Driver for Sony Playstation
Developed by Reflections

If there's one thing the hyper-competitive and overcrowded Playstation game market didn't need, it was another driving game. Driving games are a dime a dozen anymore, and with the exception of Gran Turismo or the Need For Speed series, most aren't worth the money to buy or the time spent playing them. What the genre could benefit from (as any genre could) is a breath of fresh air, some originality in a cut- and-paste world.

While Driver may not be completely original in its components, the end result is pretty fresh. It's like a cross between Grand Theft Auto and a racing game like Gran Turismo, with elements of the overrated Destruction Derby games as well. This last bit of information is probably no coincidence, as they were both developed by the same company, Reflections.

The basic premise of the game is as such: you assume the role of Tanner, an undercover policeman. You're sent to infiltrate the world of organized crime, using your skills as a driver to aid the criminals in achieving their goals; whether it be making a getaway from a bank job, carrying a package somewhere to make an exchange, or disabling a fleeing vehicle to get at its occupants. All this unfolds in the game's storyline, or undercover mode.

Before you can even begin the undercover mode, however, you have to complete a training course. You go with your potential new employers to a parking garage where you have to complete a set of specific moves in less than a minute. The moves include a burnout, a slalom between the garage's columns, a 180-degree spin, a 360 degree spin, a brake test, and a reverse 180. This took me several attempts before I finally got it right, just before extreme frustration set in. Once you complete this training, the storyline mode begins.

You begin your adventure in Miami, and from there you head to San Francisco, then Los Angeles, and finally, you end up in New York. Along the way, you'll use your driving skills to aid your new cronies is their criminal exploits. Most of the missions basically involve getting someone or something from one place to another in a specified amount of time. A couple missions involve repeatedly ramming another vehicle to disable it.

These are wildly fun, but usually a couple hits will knock the other vehicle out of commission, so the fun is short-lived. A clock at the top of the screen counts its way down to zero, and if you haven't completed your assigned task by then, you start all over.

Also, you have two meters that you need to watch. One is the damage meter, which obviously, tracks the damage done to your vehicle. If it maxes out, your car is toast, and your mission ends. The other meter, which can be even more troubling is the felony meter. Every time a cop spots you doing something illegal, like speeding, running red lights, and anything else your typical criminal would do, your felony meter goes up. Get it too high and the cops will start setting up roadblocks.

Some are avoidable by skirting them on the outside, but on narrow roads, it's either turn tail or get it up to ramming speed. Max out the felony meter, and you'll have cops materializing out of thin air with murder in their eyes. They will ram you with extreme prejudice, and they seldom miss when they have you lined up.

At the beginning, most missions just involve one stage, but as you progress, they will have two and three stages. The three stage missions can be maddening, since you can complete one stage, only to mess up the second, resulting in having to start back at square one. Once you make it to the third stage, though, you will only return to the beginning of the third stage if you fail to complete it.

But, the damage to your car will accumulate over all the stages, and I've found myself at the beginning of the third stage with my car near death, resulting in it being virtually impossible to complete my mission. If you begin a stage with a severely damaged car and severely pissed off cops, you may as well pack it in, Margaret, because your odds of finishing the stage are slim. Couple this with a rain stage (traction is virtually non-existent, making high- speed cornering a dodgy proposition) and your chances are even more insignificant.

This is all done in a definite 70s movie style, with funky music, and big gas guzzling vehicles abound. The gameplay is a bit exaggerated, which should come as little surprise to anyone who played either of the Destruction Derby titles. The driving is also straight out of an action movie, in that you can wildly skid around corners with tires squalling. Your hubcaps will even fly off during hard turns, providing even more of a movie feel.

The gravity is pretty light, which results in big air over jumps, and wild collisions with almost cartoonish results. A side impact collision at high speed is likely to send the other car spinning wildly down the street for a very long distance, and in the rain, cars skid around like drunken Eskimos. (?)

Graphically, the game is above average. The cityscapes look very good, and the other cars, while basically all looking the same, look nice as well. The stages at night are very nice, and in night stages with rain, reflections can even be seen in the pavement. Your car will take damage corresponding to what you hit, and where on your car it hits.

If you sideswipe another vehicle, your car shows damage on the corresponding side. If you rear-end a vehicle, your headlights are knocked out. Get rear ended and lose your tail lights, and so on. The cities have recognizable landmarks (such as San Francisco's Transamerica Building) and, as the game packaging states, "working traffic systems." I can attest to this, as I sat at red light waiting for it to turn green so the cop on the cross street wouldn't chase me. Eventually, the light changed, and off I went with no tail. I won't hazard a guess as to why the cop sat at a green light without moving; who am I to judge?

The intelligence of your police pursuers seems to wax and wane throughout the game. In some stages, you can reach your destination with a whole slab of bacon on your ass, and your mission ends successfully. But on other stages, just one cop on your tail results in you not being able to stop until you've lost him. This can be pretty aggravating, as some of the stages are impossible to complete with any significant amount of time remaining, leaving you little time to waste on losing a tail.

Driver ends up being a bit less than it wants to be, and definitely less than it could have been. The premise behind the game is one of the coolest and most unique to come down the pike in a long time. Unfortunately, some of the game's quirks can get annoying, and the basic repetitive nature of the missions (drive fast to get somewhere in a short period of time) sap the replay value severely.

Often, you simply drive down a straight road for a minute or longer. How about a curve or two? A two-player mode would also have been a great addition, with one player being cop to the other player's robber. The attraction of the "free ride" segment is pretty limited as well, unless you want to explore that much to find any short cuts, or you just feel like creating as many wild crashes and multi-car pileups as possible.

This one is fun for a while, but before long you'll wish there was more to it.

Review by ICE