In nine months, you could sail around the world solo nearly four times. In the same time, you could circumnavigate the globe on commercial flights 150 times. In nine months, you could fix Driv3r.
Of course, you could leave the game as it is. Inconceivably, you could even make Driv3r worse, but that would be a bit stupid, wouldn’t you think?
The third game in the Driver series gets off to a good start. A fantastic pre-rendered cut scene introduces the story in cinematic style, with names like Mickey Rourke and Michelle Rodriguez popping up amongst the opening credits. Once again, you take on the role of Tanner, a maverick undercover cop who infiltrates a worldwide car-theft-ring. Starting out in Miami, his home city, you’ll eventually make your way to Nice and Istanbul. As the music plays on, accompanying the unfolding action, you really get the feeling that this is going to be one hell of a good game.
The fancy introduction tails off and the game engine takes over. Here the cracks begin to show and it becomes clear that Driv3r isn’t all it’s made out to be. The story mode is stubbornly linear and mission-based, taking you from one set-piece to another. Typically, these involve chasing another car or fetching a number of items before the clock runs out. We’ve seen it all before and Driv3r does little to spice these missions up like other games do.
Being a game in the Driver series, you’d expect a fair dose of vehicular action and rightly so. You’d probably also expect the gameplay to be well honed and developed, but here you’ll be sadly disappointed. The car handling is suitably exaggerated, but feels twitchy and hardly ideal for control via a keyboard. You’re always fighting to keep control of your car, so if you manage to survive a stage, it feels more like luck than skill. The vehicle physics are reasonable, with a full damage model present, but they don’t make that game’s driving sections satisfying or really that enjoyable.
It’s when Tanner steps out of the car that Driv3r reveals its more apparent weaknesses though, transporting you back a generation or two in gaming in the process. The guy walks around like he’s got a barge pole shoved down his back, while only the most basic of animations are at his disposal. When it comes to shooting, the crosshair feels too near and aiming is an equally inexact art. To top this off, the game’s controls are simply laughable. For instance, the default setup has the ‘5’ key on the number-pad as ‘shoot’, while the mouse buttons are completely unmapped. Actions which could seemingly be combined under one button are stretched out over the keyboard, making the control of Tanner just as awkward as his own movements.
Usually PC versions of games look better than their console counterparts, but Driv3r again bucks the trend and actually takes a step backwards. The visuals are average at best, lacking any sort of polish or finesse. On lower resolutions the game looks ridiculously bad, while higher up the lack of decent textures becomes quite apparent. Just about every setting shows up its aesthetic shortcomings, with pop-up, suspect frame rates and flickering. Computers which handle other similarly demanding games smoothly will struggle to make Driv3r look any better than the console original.
On the audio front, the voice acting talent never feels fully exploited, while sound effects aren’t exactly sophisticated themselves. The musical score is perhaps the only highlight of the entirety of Driv3r‘s presentation, but that isn’t exactly anything to boast about.
It’s Driv3r‘s A.I. and bugs which finish it off though; let me bring forward an example for you. So you’re driving along the coast for a second time in a matter of minutes, as your previous attempt was abruptly stopped by a bench which seemingly merged into your car and halted its progress. The police are after you and your vehicle is wrecked, so you drive off of a pier into the water below. Making it to the surface, you observe a somewhat amusing scene; the police who were on your tail are now also driving straight into the sea, as if attracted by a giant magnet in your pocket. Swimming back to shore, you clamber up and survey the situation. With a cold heart, you unholster your weapon and shoot a defenseless police officer, who promptly levitates a meter above the water before carrying out a death animation. As the corpse lies in mid-air, you think back, “You know, I was able to do exactly the same thing in the console version”.
Many of the most horrific bugs aren’t just one-off lapses in the game-world; they occur wherever you are. The same can be said for the artificial ‘intelligence’ of your enemies. Gunmen will see you duck behind a crate, but then stop shooting and won’t think to move so that they can see you. You begin to wonder if the A.I. is completely based around a couple of lines of code stating something like, “Follow Tanner. Shoot if you see him. Otherwise do nothing.” Combining the awkward on-foot sections and flawed driving stages together with the bugs that pester Driv3r doesn’t exactly make for the most entertaining gameplay experience.
Apart from the main story there are a few other modes, but at the end of the day, what’s the point? Driv3r is still broken, unfinished and rotten to the core. What’s most aggravating is that it could be a good game, but Atari and Reflections have done such a bad job of executing the concept that its potential pails into insignificance. It actually runs, handles and looks better on the PS2 and Xbox, so what has the developer and publisher been doing over the last nine months? Whoever is to blame, one thing is clear; there’s absolutely no excuse for the game being released in its current state. Driv3r is a horrible, shoddy mess and one that you should steer well clear of.