Aside from the massive explosions and brutal fight scenes, one of the staples in Hollywood action movies is the car chase. Paced with excessive speeds and reckless drivers hurtling their cars through streets and alleys, a well-designed chase can send a shot of adrenaline racing through an audience. Atari’s Driver series capitalized on this fact, focusing on telling dramatic crime stories set against a backdrop of squealing tires and head rattling crashes. Just when the insurance companies and car thieves thought it was safe, Reflections and Atari return with another fuel-injected adventure in Driv3r (or Driver 3 for the “leetspeek” challenged).
Once again, players take on the role of Tanner, a stern undercover FBI agent who’s taken down a number of shady underworld organizations thanks to his investigations. This time around, Tanner is tasked with infiltrating a notorious band of Miami car thieves who’re planning on stealing a number of expensive cars and shipping them abroad, a la Gone in 60 Seconds. Using his adept wheel skills, Tanner will journey from the shores of Miami to the coast of Nice and the city of Istanbul. As he takes on different missions, he’ll start to get an idea of who the thieves are working for and how massive this crime spree is. Pre-rendered cutscenes advance the story of Tanner’s investigation, along with providing information on upcoming tasks the player has to achieve.
As a wheelman, Tanner relies on his driving talents to accomplish his illegal goals. In Driv3r, players will have the option to slide behind the wheel of over 70 vehicles. New to the Driver series is the ability to commandeer boats and motorcycles for sea based and specific land based missions across the three cities. Additionally, Tanner will have to take on a number of on foot operations while packing heat to acquire new transportation and eliminate threats. This isn’t a small task, considering the expanded size of both the cities and objects scattered throughout the game world. Driv3r contains over 156 miles of drivable area, over 35,000 buildings and over 70,000 “clutter” items which can be destroyed or driven through.
While the thrust of the game exists in the story mode, there are a number of additional features included to flesh out the Driv3r experience. Players have the option to drive the streets of the three cities in the included “Take A Ride” mode, which may help some gamers get their bearings during the regular story mode. This mode also lets players get a sense of how fast and maneuverable different vehicles are. There are also a number of “mini-games” included which range from checkpoint style races to ditching police officers that are hot on your tail. As you drive through story mode or any of the other features, you may find a particular chase sequence or stunt that simply looks phenomenal. Fortunately, Driv3r allows players to capture and edit the footage of previous gameplay together in Film Director mode. Creative players can choose specific camera angles for your replay or even add special effects to give the recording more dramatic impact.
The first thing that players will notice upon starting Driv3r is that the cutscenes and CG movies for the game are great. Not only do they present the story in a cinematic way, but are perhaps the most solid graphical element found within the game. The particle effects when a car takes damage are decent, as are some of the lighting effects. Unfortunately, the rest of the game doesn’t exactly live up to its end of the bargain. Character animations are particularly choppy, especially on the part of the nameless gang members and thugs. It’s possible to see them stutter step before moving or clip through other objects as they run towards Tanner. Also, what’s up with the “ice skating” animation Tanner demonstrates as he’s running side-to-side? Combine that with the “glide” that he’ll do when the “enter vehicle” button is pressed (Boat travel is especially susceptible to this flaw).
Vehicles are no better, considering that some of the collision detection between other cars or buildings is just as flawed, which can be a problem for some missions in particular. Camera angles during gameplay, particularly those when Tanner is on foot, are horrible for lack of a better term. It’s possible to get the camera stuck in walls or other cars, blocking any view of onscreen action. In-game details are often muddy, sporting plenty of aliasing issues and a ton of grainy textures. While environmental details have never been the strong suit of the Driver series, driving through the streets of each city can feel like you’re playing on the old PSOne instead of the PS2 or Xbox. Part of this can be blamed on the four-year lag in development between Driver 2 and Driv3r, which could easily degrade the graphical quality of the game. The other part of this can be blamed on Reflections’ other driving title, Stuntman. Considering that the Film Maker option in Driv3r is practically the same as that found in Stuntman, it’s not surprising that Driv3r sports the same graphical problems as that title.
