Get out of car slowly and no one gets hurt.
Imagine you're a game designer. You're a little overweight, you wear lots of black, you drink like a fish and you're still recovering from the rapid-fire wedgies you endured in high school. You were once ridiculed by society... but thanks in part to the sheer creative genius stored in your enormous brain, you are now applauded by your peers. Why? Because you made an incredible video game.
Indeed, the original Driver was the kind of game that made me want to phone up the lead designer and buy him a beer. The combination of arcade control, plausible physics and amazingly cinematic gameplay resulted in the best action game of 1999.
Since then, we've all been dying for a sequel. We wanted better graphics, more missions and a better story, though mainly we just wanted a little more of our favorite game. And we figured that since Reflections (the team behind the first game) was working on the sequel, our ace game designer would surely add yet another feather in his geeky, Renaissance Faire poofy hat.
Or so I had hoped. This game - brace yourselves, folks - pretty much sucks. Looks like that chicken gets to keep his feather and our geek gets another wedgie.
You heard me. As one of the most disappointing games this year, the sequel to one of the best games in town ain't half of what we hoped. While still retaining precious crumbs of the gaming joy its predecessor brought to the table, the bulk of this meal is a poorly prepared turkey.
However, before I slam on the gas and ram this puppy into a brick wall, I should mention some of the bright spots.
The game follows the same formula as the first one: you reprise your role as Tanner, hired Wheelman, in a series of undercover missions revolving around international arms dealers and shady goons. The plot is a step in the right direction, though a step in pretty much ANY direction would be an improvement from the original's retarded story.
The plot in Driver 2 is helped tremendously by the prodigious amount of FMV. Cut scenes abound, and the quality is top notch. While the voice acting is still a little weak, the direction of the FMV clips is really good; someone obviously watched plenty of Pulp Fiction and Reservoir Dogs.
There are a few different ways to play the game. Undercover mode takes you through the story, mission by mission. Sadly, they don't give you a choice of missions like they did in the first game - it's strictly linear. You can also play in a variety of quick modes, like Quick Chase, Quick Getaway, Checkpoint racing, Gate Race and Trailblazer. Survival mode makes a return and is as hard and wily as ever.
There are 4 new cities this time around: Chicago, Havana, Las Vegas, and Rio. They're actually a good deal larger than the cities in the original, and the game makes good on its promise of curved roads as opposed to the redundant right angled streets from the original.
The missions themselves are a mixed-bag. Some are genuinely fun and involving, like having to steal a bus in order to wreck a bunch of your drug-czar enemy's cars. However, many of the missions simply make you get from point A to point B in a certain amount of time.
Other missions require you to chase an enemy vehicle. The cities are filled with functioning traffic just like the first game, and there is almost no room for error whatsoever, even on the beginning levels. Skid out and you might as well hit restart - you'll never catch the guy you're trying to reach.
A new feature is the ability to get out of your car and grab other vehicles. It ends up playing out like a 3D version of Grand Theft Auto, hopping out of one car to steal another. It's a nice concept, though the resulting on-foot portions of the game are lame. Mainly, you just hop out to open up a garage door or something, then right back into the car to park. Not fun.
The pedestrians are back, but something strange happened while they were waiting for this game to be finished. Perhaps due to some kind of video game radiation leak, they've all grown large and misshapen. Is that just some poor schmuck walking in front of my car or is it the legendary Bigfoot?
Too add more gas to the tank, Driver 2 comes with a few multiplayer games. While they could have been interesting, the game forces both players to drive in first-person view...which is hard and unfulfilling. It ends up feeling like you're playing a game of "Tag" in a bad first-person shooter.
The controls are lousy. Pretty much every car handles like a boat. The steering is awful due to the bad response time; you can actually move the analog stick back and forth at a steady pace and the car will barely move at all. Every car slides around like the streets are covered in ice topped with mud. This isn't the kind of tight control I'd expect in a game filled with high-speed car chases.
The biggest disgrace of all comes in the form of the weak graphics. Given, the first game wasn't a graphical marvel. But compared to this finger painting, it's the Mona Lisa.
The textures? Horrible. I haven't seen pixels this big since Atari's Adventure. The pop-up? Brutal. Entire buildings will suddenly appear yards in front of you and intersections will crop up out of nowhere. The framerate? Laughable. Things run smmothly when there are no other cars on screen at all, but add even one extra vehicle and the game crawls. Add a few more and it crawls like a guy shot in the leg. Add a gang of cops chasing you through a bustling city, and it crawls like a guy shot in the leg carrying a big rock.
I understand that the PSX is on old, shaky legs, but this is just a big step backwards. When they decided to make bigger cities and include a ton of FMV, did they consider the implications on gameplay? Apparently not. Reflections broke the cardinal rule of game design: never sacrifice gameplay for goodies.
Driver 2 suffers from a case of bad timing. Had this game been developed for the PS2, I bet they wouldn't have run into the slew of graphical problems inherent to cramming this much stuff onto the PSX. Without a decent framerate, the control suffers, and without decent control, the game becomes a LOT less fun. As it stands, this game feels more like a beta than a final, and fans of the original should just go play the first one again.