Sequels are either better or worse than their predecessors, and this is how they're judged. The concept of a sequel being its own game is completely alien to the average gamer, and it's for this reason that Driver 2 suffers so badly. In its own right it could be just about playable, but with the original still fresh in many people's minds it's going to take a lot of flack. This is because, if we're honest, Driver 2 isn't a very good game. Reflections have decided to focus on minor niggles in the Driver code instead of tightening up some of the big issues that plagued the previous game. As such these problems (including pop-up amongst other things) are accentuated, and because the engine is so over-stretched in places, the game even locks up at times, and the framerate is ghastly. But where did it all go wrong? Well it starts right at the beginning. The whole concept of you, Tanner, the undercover cop was clichéd to begin with, but by focusing so heavily on the driving angle the first game worked. It started out hard by making you learn advanced techniques in the underground garage and it then let you sit back whilst it eased you gradually into higher gear until you were fighting the steering wheel against the clock in later missions. Even so, the challenges were definitely proportionate to the feeling of satisfaction gained from victory.
In contrast, Driver 2 vanquishes the proving grounds because it seems they were too hard, and instead throws you directly into the action without any real schooling. And thanks to the fluctuating difficulty level this is going to be quite a major problem. The first couple of missions are like a leisurely drive to the edge of a cliff on a summer's day, but the third is like driving down the side of it, only to have your fall broken by the cushy fourth, which introduces you to the next series, which are a bit like driving back up the cliff in a torrential downpour. Then repeat; it's erratic and no real fun at all. The learning curve must look like a join-the-dots picture. To go back to the original again, you may remember the overly cumbersome cutscenes, and how one of the best aspects of the game was that by ignoring them completely you could still have immense fun. Driver 2 includes even longer scenes with even less favourable production, and ultimately requires you to pay attention. This is actually quite a chore, and thanks to their cryptic nature you never really have a clue what's going on anyway. Things don't get much better if you look elsewhere either. The alternative modes, Gate Chase, Quick Chase, CTF, Take a Ride, Survivor and Checkpoint have all seen some level of alteration as well, with some available in two-player. Playing with two players is no more boring or interesting than otherwise, and because the camera is fixed to the front of the car you don't see any real drop in framerate (although it was terrible to start with so don't get your hopes up).
Care to take a step outside?
The most obvious addition to the Driver formula is the ability to step outside of your vehicle for the first time. This might sound like a step in the right direction, after all it's what we had all expected to be able to do anyway, but in the end it's too restrictive in what it lets you do. That said, at least it adds some variety. The fixed camera makes controlling it and using it effectively stodgy and awkward though, something I'd like to think could have been avoided if the title weren't so rushed. So what else is new? Well the addition of curved roads will allow a large group of Driver fans to emit a sigh of relief, but to be honest; they're in the wrong game. And as if to add insult to injury, they emphasize the stuttering car animations as you gradually turn off freeways. Graphically, the stuttering animations aren't the only subject of demur. For all their cheesiness and mind-dulling boredom, the cutscenes are professionally filmed with some very lifelike human behaviour, but in-game, where the emphasis should have lain, is a mess. The framerate as previously mentioned is atrocious, and the pop-up is awful, with buildings only a few blocks away leaping up in front of you. Things look slightly duller than before, and the low resolution remains. On balance it's quite obvious that the Driver engine is being pushed beyond what it can really deal with, a fact made most obvious by the way the game actually crashed on me twice.
It sounds bad? Read on
It certainly does sound bad. If you thought the Driver soundtrack was awful, you will deride D2's with a similar level of dismay. The Cuban, blues and other rhythms are a joke and ruin the atmosphere, and after a matter of minutes the soundtrack becomes unbearable. The sound effects are still in place and if they have changed I didn't notice it. The smashing and crashing as windows cave in and the clash of upset piles of crates as you thunder down back alleys remain with all their onomatopoeic effectiveness, but when one of the only upsides to a game is the sound effect score, you know you're clutching at straws, very soon to slip beyond hope of retrieval over the precipice and into the dull, murky depths below. And that's what Driver 2 feels like. It feels like the developers spent the entire development cycle attempting to pull themselves back from the brink, and just when they looked like they had a chance of pulling through, the unfinished code was plucked from them, served up in a PSX jewel case and shoved onto store shelves in time to beat the PlayStation 2 out of the blocks and give the PSOne something to sell on.
I was one of Driver's biggest fans before I played this. Now the series has been trodden on, reshaped and served up as an entrée for its master the PSOne. If ever there was an opportunity to indict that console as a Sony cash cow this would be it. Bottom line; do not buy this game, buy the original if you don't already have it.