Driver is made up of three authentic American cities; Los Angeles, San Francisco and Miami. You take on the role of an undercover cop (yes, very much like Reservoir Dogs) and complete missions collected via the answering machine at your apartment. These missions involve driving get away vehicles, ram-raiding the fronts of shops and getting to the safe house while evading the cops. The cops by the way aren't out to pull you over, they want to cripple you. You see in Driver you are at the mercy of a very harsh health bar that decreases every time you bash your car up against a war or clip a passing truck or anything. When your health bar is totally depleted your car gives up the chase and you have to start over. There's no leaping out from behind the shattered windscreen and car-jacking the nearest chevy in Driver. Also on your screen is a felony-meter, which measures how much of the law you're breaking. This is how the cops gauge whether or not you're worth "flagging down". If you just lurch past some traffic lights at red the bar will go up a notch and cops will take notice of you - however if you wait courteously for the lights to change you can avoid committing felonies at all. To avoid turning the game into "The Driving Code Simulation", you often find yourself with a pre-set felony-meter. For instance you can't pick up some guys running out of a bank robbery and pootle along at 30mph to try and avoid detection. The cops know what you are doing and do their best to run you off the road. The missions are varied and there's a plausible and progressive plot as far as I can see, although sadly the cutscenes are rather abysmal and you lose all semblance of the plot by clicking through them.
Graphically Driver is as good as you can get on the PlayStation's now antiquated hardware. The cars are well-defined and the polygonal city sprawls in front of you quite beautifully. Landmarks like the Golden Gate Bridge are intact and easily discernible, and the textures that make up your surroundings are vivid and clear. My only criticisms on the visual front relate to the way the game works. You see, back alleys and shops that make up the sidewalks are basically just painted polygons. This is understandable, but sadly there's no effort to disguise it. There are crates and trash cans stacked happily around for you to spread all over the road, but the shop fronts (even the run-down and fragmented ones) are very static. You kind of imagine the occasional misplaced brick or shattered window - just some depth to the illusion. Anyone who's played Kingpin on the PC will know what I mean. For a game that was released over a year ago this sort of thing is acceptable however. And of course the last thing we want is extraneous detail to distract and drag down the framerates of what needs to be a fluid experience. Speaking of which.. The framerates aren't actually all that bad, for all the ribbing Reflections took from the media. Even with several cop cars on screen trying to batter ram you back into the 60's, things don't get too slow for comfort. The action is definitely frenetic though, so Reflections should be commended for keeping their end up to this degree. One things Reflections shouldn't be commended for is the AI. It's far too vicious for its own good at times - it's all very well cops racing and trying to cut you off, but ramming you into a corner than repeatedly bashing you until you've run out of health is a little excessive. Still, it adds to the tension so I suppose it can be let go.
Join me for a ride
The two obvious things that beg questioning still are whether it's actually any fun and of course whether it has a suitably impressive 70's soundtrack. Okay, it's not K-Billy's Super Sounds of the 70's, but there's a decent mix of ambient and hip-hop backing tunes to move things along. As for whether the game is fun - how can a game that demands you to handbrake turn and perform acrobatic escapes from the cops not be fun? And the three cities are treasure troves of authenticity.. like San Francisco's trams going down the hill, and the effect of flying off the top of the incline as they've done in so many dirty-cop dramas over the years. The missions presented to you offer up enough of a challenge to remain enticing and require you to give them just one more quick go which will of course span into about nine or ten quick go's for the next hour or so. It's that kind of game. Living out 70's cop caper fantasies is definitely the most creative and entertaining aspect of Driver. Probably the second most is its "film director" editing feature. You see, you can record your adventures, then play them back and edit them with different camera angles, pans, etc. Once done they can be saved to your memory card and shown off to friends and relations. Obviously this is as good a way as any to impress the ladies too.
On the whole Driver has stood the test of time admirably. It's as fun as the day it was released and doesn't look like changing. With Driver 2 in the offing its reduced price is a great opportunity for series virgins to take a bite of the cherry and see how it plays. Driver easily stands up against the likes of Crazy Taxi and Midtown Madness because of its 70's cop film slant, and despite a dodgy plot you won't care about and AI that seems a little too brutal on occasion, it's superb.
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