Sound within the game is somewhat better than the graphics, but not by much. There are the pre-requisite revving of the engine, sounds of explosions and gunfire that would permeate a game like this. The largest problem that arises is the fact that they don’t seem truly distinct for each vehicle or weapon, so it feels a bit recycled. Vocally, the cast of characters is rounded out with a load of Hollywood talent. Ving Rhames, Michelle Rodriguez, Mickey Rourke and Michael Madsen as Tanner round out the stars that were approached to lend their voices, and for the most part they do a decent job. There are a number of times that the stars sound either unmotivated or have weak deliveries on their lines, which breaks the mood of the action. Fortunately, the music, which features Iggy Pop as well as a number of up and comers, sets a hard-edged atmosphere that is basically held rather well through each mission.
Regrettably, graphical and aural issues aren’t the only problem found within Driv3r. For starters, there’s a significant discrepancy with enemy AI and how the game effectively utilizes it. Gang members and thugs will often stand around and wait for Tanner to enter their line of sight or pre-determined areas before they’ll react to him, allowing careful players to pick these fools off at will. Even more, when they do respond to Tanner, there are only a few options of what they’ll do: A) they’ll start shooting, B) they’ll stand around, or C) they’ll practically act confused, not performing any decent action at all. Given that the car AI is leaps and bounds better, and will actually pursue players doggedly, this seems significantly out of wack, particularly since the on foot sections are unavoidable and because some areas will constantly re-spawn opponents. This leads to the next problem, which is that the on foot sections are abysmal. Controlling Tanner, as previously stated, is like walking through a sea of molasses. His aim is pathetic, his movements are clumsy and the targeting reticule isn’t the most accurate one ever found in an action game. Simply put, the game places you at a distinct disadvantage when it comes to running around or firing weapons, and unfortunately you’ll do more of it than you’d like. A prime example of this happens to be boat sections, which complicates Tanner getting in and out of aquatic craft. Since he won’t smoothly transition over to a dock, you effectively give the computer opportunities for free potshots at you while you try not to fall in the water (something that happens about 90% of the time). Although swimming was included for Tanner in this game, he can’t shoot and swim at the same time, making it impossible for him to defend himself against attacks.
Car mechanics aren’t oblivious to the control issues either. For instance, there are some missions where you’ll have to use specific jumps, but won’t be able to handle either the momentum or the trajectory of the car as much as you’d like to. The end result is a careening car that feels much more rubbery than controlled. This, in some ways, is complicated by the fact that fans of the game may feel like they’re playing Driver 2.1 instead of the third game in the series. Many of the mission structures or objectives do feel disturbingly familiar. If you also add in the fact that many of the levels feel like an exercise in memorization instead of open-ended gameplay, you’ll start to get a sense that the inclusion of “Take A Ride” mode was the only way to let players know how much work was put into the game. While the game gives you the initial illusion of being completely free form, you’re actually on a strictly limited linear plotline that doesn’t allow for much exploration. Deviations from missions typically result in the replaying of an entire operation from the start, which can be incredibly frustration until you reach an arbitrary checkpoint that the game didn’t bother to inform you of. What’s more, Driv3r randomly assigns distances to car chases, making it almost impossible to know when you’ve positioned yourself perfectly to fulfill a level. It’s possible to be within a block’s distance from a car and have to start the entire level over. It’s also possible to practically loose your target distance wise and still complete your goals. Also, what’s up with non-distinct ideas of what you can and can’t crash through? If I can phase my way through a tree but get stopped by a light pole or a bench, there’s a major problem with what is and isn’t solid in Tanner’s reality. Finally, the game’s online presence is a joke, only effectively offering a way to check out other people’s film director clips instead of playing mini-games with them. This is completely lame.
Gamers have often become accustomed to the phrase, “When it’s done,” as they await the next game that will revolutionize their life. Unfortunately, this can also lead to outdated games that feature little in the way of game innovation, intelligent AI design, or technical prowess. Driv3r is such a game, and while it may appeal only to the diehard Tanner fans, other gamers will have to fight a struggle between renting this game and leaving it completely alone.