Nobody's played it yet, but with GTA apparently infecting every aspect of gaming (even platformers), it's little surprise to see many gamers pinning their hopes on Reflections' Driver 3, despite the relative disappointment of hard-as-nails restart 'em up Stuntman. And with the game due out in Q2 next year, the developer has finally started to open up, revealing various details in the latest issue of the UK's Official PS2 Mag.
"Tanner has infiltrated a gang that are stealing cars and moving them from the US across Europe, ultimately to Russia," according to Reflections' CEO Martin Edmonson, explaining the choice of locations (Miami, Nice and Istanbul). As regular readers already know, Driver 3 boasts some impressive graphics full of high quality textures and vehicle designs that contrast hugely with the visual style of closest competitor Vice City.
Unlike Rockstar North's cartoony environments, players of Driver 3 can expect to drive down streets brimming with character and extraneous detail, from rubbish bags and stacked crates left in conveniently smashable positions to various awnings, balconies and even the odd weather cock. And although the cars won't be licensed, they should be extremely detailed fakes. We only hope that the detail level doesn't have an adverse effect on the state of the traffic jams - being clobbered by the deadly persistence Driver's cops was always all the more exhilarating for a freeway full of frustrated motorists to plough unhelpfully into.
"We'll never be 100 per cent satisfied," Edmonson says of the game's wannabe photo-realistic visuals, "because that job can never be completed. But it's certainly the most realistic we've seen so far." There's no word yet on the differences between the PC, PS2 and Xbox versions, but we're guessing that with Sony's 60-million-selling black box in there, things we'll be leaning towards that end of the tech. But at least with the GameCube version recently canned, it stands a better chance of arriving before summer 2004.
It sounds like the realism stretches further than just the graphics, too, as Reflections has been carving its host cities out of digital clay with great care and attention. "We built the roads by laying our mapping tools over real maps of the locations and made alterations to bring areas closer together," Edmonson tells OPS2. "This was to alleviate any boredom created by driving long distance between key areas." You can still expect to spend a lot of time driving though, with a reported 30 square miles - 153.1 linear miles worth of road - to traverse [similar to The Getaway's alleged play area -Ed].
As for the cars, we'll be driving all sorts, from Jags and Lamborghinis to Transit vans and even articulated lorries - as seen in the minute-long ECTS trailer. Bikes should also be on the agenda, although Edmonson didn't elaborate on the trailer's fleeting glimpse of a leathered-up Tanner, nor its moody, chisel-jawed cut sequences. He did, however, talk to OPS2 about the state of the vehicle physics.
"It's based on a realistic physics model, but what we then do is tweak it to introduce some slightly less realistic elements to aid playability and/or drama. For example, we introduce more tail-out oversteer than exists in most cars to allow you to perform huge power slides, and we allow collisions to be slightly more elastic than in real life."
Coupled with promises of a groundbreaking damage engine, with sparks flying off all over the place as the chassis takes a constant pounding, Reflections' claim of Driver 3 as the ultimate Hollywood car chase sounds even more credible. As if the original game wasn't Bullitt-like enough.
One of the key changes to Driver 3 will be the scope of the on-foot sections, said to comprise 30 per cent of the game. Asked by OPS2 to comment on the missions, Edmonson focuses on the diversity of options. In one mission, "you're working for a gang of car thieves who ask you to steal a sports car from a rival gang." So far so familiar.
"Their truck is leaving to pick it up from a compound, so you follow it. Along the way, backup pulls out in front of you and guys jump out and start firing at you. Multiple options exist here. You can battle with them while the van escapes then play catch-up, ram through the obstruction ignoring the gunfire, steal the vehicle obstructing your car and continue then chase in this vehicle or find another back route." No doubt an array of weapons including Berettas, Mac-10s and bazookas will help with any potential altercations outside your car.
If it all sounds a lot like GTA to you, then you needn't feel awkward. Inevitably there have been a lot of comparisons to GTA3/Vice City, and given their popularity Reflections would be foolish to shrug them off completely. Indeed, while Edmonson says the games are "quite different," he concedes that "some elements are obviously similar, in that you can get out of your car and steal other cars (as you could in Driver 2), but our emphasis is on the driving, chases and realistic car smashes."
Sun Tanner Lotion
And with Rockstar North's next GTA title further over the horizon than Driver 3 at the moment, Reflections has every reason to emphasise its strengths, because by the time the game is complete, Vice City will be about 18 months old...
For more on Driver 3, check out the latest edition of the Official PS2 Mag UK, on sale now.