Take to the streets with Driver
(IDG) -- Driving a virtual vehicle through the streets of a city in which I've lived has always held a singular appeal for me. I spend so much time exploring places that don't actually exist that interpretations of places that do -- as in Vette, Die Hard Trilogy, Midtown Madness and now Driver -- acquire a certain happy resonance. Honey, I'm home.
In Driver, Reflections (best known in recent years for its Demolition Derby games) has supplied a huge range of opportunities for automotive mayhem, skillful wheel-handling and pure sightseeing. You can follow a "ghost" car through training exercises, go for an open-ended drive, watch sample films of in-game chases (and fine-tune your own using the Film Director) and play seven mini-games -- the most rigorous of which is "Survival," in which you're targeted by hordes of zooming, predatory police cars.
However, the meat of Driver is the 40-plus missions that your retired stock car driver/undercover policeman undertakes in trimmed-down versions of Miami, San Francisco, Los Angeles and New York.
After you demonstrate proficiency in nine basic maneuvers, you find yourself in Miami as the wheelman on a bank robbery, deliveries, pick-ups, rescues, tails and so forth. Eventually, your rep gets around, and you'll have a range of offers from criminal types queued up on the answering machine. They get better and better.
One of the last in Miami had me driving through the plate-glass windows of five restaurants. One of the first in San Francisco had me transporting a volatile, unsecured crate on the bed of a pickup truck and, in another, masquerading as a taxi driver an trying to throw a scare into a fare.
The nicest thing about Driver is its openness. No fixed courses are provided. The raw material is the cities, and you make of them what you will. You get where you must go the way you want to go.
And it's a realistic world. The streets are often thick with achingly slow traffic. Cars move in one direction on one-way streets (at least until you show up), stop at traffic lights, and their brake lights glow. They use turn signals. They follow the laws, and the police enforce them with wild-eyed enthusiasm. (They'll cut you off, ram you head-on, sit on your bumper until your damage meter is full and your car is history and set up roadblocks.)
Your own car (typically, a muscular gray sedan) bounces on its suspension when it comes off a jump and emits of throaty growl as it idles. (Driver's brassy music just got on my nerves.) When it's raining at night, the pavement looks like ... well, like it's raining at night! When I was in the thick of a mission, the world around me just vanished. I was in the world of Driver.
And yet, as enjoyable, challenging and resonant as Driver is, Reflections' first PC game since its acquisition by GT Interactive nevertheless pulls up somewhat short of what it could have been. It seems to have been converted from the PlayStation without much thought to improvements beyond the inevitable 3D-card support. It does look pretty, but it is wanting in some details.
For instance, while Driver generally feels authentic, I've seen collisions send cars flying a good three or four stories into the air in decided Demolition Derby/Carmageddon style. If this is "real car physics," as is asserted on the back of the box, I'm Henry Ford. At the same time, Driver seems scared of the water, and even the shallowest curbs (and invisible barriers, if you're airborne) will keep your car from landing in the ocean.
An onscreen indicator of your next destination isn't provided on the mini-map inset until you close in on your target. Until I learned the in and outs of a particular city, I constantly had to switch back to the menu and select the full-screen map -- an awkward process. Why isn't there an directional arrow on the edge of the mini-map, and why isn't the full map hot-keyed?
You can often save your game between missions, but Driver has an annoying habit of stringing missions together in a bunch without offering that option. For instance, I played the last three Miami and the first San Francisco mission together as a piece because of this omission, and thus had to play about 90 minutes more than I'd planned to play that session.
Shouldn't we play the game at our discretion, rather than at Driver's?
Finally (and unbelievably), there's no multiplayer... at all. Even a simple cops-and-robbers game would have been nice.
But I can live without it. In Driver, I'm home.
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