflections title Driver on the PSOne, and was probably one of the most important games released in the history of videogames. By creating a full 3-D city with landmarks and set routes (remember playing Die Hard Trilogy? Racing through endless streets that just repeated themselves doesn’t count!), the scene was set for the groundbreaking GTA series, and later on The Getaway. The aim of the game was simple, and appealed to almost everyone that saw the first ever running footage. You work as an undercover cop and chase down ‘the bad guys’ in thrilling chase scenes that could be plucked from any blockbuster movie. Chuck in some American muscle cars, tight corners and heavy traffic and you might be some way into uncovering every boy’s wet dream. The second game attracted an even larger fan base, as this time Tanner (the main character) could leave the confines of the driving seat and take to the streets. Whilst steering away from beating old grannies, you are a cop after all, you could explore new areas, unlock secrets and most importantly upgrade to a better vehicle. Trust me when I say that the Driver series is a benchmark in the genre, even today, as yours truly here can proudly claim completing both games way into double figures.
This is my destiny
With the release of Sony’s PlayStation 2 way back in the olden days, attention quickly turned to the Reflections camp, hopeful of a next-gen version to quench our powersliding thirst. When it was announced that Stuntman would be next off the production line to test the water, it was back to watching Bullet until two years later, in the summer of 2001 when we could all be stuntmen. The finished product had Driver written all over it, but the short length, bastard-of-a-learning curve and average graphics did little to put us off the scent; we wanted Driver 3! But despite our weighing and constant phone calls, no information about the title would be given away except the knowledge that hitting the redial button one more time would result in a night in the cooler. Then just before Chrimbo ’03, a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel appeared. Perhaps it was certain members of the media singing the praises of the Xbox release of GTA and writing off all other competitors to its throne. Or did Stuntman shout to its younger sibling “Oi, hurry up. The water’s getting cold”. Whatever happened, we are now snowed under by screenshots, gameplay features and clips of footage whilst being reminded that the title really has slipped from the nearing March release date to a rather distant July. Bastards. One things for sure though, and that’s we’re all in for one hell of a summer holiday.
Come on and rescue me
The trademark move of the Driver series is, if you will, the powersliding round corners in rip-roaring muscle cars, so for the new title to have any chance of gracing a fans prestige gaming shelf, where only elite titles such as GTA and Project Gotham 2 lay this must be inch perfect. And suffice to say, it is. Featuring no less than 70 vehicles (including motorbikes) sooped up to the eyeballs with venom and horsepower for your disposal, racing at high speeds has never been so much fun. What makes driving an experience to remember is the physics feel so much tighter than in previous titles, which means riding over the many different surfaces you’ll encounter whilst playing, be it tarmac or dirt, will result in the suspension acting accordingly. The same can be said for parts broken off of other vehicles, because once it’s gone it becomes part of the scenery, lying in waiting to either give you air time of rip away your undercarriage. Speaking of which, the damage looks fantastic too. Windows don’t just simply break and slip away; they now shatter in their frames before falling out to puncture the tires of any unsuspecting motorist. Explosions look so much more Hollywood-er, with flames flying off in all directions and parts following.
This is my selection
The way Driv3r is presented marks a huge step forward for Reflections too. Looking far more next-gen than Stuntman yet managing to keep that unique Driver style has paid off, because cars, buildings, people, hell you name it, they all look ‘as if’, just as you’d want them to look like in that wet dream at night. The real-time lighting was talked up something rotten last time round, but just became another aspect of the game you neglected whilst shouting ‘shut the f*** up’ to the director, but here there’s more opportunity to appreciate the attention to detail. Movements are captured almost perfectly, with shadows happening at just the right time, and when all the elements combine as you plough head on into traffic at an intersection the action just looks so good. It’s been done so well in fact, that at times you think it’s really a Channel 5 movie. The biggest feature from effort number 2 has been incorporated much more successfully, that being out of car action. With the ability to use weapons, foot pursuits are more thrilling than before, plus you can hijack any vehicle that tickles your fancy.
Come July, we’ll have plenty to do whilst sitting inside out of the sun. With three modes including Undercover, Driving missions and Free Roam there is at least a good few months game time for the average working man (that’s those that don’t sit at home all day with no job), and the sheer size of the 3 cities will leave you driving round looking for shortcuts for ages. As each location takes roughly 20 minutes to drive round the outskirts, that’s no mean feat either. Put simply, Driv3r is shaping up to be everything we’ve dreamed about for all these years plus a few months more. Put the gun away and sit patiently, good things come to those who wait.