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Driver (PSX) Review

Background Info

For all the racing games that have been released for the Playstation over the past couple of years, it's been a while since we've seen anything original. Not that there haven't been some great racers, but apart from Gran Turismo, and to a lesser extent Need for Speed 3, little has been done to advance the genre. It's mainly been a steady diet of sequels. Until now, that is. Clearly inspired by the car chase movies of the '70's, GT Interactive/Reflections has blended elements of the Need for Speed series, Grand Theft Auto, the Die Hard Trilogy, and their own Destruction Derby games to create a unique arcade-style driving experience. Buckle up and put the pedal to the floor baby, it's time to burn some rubber!

Presentation/Graphics : 95
Driver is not the type of game that relies on eye candy to get its point across. The visuals on display here are far from ugly, but GT Interactive/Reflections has wisely chosen to dedicate the Playstation's processing power to ensure that, first and foremost, the game moves smooth and fast. You'll appreciate this as soon as you start playing. Not only does Driver provide a great sense of speed (trust me, the in-car view is the way to go here), the game refuses to slow down even as the action on-screen heats up. The car models are a little blocky (hey, it's the '70's after all) but, in much the same way as the Destruction Derby series, they show damage and lots of it. There are also several nice little touches such as hubcaps flying off your wheels, skid marks, and smoke effects. The environments consist of four cities (Miami, San Francisco, L.A., and New York), and they're huge and fairly detailed. They can be driven both during the day and at night. The cars have working headlights but the streets are illuminated as much by ambient lighting as by your car. There are some really dark spots that make navigating the streets at night a tricky, and sometimes frustrating, proposition.

Presentation/Audio : 85
The audio package in Driver is loud, clear, and extremely dynamic. The sound in this game positively booms from your speakers and fills the room. From the throaty roar of the '70's muscle cars to the screeching of tires as you powerslide around a corner, the game's sound effects are uniformly excellent. The music, which sounds like it came straight out of a '70's action flick, suits the game to a tee. It's nice to see a developer exploit the Playstation's CD technology for a change. GT Interactive/Reflections have done just that and the great sound adds a lot to the overall experience of Driver.

Interface/Options : 87
Upon reviewing Driver's control scheme, two things became immediately apparent. First, there is no option to use the right analog stick for gas and brake. This has been a disturbing trend among Playstation racing games of late, one which strikes me as laziness in most cases. The second glaring omission is that of a manual transmission option. What kind of driving game, I thought to myself, doesn't give you the option to shift gears? On closer inspection, and after playing the game for a bit, I realized that Driver makes full use of the controller functions as is, and to add more control options would require more buttons or an extra appendage. In addition to the usual gas, brake, and handbrake controls, Driver gives you the ability to burn-out, apply maximum steering lock, and look left and right. I'd have traded the look left/right function for a manual transmission any day, but the burn-out and max steer controls add a lot to the gameplay.

Sadly, it comes as little surprise that Driver doesn't feature a rear-view mirror; few racing games do these days. Instead you get a radar/map of the city. The radar directs you towards your mission objectives and alerts you to the presence of the law. Cops in pursuit are identified by triangular indicators along the bottom of the screen. It's not a rear-view mirror, but gets the job done.

The menus are nothing too fancy, but they're simple, well designed and it's easy to find your way around. The undercover mode has an interesting interface of its own. After every mission you're returned to your character's apartment. There you can check messages on the answering machine, and as you scroll around the room, the game's other options are presented to you. It's a nifty idea.

Gameplay : 94
Driver presents the gamer with a plethora of gameplay modes, as many as I've ever seen offered in a game. Most of them take the form of mini-games that build on the skills required to perform well in the main game. Some of them are quite fun in their own right, but they seem mostly like a cheeky way of luring players to practice. Very clever. In fact, the developers seem preoccupied with ensuring that gamers acquire the skills necessary to derive maximum enjoyment from the game. Nothing wrong with that. There are several modes and methods available to hone your skills.

The centerpiece of the game is the Undercover mode. You are cast as Tanner and assume the role of a special agent working undercover as a getaway driver for the mob. The story unfolds over the course of some 40+ missions (eg. pick up Ticco and take him where he wants to go, whereupon he caps some poor thug who double-crossed him). The story line is decent enough but, face it, this game is really about the drivin'. However, before you're allowed to take the wheel for real, you must first pass an "interview" test. Conceptually, this is much like the mandatory license tests in Gran Turismo in that you have to prove your mettle before you can get into the game proper. If you hated the idea of the license tests in GT, chances are pretty good you won't be thrilled with the interview test here. Fortunately, there's only one of them, but there are several maneuvers you must execute within a set time limit in order to move on. Frankly, I would have preferred to jump right into the game and learn as I went.

Unlike most racers, Driver's control takes some time to master. I usually cotton to racing games pretty quickly but, in this case, it took a little while for everything to come together. However, when the control clicked, the whole game took off. Driver is truly a blast to play. Powersliding has never been this effective or so much fun. Once you get started working your way through the missions, the game grabs hold and refuses to let go. It's hard to stop playing. Driver has that 'just one more' factor in spades. Not surprisingly, much of the gameplay involves running from the cops and, thanks to the superb control, it's never been so exhilarating. You are directed to mission objectives by a narrowing cone on your radar, and they are identified by a large red arrow when you arrive at your destination. You can drive just about anywhere to get where you're going including across medians, down back alleys, through parks, and up sidewalks as pedestrians scurry for cover. If all of this sounds vaguely familiar, it should. Driver borrows heavily from the highly underrated driving segment of Die Hard Trilogy. Driver adds to it and builds an entire game around essentially the same concept.

If all this weren't enough, the game includes a film director mode which allows aspiring filmmakers to create and edit their own replays. The interface is very intuitive and it's not hard to kill hours just fooling around with replays. James Cameron I ain't, but I sure had fun with this mode.

Replay Value : 89
Once you get past the slight learning curve presented by the control and license test, Driver presents a nice balance of challenge and ease of use. The AI of the cops is adjustable and the missions are progressively challenging. The amount of replay inherent in Driver will vary from one gamer to the next. Certainly, there's a ton of gameplay packed into the missions that form the undercover mode. However, Driver is a one-player game only so, long-term, it will all come down to how much you dig the mini-games.

Overall : 90
I have to be honest here, my expectations of Driver were high, but the game took some time to win me over. It wasn't love at first sight by any means. I found the interview test off-putting and the control initially frustrating. However, once everything gelled, it became hard to put down the controller. Driver combines a fresh concept, multiple modes of play, immersive sound and visuals, and superb control into a game that is immensely fun to play. GT Interactive/Reflections have put together a complete package that should appeal to a broad spectrum of gamers including those who aren't traditionally attracted to driving games. Well done!

By: Pete Anderson 9/14/99

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