In the past I’ve been labeled as a Grand Theft Auto hater both by my peers and our readers. To those people I say this, I don’t necessarily hate the Grand Theft Auto series of games, I just don’t think they’re as good as everyone makes them out to be. They’re fun games to mess around with, but playing them in the way that they were meant to be played results in endless amounts of frustration. And while I tend to lower games of this genre much lower than the rest of the gaming press, it’s not like I haven’t given games of this genre their fair due. I was severely annoyed with Sony London’s The Getaway but was willing to play through the game to see if it was able to improve on the GTA formula. I came into Atari’s DRIV3R with the same mindset, seeing how it learned from the mistakes that Rockstar made and what it did to improve upon them. In the end I came away with an impression that varies severely from the majority of the gaming press; Atari’s DRIV3R is an entertaining action/adventure title that while flawed, has enough going for it to warrant at least a rental.
I’m worrisome about recommending this game as a purchase because it’s not as easy to get into as a Grand Theft Auto. The beauty of the GTA games is that you can boot it up and spend a whole day having a blast while wreaking havoc in the city and ignoring the missions entirely. DRIV3R doesn’t have that same luxury. It’s a game that tries to bring structure to the free-roaming genre and thus relies on the storyline and mission structure to keep you intrigued. As a result you’ll have to invest much more time in the game while sticking through it in order to have a good time. The fact that the missions are pretty unforgiving makes the game all that much harder to get into. But if you finally get into the game you’ll be in for one of the better gaming experiences of this yawner of a summer season. That’s a big “if” though and it appears that Reflections has taken almost every possible precaution to make sure to take you out of the game before it has a chance to grow on you.
There are a couple of modes available for you when you start up the game. Among them are a free-roaming mode, a stuntdriver-like mode and the core gameplay mode, Undercover. In it you’ll take control of Tanner as he attempts to take down a criminal operation from the inside. Over previous installments Tanner was simply the wheelman; here he’s been upgraded to full hitman status. He’ll participate in high-speed chases, daring escapes, shootouts and other insane operations. In keeping with the tone set by the second Driver game, missions take place on foot and in the vehicle. Most of the vehicle-based missions involve chases or escapes while the on-foot missions ask you to infiltrate the enemy and dispense lead injections. Along the way you’ll run into some minor variations of the missions including some rail shooter sequences but those are very few in between. Of the two core gameplay modes the driving missions are more entertaining. This is where Reflections really is able to flex its muscles as one of the leading developers of realistic driving, object and damage physics. It’ll take some time to get used to the vehicle physics but that’s just because the game affirms to something called realism as opposed to super human physics where make-believe vehicles can turn on a dime. It’s not that physics that are the problem though, it’s the inane mission structure and design that really makes this game a chore at times.
That’s because most of the game affirms to the same trial and error style of gameplay that made Stuntman such a frustrating affair. Best described as a modern take on the old Dragon Lair style of gameplay, the game threw tons of obstacles at you and expected you to be able to react within a split-second. DRIV3R has plenty of sequences like these most of them revolving around high-speed chases or escapes. Technically they’re pretty short in length but those three minutes become a real pain in the ass when you have to restart every single time you hit a vehicle, a lamp post or a wall. It’s particularly frustrating when you get to the very end and fail the mission because the game throws something so severely different and unexpected at you. An early mission asks you to run over barrels for about three minutes only to unexpectedly ask you to go off a ramp and jump onto a roof top at the last second.We were surprised to find that Tanner has a pretty decent arsenal when he’s on the ground. Starting with a regular pistol, Tanner can acquire some Uzis, a machine gun, a grenade launcher and a shotgun. Instead of utilizing a full-fledged auto target system the game opts for a dual analog setup that’s found in most shooters. This gives the gamer more control over his vantage point as he’s not at the mercy of some inadequate auto targeting system that can’t keep up with the action. DRIV3R does have a variant of the auto-targeting feature although it’s the Rainbow Six kind where the cursor locks on when you get close to an enemy. In some minor attempts to add some depth to this aspect, Tanner is able to crouch, jump and perform forward summersaults for no apparent reason (the number 1 item on top of the Action Movie checklist). These functions are nice in theory but they serve no real practical function in the game because they’re so poorly implemented. You can crouch behind crates and such but you can rarely hit your enemies from behind them. There’s cover to be found in the missions but you can rarely use them as fortified posts. Essentially the combat sequences boil down to you running through with the guns blazing, setting fire on anything that moves. Again this seems to be pretty archaic for this day and age, and while it is, it’s the exact same type of mission structure that made GTA the darling of the gaming industry. Besides, it's fun to engage in a mindless shooter every now and then.
