The fuzz is on your tail Tanner, step on it! Blaring sirens, screeching tires and the smell of burnt rubber set the mood of the evening. Miami is not as peaceful when Tanner is behind the wheel of a V8.
Actually you are Tanner, and you are an undercover cop that goes so deep undercover that the boys in blue got no clue to your identity. From the get go Driver is a driving game not to be confused with Grand Theft Auto or the second sequel Driv3r where you also ran around outside your vehicle.
From the opening mission that gives you a tutorial in a parking garage you are stuck behind the wheel of a petrol guzzler. The game pays homage to all those classic car chase movies with swerving tail-heavy lumps of metal chasing each other. In Sweden we never really had those cars other than for our hillbillies as most of us had SAAB and Volvo back in the ‘70s.
Driver is a port of a game I played like crazy on the Playstation One, and not much has changed, thankfully. The original Driver was not a perfect game, and I really like the fact that Gameloft hasn’t tried repairing those flaws. The flaws are loose imprecise controls and wonky mission structure.
There are three control methods available: accelerometer, virtual stick and digital pad. Forget the accelerometer right away, it demands too much movement and it is really hard to combine with the touch controls. The virtual stick is picky in that you really have to grab it to be able to move it. At way too many occasions my car smashes into oncoming traffic despite my thumb moving over the virtual stick trying to avoid mayhem. Finally the control option that I prefer: digital pad. The digital pad reminds most of the original control method found on the Playstation One. It is responsive, and I can drive through police barricades with accuracy. Still some strange button placements spoil this method from being perfect. The burnout button is placed as the top button in the digital pad, and the bottom button is the handbrake. Neither of these is usable when you have to simultaneously turn using left or right with the digital pad using the same thumb. Actually it is common that I spin out of control when my thumb accidentally hits the burnout button when all I want is to slowly cruise out from a parking space. No matter which control method you choose there is a definite learning curve, and an hour or two of swearing. Driving these tail spinning V8s really makes me appreciate my Citroen C4 with anti-spin even more.
The mission structure has always been wonky in Driver. You get to choose which mission you want to play by listening to recorded messages on an answering machine. That is fine, and actually all missions with only one distance to travel are fine. The problem is that most missions have at least two distances to travel, and if you have committed any crime or smashed your car up you will have to contend with that for the upcoming stretches as well. Even such a minor detail such as which way you face when you enter a checkpoint can determine the outcome of a mission. I faced the wrong direction, and had the police chasing me on a mission where I had to chase a boat, and it took me 20 retries to beat it. Of course if you drive slowly, and avoid the cops you will have an easier mission later on but who uses cruise control in a V8?
Driver is a marvelous game with stellar presentation. The cut-scenes ooze the atmosphere of the decade I was born, and I love it. The draw distance is fairly good on my 3GS, and it is basically a Playstation One game you have in your pocket when it comes to the graphics. Some menus, and effects look to be refurbished but still it retains all the style of the original Driver. The colour palette is more vibrant, and I feel like a bit of Miami Vice has been injected to give this feeling. Especially opening city Miami looks bright, and perhaps it is the ocean making the splash. I have not seen any reports stating any problems for the 3G or iPod Touch but I have not been able to confirm this. Longer loading times for the slower devices but that is only to be expected.
The audio has always been a strong aspect of Driver, and all sound effects are top notch even though I as always yearn for even heavier engine sounds when revving a V8. There are three radio stations to choose from with cool time inspired chatter, and ‘70s funk, rock and pop music. It gets annoying to hear the same lines when you have to retry a section, but then you can at least change the channel or turn the radio off. I have not managed to play my own music, but quite frankly I have nothing on my iPhone that suits the game better.
With 40 missions, and two different levels of difficulty Driver takes several hours to complete. Missions are varied but all demand your concentration as the wheelman. Each of the four cities take about 4 hours each depending on your skill level giving you at least 16 hours of Driver goodness. The original Driver had three different endings depending on your performance, and I have yet to confirm that this is true for the iPhone version as well. There are a whole heap of other modes available beside the main Undercover mode. Carnage that lets you destroy as much as you can within a minute. There is a pursuit where you get to be the fuzz, or getaway when you yet again is the mouse. There are even checkpoint racing, a survival mode and dirt track racing. Local high scores for most of the driving games give you the incentive to play again.
It is so much fun just driving in Driver as the cars handle like they did in the era before the oil crisis. Even if the cops are a bit strange in their approach to stopping you by smashing you at full speed I think the AI is ok by a game from 1999. If you played the original you have to get it for your iPhone. If you didn’t play the original you have to get it now, as it is a modern classic. Back in the day the argument use to be between GTA and Driver, and quite frankly Driver is the better game in the long run due to being more challenging and having more realistic handling. Of course there are times when I would like to change vehicle but as I can’t I have to make sure to drive more careful the next time when my car has blown up.
The difficulty in Driver is generally quite hard even when you play on the easy setting due to the fact that the cops seem to chase you even if you try to abide the traffic laws. When playing on the hard, or rather original, setting the game gets even narlier. Driver has got the kind of gameplay that makes me retry until I get it, unlike so many games that I simply put away never to play again.
I recommend Driver as a polished fun game bringing a bit of gaming history to the iPhone. Great graphics, audio and gamelife paired with workable controls make for a great experience not to be missed. And the story of the game is actually quite good in the cheesy car chase movie kind of style. Get behind the wheel!