What stop sign, officer?
One of the highlights of being a teenager is learning how to drive. It's a necessary evil in this day and age, one that often requires long hours spent behind the wheel with mom hollering barely coherent directions from the passenger seat. Learning to drive may also include taking lessons from a 'driving instructor,' usually some middle aged guy with bad breath, cheap clothes, and absolutely no desire to live.
My greatest moment came during my first lesson with a driving instructor. After a leisurely cruise through my suburban neighborhood, the instructor told me to pull out onto Wilshire Boulevard (a major street in Los Angeles). I hid my terror beneath a crooked smile and pulled out into real traffic for the first time in my life. After a few uneventful blocks, I began to relax.
Suddenly, I saw a small child chase a ball into the street about half a block away. I eased off the gas and began slowing down. Things seemed perfectly under control, though my fearless instructor felt otherwise. With a gurgled cry, he thrust his foot down onto the passenger side brake (you gotta love those Teen Auto cars) and we jerked to a stop. However, the truck behind us was not as fortunate.
The collision was epic. Shattered glass, twisted metal, and thankfully no injuries. The funny thing is that we were a good 100 feet from the kid, who barely took notice. When we got out of the car, my instructor whispered in a low voice, "Man, I gotta get a new job. That's my fourth accident this month." I swear this is true.
So I sort of feel that I was meant to review a game like Driver, the latest from GT Interactive. Developed by Reflections (the Destruction Derby folks), Driver takes the racing game genre to new heights with an explosive combination of action, realism and depth. With a revolutionary replay feature and the best gameplay I've seen in ages, this puppy is simply the hottest game in town.
If you somehow missed the hype, here's the scoop. Driver puts you in the role of Tanner, an undercover cop trying to infiltrate a crime ring. You pose as a 'driver for hire,' escorting members of the underworld around the city. You'll have to contend with the cops on patrol, other criminals, and a fully functioning city filed with pedestrians and innocent motorists.
Driver is essentially a racing game, but not like any you've seen before. Each city is a fully functioning place. Traffic lights actually work, and other cars will follow general traffic laws. This means that if you slam into a car and create a big accident in an intersection, traffic will actually back up for a block or so. Plus, breaking the law pisses off the cops, who will try to stop your illegal driving with reckless abandon.
You have two meters to keep track of -- Damage and Felony. Take too much damage and it's game over. Break too many laws and your Felony meter increases. The higher the meter, the more ferocious the police pursuit.
The main way to play is in 'Undercover' mode, where the story unfolds through over 40 missions spanning 4 cities: Miami, San Francisco, LA, and New York. The missions cover a range of objectives, though most involve trying to get from point A to point B in one piece. This isn't as easy as it sounds.
Like any good Hollywood action flick, Driver puts you in situations that lead to some hysterically thrilling racing moments. A typical 10 seconds may involve skidding around a blind corner, narrowly missing a tree, and slamming on the brakes right as a cop tries to run you off the road. Then you'll peel out straight into oncoming traffic, bouncing off cars left and right, resulting in a monstrous congestion that leaves the cop stranded behind a blocked street. This game stops your breathing.
Driver excels where other games have failed by striking a perfect balance between action and realism. Car handling is a wonderful mixture of true physics and arcade functionality -- not as nitpicky and sim oriented as Gran Turismo nor as ridiculously implausible as SF Rush. Driving follows the 'easy to learn, hard to master' formula, though the first mission (The Interview) will have novices begging for mercy.
In addition to the excellent car physics, Driver has full damage modeling. Back into a telephone pole and you'll see an appropriate dent; smash into a throng of police cars and you might find the handling out of whack. The detail can be seen in little things, like smoking tires when you peel out, hubcaps flying off as you careen around corners, and thick smoke pouring out of your engine after a particularly nasty collision.
You'll find plenty of replayability in Driver. In addition to Undercover mode, you can Take a Drive through any of the 4 sprawling cities to better familiarize yourself with the area (the maps are huge). You can also engage in a variety of Driving Games, ranging from Checkpoint racing to the awesome Survival mode. In this mode, it's you against a seemingly endless number of extremely aggressive cops, leading to some amazing crashes.
As if this wasn't enough, Driver comes packed with an extensive Film Director. After a race, you can cut and edit the replay to your liking, and then save your movie. While the editor is hardly a simple tool (editing a 3 minute race could take 30 minutes), it's well worth it, especially after a particularly brutal experience. And if you're not in the mood to do it yourself, you can always watch the Quick Replay as shown through an auto-director.
Though surely a tremendous game, there's always room for improvement. Graphically, Driver isn't spectacular. It's good, but the pop-up is noticeable and things are a little grainy. However, the graphical problems are mainly a result of the Playstation's limited power, and the PC version due out later will likely improve this area. Also, the FMV and voice acting are not very good. Higher quality video and actors would have helped the story out.
Further, Undercover mode follows a preset path. You often have a choice of missions, but if you fail, you don't keep going. I'd like to see a story mode more like Colony Wars, where success isn't the only way to proceed. It would have been more interesting to see the story break into different paths. I may be stretching here, but I have to complain about something. Shall we call these ideas for a sequel?
In the end, I just don't have the words to describe how much fun this game is. Rarely does a game captivate the stoic and hypercritical Game Revolution office, but Driver has done just that. We're hooked, and we highly advise getting hooked yourself. Besides, it's a better way to learn how to drive than Driver's Ed. Trust me.