If you suffer from third person shooter-sitis you’ll be happy to know that the game allows you to switch to first person viewing on the fly. As we tried and tried to adjust the sensitivity settings we were never able to find one that was as tight and intuitive as we would have liked. Our crosshair was always so loose that we had difficulties hitting enemies that were literally five feet in front of us. We also had some problems with the way that the missions were structured. Far too often we’d run into instances where an enemy would be waiting for us in a doorway. Even when we knew he was there we were unable to put him down without losing some health. What the game needed was more measures for the gamer to take down the enemies. Not necessarily a kill.switch style of blindfire, but a lean function would have really helped to even things out. Still though, with all of these problems, the shooter aspects in DRIV3R are far more advanced than what you would find in a GTA game. You can even do advanced things like, you know, aim and stuff. Crazy isn’t it?
Another aspect where the game fails is in its heavily structured nature, right down to the missions. Each mission is designed to play a certain way and no amount of player interference can prevent that. What makes this annoying is that it’s truly impossible to gauge where a chase or an action sequence is going on the first try. On the Miami level the finale is a chase sequence that begins with a car chase, proceeds to a shootout, follows with a boat chase and then ends with a shootout. The whole time in the beginning I was shooting my enemy in vain, hoping that I’d be able to stop him in his tracks. In normal games I’d be able to take matters into my own hands but DRIV3R is designed in such a way that you simply have to conform to the structure. Only after you reach a certain trigger point (generally designated by an in-game cutscene) can you proceed on to the next area. Essentially what this does is it makes it impossible for you to actually be successful on the first run through of any mission in the game. It’s impractical to assume that the gamer would know that the chase scene would continue long after you’ve put 500 bullets into your target. After you figure out what the game is trying to make you do you can finally proceed onto the next sequence.While the CG scenes aren’t the best that the industry has to offer, they’re done well enough to the point where they completely take you out of the game. There are plenty of instances where you’ll chase a perp to some location and then watch the game transition from an in-game shot to a pre-rendered cutscene. It’s not until that moment that you realize just how large of a discrepancy there is between the two. Today’s gamers take pre-rendered cutscenes for granted but they don’t often realize that the real skill in the them comes not from the quality, but the effectiveness in which they are presented without pulling the gamer out of the game. That’s why you have no problems with returning to the game after witnessing one of those breathtaking cutscenes from Final Fantasy X. Simply put, a great cutscene is supposed to complement the gameplay. Instead it seems like the cutscenes are the main attraction here and the game is merely a supplemental feature. If so much emphasis was going to be placed on the cutscenes why not just make this a movie and forgo the game entirely?
Much like Stuntman, DRIV3R is the type of game that’s deceptively beautiful some of the time, but woefully generic most of the time. There are some flashes of brilliance in the game’s artistic design (most of them in the architecture) but the majority of what you see is simply bland and ugly. When playing from the first person perspective the game has a penchant for looking like Midtown Madness 3, a similar looking game that's almost a year old. Draw distance is just about as atrocious as it was in the GTA games but it’s more damning here. That’s because the pop-up isn’t simply limited to vehicles but reaches into the region of 3D objects as well. This includes barrels, structures and most frustratingly, ramps. It’s difficult enough to burn around a corner and hit a ramp at 60mph, but it’s another to burn around that corner and have that ramp suddenly appear a few feet in front of you before you have to hit it. As is the case with most Reflections games, the vehicles look great and feature some pretty extensive damage modeling. The game’s main saving grace comes in the form of some impressive lighting effects that help mask up the game’s severe graphical deficiencies.
Another aspect where DRIV3R one-ups GTA is in the environments. Reflections didn’t design the environments solely for the purpose for plot advancement. In GTA you’re summarily limited to going into environments that were only pertinent to the mission. In DRIV3R you’ll be able to explore locations with fully realized architecture and structures. An early mission where Tanner is asked to destroy a yacht is a great example of this. While there are only three locations where Tanner must plant C4, he’s free to roam into any of the rooms or areas on the yacht. This includes living quarters, bars, balconies and everything else you’d expect to see on a real yacht. Other games such as Mafia essentially relegated you to areas which were related to the actual objectives. Here you’re able to travel all over the yacht which further immerses you in the free-roaming atmosphere. There’s also an unexpected level of interactivity with the environments here. Nearly everything can be moved or destroyed, although the object physics leave a lot to be desired. Shooting a wooden crate will send it spinning end over end, almost as if it were made of lightweight paper.
