While Driver has a top notch concept, good gameplay/replay value and other intangibles going for it, its utter failure to deliver on several other fronts leads to only a moderately successful game.
In the game your name is Tanner…you carry a badge. That is you do until the fuzz decides they could use your former race car driving skills (yeah, I know lots of former race car drivers that became cops) to infiltrate the feared Castaldi crime family as a driver.
Any game where you’re an undercover cop posing as a mobster starts off with a few extra points in my book. However, the plot becomes about as thin as a piece of looseleaf and the cut screens used to tell the unfolding story are about as attractive as a undercover cop who gets caught posing as a mobster.
You progress through the four cities of Miami, Los Angeles, San Francisco and of course New York doing jobs for the family (aka driving.) However, before you can even begin to play this mode, you must pass what winds up being a rather difficult "driving test" to prove you have the skills to pay the bills. The test consists of various driving maneuvers like 360s and reverse 180s, but you’re confined to a small parking garage and if you hit anything it counts as damage to the car. Get damaged four times and you’ve got to start all over. Oh yeah, I almost forgot: you’ve only got 60 seconds to do everything they want.
I harp on this because it’s a major pain in the ass. I have no problem with the notion of practicing a game before you actually jump into a game mode, but under no circumstances should it be mandatory to do so in order to play the actual game.
Anyway, onto the gameplay. While there are some minor annoyances, the gameplay is very good. The physics of the crashes are exaggerated but not to the point where you’re watching things that the laws of that science I was so bad at remembering in high school are completely broken. The cops who chase you throughout these cities are bad muthas’. They’ll do anything to take you down and frequently try. The missions become repetitive after a while, usually consisting of picking someone up, transporting somebody or rescuing someone, but the changes of scenery and constant harassment from the Man make up for it.
Driver has many little things going for it though. The funky 70’s soundtrack and police sirens make you feel like you’re watching an episode of Chips (by the way a Chips game would rock.) The director’s/replay feature is incredible even though you need a degree in engineering to figure out how to work it properly. Also, the other game modes of Survival, Pursuit and Dirt Track Racing, among others, lend enormous replay value to the game. The final mission you go on is also so over the top that it’s hysterically funny.
The cities themselves are absolutely huge and, as near as I can tell, about as close to real life as you can get. New York’s got the World Trade Center, the Lincoln Tunnel and the Brooklyn Bride, while San Francisco comes complete with its signature trolleys, steep hills and the Golden Gate Bridge. The on-screen map is very easy to use and makes the game much more about your skills as a driver rather than your skills as a navigator.
A choice of cars to drive would have been nice though, as well as some differences in how you can go about completing your missions. In any mission where you’re up against a clock, you have to ultimately find the fastest route and just floor it, otherwise its back to the drawing board.
Of course, a two-player mode would have been awesome, but it is absent. The graphics of the game are adequate, neither adding a great deal to, or taking away from, the game itself.
The game essentially plays like a 3D version of Grand Theft Auto without the insane amount of violence. I felt no need to get out of my car with a flamethrower and go buck wild on the boys in blue. Simply speeding through a police roadblock as the Man scrambled to catch me was enough to satisfy.
Overall though the game is not a complete experience. While nobody plays a car racing/crashing game for the story and plot, if you’re going to try and introduce one, it ought to be halfway decent. The story wound up laying out like a bad movie with Robert DeNiro and/or Al Pacino playing cops or gangsters or both (not that they’ve ever done that.)
The game scores a final 3 GiN Gems. Those coming to play simply for the car carnage will be happy, but if your going to try and raise a genre game onto another level (with an evolving story-line) you better be sure you can reach that level, and Driver didn’t quite cross the finish line on that one.