In the past few years, the open-ended crime simulation subgenre has exploded, due in no small part to the success of Grand Theft Auto III. But back when GTA was still just a 2D game in an increasingly 3D world, Reflections released a PlayStation game called Driver. While it didn't offer the sort of weapon-based, on-foot thrills that you'd expect from a modern game, Driver sort of set the tone for what was to follow by giving you a fairly open city with a lot of potential for, well...driving. But times have changed. Driver 2, which came out in 2000, went ahead and added some carjacking and other out-of-car experiences. Today's popular crime games mix free-form driving sequences with a healthy dose of on-foot action complete with a whole lot of gunplay and gritty subject matter. And Reflections has put together such a game in the third installment in the Driver series, which once again puts you in the shoes of Tanner, an undercover FBI agent with a lead foot. Unfortunately, a bevy of technical problems make portions of the game feel sloppy and unfinished, such that even diehard fans of the series will have a hard time liking Driver 3.
Driver 3's cutscenes are one of its few strengths.
This time around, Tanner is trying to infiltrate a Miami-based car thief ring, which is working to steal 40 exotic cars and ship them out of Miami. Part of the game's story involves finding out who the thieves in the car ring are working for, where the cars are going, and who's double-crossing whom. You'll start out in Miami, eventually make your way to Nice for some French car chases, and you'll also spend some time in Istanbul. The story is mostly told via prerendered cutscenes that fall somewhere between a music video and a movie in terms of style and inspiration. Generally speaking, the cutscenes look pretty good, even though they are encoded at lower bitrates that show off some unsightly artifacting. In fact, the cutscenes are probably the best part about Driver 3.
Despite featuring three large cities to drive in, Driver 3's main mode is a linear, mission-based game that sends you on mission after mission until you've unraveled the game's story. Each mission has clear-cut objectives, like chasing after a guy who double-crossed your gang, stealing three cars and driving them into the back of a moving truck before the truck gets to its destination, or driving around on an enemy's turf and busting up the place by crashing through exploding barrels and other objects. At the end of every mission, you're given the option to save and then you can continue on to the next mission. The missions tend to vary from city to city, but the lackluster gameplay really prevents many of the missions from being much fun.
Driver's technical issues really get in the way of the rest of the game.
For a game called "Driver," you may be surprised to find yourself spending quite a lot of time out of your car, and that's where the first significant gameplay problem comes to light: most of the on-foot action is weak. Your control over Tanner is stiff, at best. As you'd expect, the left stick strafes and the right stick steers, as in a typical shooter. You can fire weapons, you can halfheartedly jump, and you can duck to perform some pretty lame rolls. While you probably wouldn't expect much more from a gruff undercover guy like Tanner, all of his movements look stilted and jittery, and the gunplay--despite giving you access to a number of different pistols, submachine guns, an assault rifle, a shotgun, and a grenade launcher--is decidedly underwhelming. The combat in the game isn't tense at all, and it mostly consists of you running up to enemies and blasting them...before they blast back, if possible. However, the game is pretty liberal with the health packs, so you can certainly trade shots with most of your foes without worrying too much. Since most of the game's artificial intelligence is incompetent, you can usually get the drop on the bad guys.
The game's driving portions are better than the on-foot stuff, but not all that much better. You're given a map of the city with a pretty clear indication of where to go, and you're usually in a hurry, so there isn't much time to explore the game's cities in the story mode. The physics behind the driving appear to be designed to give you that '70s-cop-show-car-chase feel, in that everything has been exaggerated. Even the slightest turn around a corner is a tire-screeching, sliding-out affair. Getting slammed hard by a cop car might send you flying into the air, causing you to barrel roll a half-dozen times before crashing back to Earth.
The problem is that the driving isn't especially fun, as you constantly feel more like you're fighting to stay in control of the car than skillfully outmaneuvering your pursuers. Sometimes you'll hit a ramp and land just fine; and sometimes you'll land differently and roll your car, forcing you to retry a mission. There are also some discrepancies between what you can and can't drive through. Some objects will let you drive right through them, while others will stop all of your forward progress with a loud, damaging crash. What's more, it's even occasionally possible to crash into objects like streetlights or trees, essentially making it look like the streetlight or other object is growing out of the middle of your car. This causes your car to become completely stuck.
The AI routines make the game's cops look like complete idiots.