Where we can’t stand to spare our feelings is in the game’s audio elements. To put it succinctly, it sounds as if all of the sounds were recorded in the toilet bowl of a rest stop bathroom. All of the effects are bland, generic and perhaps most grating of all, offensive to the ears. Everything has this really shrill, high-pitched feel to it that’ll have you searching for the volume knob within a matter of seconds. As if the low quality samples weren’t bad enough, it seems like the audio technicians had some problem mixing the audio too. All of the sound effects in the game are insanely loud while the dialogue is strangely quiet. Cutscene audio is loud while the in-game audio fluctuates on its own accord. There's a licensed soundtrack here that's supposed to feature "cutting edge" music and whatnot, but we came away pretty unimpressed. Luckily Xbox fans can substitute their own music; PS2 fans aren't quite as lucky.For the voice acting the designers decided to tap the Hollywood well, coming away with Michael Madsen and Michelle Rodriguez, Ving Rhames, Iggy Pop and Mickey Rourke. In a sign that shows just how close Hollywood and videogames are coming together, this is the second time that Rodriguez and Madsen have leant their voices to the same game (Activision’s True Crime: Streets of LA being the first. To be honest the inclusion of Hollywood talent doesn’t do too much to press the storyline here. Their voices are woefully generic and probably could have been fulfilled by any of the Reflections staffers.
You know that little Xbox Live logo that you see on the Xbox version of the game? Well forget about it. DRIV3R’s only link to the outside world comes via an upload feature which allows players to trade in-game replays with each other. This is an especially weak and misleading feature that really should have been abandoned entirely. And to be honest the replays in the game aren’t too terribly exciting to witness either. What the game really needed was a highlight feature that showcased the most exciting events in each mission. That way they might actually be worth a viewing.
When you get through the Undercover mode there’s very little reason to pick the game back up, and that’s where the game really begins to lose its value. So much could have been done to extend the life of the game but the designers seemed to be intent on rushing the game instead of completing their vision. I realize that the game was already delayed once earlier this year but the sign of a good developer isn’t one that can meet a deadline, it’s one that finishes a game when it ships. It’s the reason why people are willing to buy games with the Blizzard logo on it and avoid Army Men games like the plague.
DRIV3R may be a bug-filled, problem-riddled, frustration producing piece of software, but you know what? It’s not as bad as everyone has made it out to be. This is just an instance where the product in question was consumed by the hype that preceded it. Expectations were high for this game and when it couldn’t live up to its astronomical potential, everyone seemed to turn on it. Get this straight now; it’s not game of the year material, hell it’s not even game of the month material, but it’s definitely a game that’s worth playing through. Besides, it’s the top selling game in Australia right now and they gave us Crocodile Hunter. If it’s good enough for the guys who gave us Steve Irwin, it sure is hell is good enough for us.
Atariâ€™s DRIV3R is one of those games that seems to have everything going for it: plenty of favorable coverage from the media, a gritty cast of professional voice actors, trailers made by one of Ridley Scottâ€™s directors and the development team responsible for hits such as Stuntman and Destruction Derby. Itâ€™s just a shame that the team couldnâ€™t have pulled it all together in the end. 3 more months would have done wonders for this game.
Rating: 7.4 Above Average
* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company for review.
Gaming has been a part of my life for as long as I could remember. I can still recall many a lost nights spent playing Gyromite with that stupid robot contraption for the old NES. While I'm not as old as the rest of the crew around these parts, I still have a solid understanding of the heritage and the history of the video gaming industry.
It's funny, when I see other people reference games like Doom as "old-school" I almost begin to cringe. I bet that half of these supposed "old-school" gamers don't even remember classic games like Rise of the Triad and Commander Keen. How about Halloween Harry? Does anyone even remember the term "shareware" anymore? If you want to know "old-school" just talk to John. He'll tell you all about his favorite Atari game, Custer's Revenge.
It's okay though, ignorance is bliss and what the kids don't know won't hurt them. I'll just simply smile and nod the next time someone tells me that the best entry in the Final Fantasy franchise was Final Fantasy VII.
When I'm not playing games I'm usually busy sleeping through classes at a boring college in Southern Oregon. My current hobbies are: writing songs for punk rock bands that never quite make it, and teasing Bart about... well just teasing Bart in general. I swear the material writes itself when you're around this guy. He gives new meaning to the term "moving punching bag."
As for games, I enjoy all types except those long-winded turn-based strategy games. I send those games to my good pal Tyler, I hear he has a thing for those games that none of us actually have the time to play.
When I'm not busy plowing through a massive pile of video games I spend all of my time trying to keep my cute little girl fed. She eats a ton but damn she's so hot. Does anyone understand the Asian girl weight principal? Like they'll clean out your fridge yet still weigh less than 110 pounds.
Currently I'm playing: THUG, True Crime, Prince of Persia, Project Gotham 2 and Beyond Good & Evil. View Profile