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Driver (PC) Review

Background Info

Screens(15)
Driver was a spectacularly successful Playstation title, selling over a million copies in the first few months of sales. The game is in a genre all to itself. It combines realistic free-roaming city environments reminiscent of Microsoft's Midtown Madness with a story-based mission structure. Sounds like a recipe for guaranteed success, but does it pan out?

Presentation/Graphics : 85
The graphics in the game are fairly good, but clearly not in the same class as Midtown Madness. The frame-rate is a little lower, and there is more scenery popup. I think the game engine could have used a little more optimization. Also, there are no curved roads in the game, all corners are right angles, which limited what the designers could do with the map design.

On the plus side the car models are well done, as are the cities themselves. Each of the environments has a unique look and feel that is appropriate to the city, although the maps themselves bear no resemblance to any real world street layouts. The time-of-day effects are very well done, including a nice dynamic change in lighting conditions from night to daylight and vice-versa. The damage model on the cars is fairly advanced. For example, the first thing you'll lose in a crash is your headlights, which calls for some careful driving on night missions.

The in-game cut-scenes are done with the game engine, and work very well. For example, at a pickup job you'll see the car stop and people will run from a building to the car. The movies in between missions, on the other hand, do not work on my 12MB Voodoo2 card (some other Voodoo2 owners have reported the same problem). When played through Windows they work, and are fairly well done if occasionally repetitive. Even though the game's been out for a while there's been no second patch to fix the movie problem, which is a shame - it detract from the game's immersiveness somewhat.

Presentation/Audio : 85
The sounds are simple but effective. The car you're driving sounds realistic enough, and there are environmental sounds like police cars and so on. Tire-squeal is used to give you feedback on what the wheels are doing. The sound is adequate, but again not as polished or immersive as that in Midtown Madness.

Interface/Options : 80
The main menu screen in Driver is a little confusing, since it uses pictures to represent the various choices instead of a simple menu. It's also a little buggy - sometimes the current menu selection will only scroll in one direction, and it only supports the keyboard. The save-game system is also a bit wonky, since you can only save between certain missions.

There's also a quirk on some missions where you have to stop at a very precise spot on the map. I presume this is a bug, since it doesn't happen on all missions.

Despite these interface problems, the game has a solid set of options and features. Setting up devices like a steering wheel is easy, and it supports force feedback. The force feedback implementation is very good in my opinion. Rather than going for cheesy collision and road texture effects they used FF to give you a feel for what the wheels are doing. I could easily feel when the wheels locked up going around a corner for example, and this makes it easy to do opposite-lock slides and other movie-like maneuvers.

The in-game driving map is well implemented. You can pause the game and bring it up full-screen. It shows your position, an arrow to your objective, and a good system for showing you what the cops are up to. You can see the nearby cops on your map, as well as a "cone of vision" indicating what the police car can see. As long as you behave the traffic laws while in their sight you can do whatever you want and they won't bother you. Of course, once you've broken the law they are looking for you - their "cone of vision" gets larger.

As well as the basic campaign single-player game there are a whole bunch of "driving games" that are actually quite fun. A rather big omission, however, is the lack of any multiplayer mode. That's obviously not a problem on the Playstation where this game originated, but on the PC it can be a serious flaw for some gamers.

Gameplay : 75
There is quite a bit to like about Driver's gameplay. It's easy to see why it was a big hit on the Playstation.

First of all, the driving model is excellent for an arcade game. It's not nearly as realistic as the Midtown Madness model, but it is easy to drive. More importantly, it's easy and fun to do James Bond-like power slides and other driving tricks we are always seeing in the movies. In combination with the good force feedback implementation, the driving feel is the most addictive and enjoyable part of the game.

The mission design is a mixed bag. The first mission - "The Interview" - is one of the worst designed missions I've ever seen in a video game. Overly complex, unintuitive, and extraordinarily difficult for a first mission, many users have rightly complained about it. Fortunately, there is a cheat to skip the interview (go to www.driverhq.com to get the cheat).

After that horror, the missions are fun and well balanced for the first quarter of the game. Once you change cities, however, the missions start getting exponentially more difficult. The game begins to show its console roots here. On the Playstation platform many games achieve their replayability through game difficulty that requires missions to be replayed many times. A lot of PC gamers will probably find this frustrating, and will be forced to resort to cheats (either cheat codes, or by editing the text files that control each mission

Another problem is that the time limits on many missions are too short. It would be nice to have enough time to outwit the police instead of always outrunning them, but on many missions that just isn't possible.

Replay Value : 70
I found the replayability of Driver to be quite limited. In the end I found myself giving up on the game sooner that I would have liked. Your mileage may vary, but only if you like very difficult games. And of course, with no multiplayer mode there isn't much left once you finish the single-player game.

Overall : 78
This game had incredible potential. The combination of free-roaming Microsoft Madness type cities with a mission-based gameplay structure was and is a fantastic idea. But the implementation could have been better. Maybe the next version will be better (and with a hit this big, I'm sure a sequel is inevitable). Despite some nice touches like a good arcade driving model and quality force feedback, my honest advice is to rent the Playstation version for a weekend of fun.

By: Joe McGinn 11/17/99



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