Published on March 31st, 2012 | by Nichomaxwell1
Year: 1999 // System: Playstation, GBA // Publisher: GT Interactive // Developer: Reflections Interactive // Designer: Martin Edmondson // Composer: Allister Brimble // Genre: Driving, Action
>>>Back in the days when GTA hadn’t yet become a mainstream series, anything featuring free-form driving was a groundbreaking deal. Most games involving cars were racing games, unless your series’ name was Twisted Metal. So when Driver came along and rewrote the rules on how you could successfully use vehicles in a videogame for something other than racing or combat, people took notice.
Driver was a late but resounding answer to the popular genre of car chase films which include but are not limited to Bullitt, The French Connection, and Smokey and the Bandit. Although this indicates that game developer Reflective Interactions was aiming for a nostalgic audience with its latest entry, the controls were easy enough for the younger and more amateur gamers to master.
The player assumes the role of Tanner, an undercover cop who infiltrates the Castaldi family via working his way up through a series of low-lives, hard-nosed killers, and an old rival from Tanner’s racing days named Slater. The story isn’t the most original or gripping in the world. Tanner portrays your typical antihero type with an edgy persona masking a need to keep the peace, with his own Nicole Kidman-esque love interest and a clone of Marlon Brando, or the Head Castaldi, that Tanner must take down. But the story is enough to keep the main missions together, and give you a reason for traversing the streets of the United States’ four most notorious cities in the 1970s: New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Miami. And back then, driving around those famous cities was as good as it got on the Playstation. You could lead a relentless police chase across the Golden Gate Bridge, or do donuts in front of the World Trade Center. You could even wreak havoc on your way through LAX. And in each city, you sported one cool hot rod to evade the cops with.
There is something to be said about the foundations that Driver helped lay for the success of titles like GTAIII and Midnight Club through its focus on being the bad guy. Although Tanner is still portrayed as a “hero,” he still needs to make like a criminal, and in Driver, the circumstances beg that you tear up the pavement. Everyone on the road is slow and boring, and is holding you up from reaching your aimless destination (unless you’re on a mission, and in that case, everyone is holding you up for real). The cops will come after you for the slightest brush of their vehicle, another civilian driver, or for knocking down a stop sign. These guys are pretty much the guards you face from Metal Gear Solid. It’s like a stealth operation- you’re racing down the strip full-throttle, but the moment you spot a white dot on your radar, you slam on the brakes, innocently crawl past the police car that you come up on, and the minute you clear his field of vision, you smash on the gas and speed off into the sunset. The police chases construct the core of the game’s enjoyment factor, particularly because you can end up with four coppers on your tail at a time, and police blocks remain a challenge for you to navigate around without accumulating major damage. Complementing the series of in-game chases are the add-on minigames and zany bonus features that provide you with an extra layer of settings and missions whenever the story becomes old or monotonous.
The tutorial remains one of my favorite in gaming because it teaches you the basic mechanics you need in order to be successful in Driver. The tutorial is portrayed by the story as an interview with Castaldi’s lowest soldiers. You display your skills in the garage by performing a set of crucial commands that basically get you familiar with the controls (accelerating, braking, doing burnouts that get you up to speed, using the emergency brake to pull off 180 degree turns, and pulling off 360-degree turns). Should you fail any of these commands within the allotted time (which plays an arbitrary but central role in missions), you will not get the job and therefore have to start over until you get the commands right. Right away you know everything you will need for missions, so you can’t go back and say “the game didn’t tell me I could do that.” That’s the beauty of Driver. Everything from the tutorial to the missions are done artfully, and the mechanics for the gameplay are put together with your success as a player in mind.
I would say that the timer is the one major issue I have with the challenge, but the designers give justification for each scenario in which you need to reach a place in time. For example, you need to rush Castaldi’s girlfriend, Maya, to the hospital before her drug overdose kills her. The timer running out signifies that Maya is dead.
The only thing left for me to criticize, then, is the lack of features. Driver is a thrilling driving game with an addictive control scheme and a high-speed tempo, but few fans replay this title. You can’t get out of your vehicle and walk around. You can’t even switch cars. The car you get is the car you drive, despite the fact that the creators ensure that your vehicle is the fastest muscle car in the city. The lack of interesting vehicles outside your own and the cop cars hints at graphic and mission capabilities winning out over the use of a “switch-car” feature. The AI in the city aside from the cops are dull-looking brown, black, blue and yellow vehicles, each one moving at a slug’s pace of 30 miles per hour and going down the minute you barely touch its side or rear-quarter panel. Sometimes you’ll find yourself driving a truck, a taxi cab, or even a police car, but it does not happen enough, and, sad to say, I was left desiring more tricked-out vehicles to work with. But if anything, this is a pretty game, and the sound is robust.
If you like showing off your skills behind the wheel of virtual vehicle, Driver remains one of the trustworthy non-racing titles to do so. But if you’re looking for variety, this excellent PSX game is not the one you want. This game is solely about driving and crashing. Unless you love the missions and the game’s excellent conveyance of speed, you may want to look elsewhere for a more versatile experience (see GTA and the Saints Row series).
Challenge: 9/Outstanding: Sometimes I think the timer was put into place to arbitrarily heighten the difficulty level for certain missions, but I can’t knock the creative team for using the story behind each mission to justify the use of countdowns. If anything, outrunning the troupe of cops that breathes down your neck is enough to keep you on the edge of your seat. Also, rain’s a pain. Reflective Interactions made sure you met your match in each of the city’s police forces.
Handling: 10/Classic: Responsiveness is the victorious factor in Driver. You truly feel like you’re steering a Mustang and bullrushing your way through a lethal line of oncoming traffic while knowing you’ll have to U-turn at high speed in the upcoming seconds. The use of reversing, burnouts, and E-braking all play an equivalent factor in building a believable driving simulator for the console that was ahead of its time. Even racing games like Gran Turismo and Need for Speed had a hard time comparing to Driver in terms of in-game car control.
Innovation: 10/Classic: Driver was the first successful console game to turn driving- and not racing, but rather everyday driving- into a formidable genre. The real-life conventions of running red lights and destroying public property were also mirrored wonderfully to bring a realistic edge to the playing environment.
Core Experience: 7/Solid: Unfortunately for Driver, the core game play was exclusive to the driver enthusiast. You could not get out of your car, explore the city on foot, or drive a wider range of vehicles. Although I’m sure Driver wanted to include such features but could not because of limited capabilities and a higher graphics engine than most games released in 1999, its single dimension alienated potential players searching for a little more variety.
OVERALL: 9/Outstanding: Given its simple premise and style of play, Driver succeeded and established an alternate route for the car racing gamer in the case that the boundaries of a racetrack became too restrictive.