Like Grand Theft Auto (to which it bears more than a passing resemblance), the whole Driver phenomenon had passed me by until recently. In fact, the only reason I bought this iPhone game was because it was on special offer for £1.19, instead of its usual £2.99.
Driver is based on the original Playstation game. You play Tanner, an undercover cop who must infiltrate a network of bad guys by becoming a getaway driver for the underworld. To do this you must undertake a series of missions, impressing them with your driving skills so that they gradually accept you into their inner circle.
This main Undercover mission mode works very well. The story-based structure gives a real sense of achievement as you complete each mission and can move onto the next. On the face of it, there's not much variety in the different mission and they mostly involve driving a car to a specific location without attracting the attention of the cops or wrecking your car.
Despite this superficial similarity, there is a real sense of progression through the missions thanks to a logical narrative connected by some well acted and rendered cut-scenes. You actually feel like this is a real story and become completely engrossed in the game and in the missions you are asked to complete.
Graphics-wise, Driver is excellent, far superior to the disappointing iPhone version of Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars. Eschewing GTA's top-down approach, Driver takes a 3D viewpoint, with the camera sitting behind your car. I was very impressed with the graphics on this. The cars look good and there's a tremendous amount of little details that add to that feeling of realism: traffic lights, for example, change from red to amber to green. Yet, this is not only a nice detail but also part of the game mechanism - jump a red light and you might attract the unwelcome attention of the police.
What impressed me most was the exhilarating sense of speed. Some of the so-called racing games I have seen on the iPhone are awful and seem to crawl along even when you are supposedly driving at 100 miles an hour. Driver zips along and there is a genuine sensation of speed. Again, this frenetic pace is not just there to look good; it is also an important game play mechanism since the faster you go, the quicker your reactions have to be to make a turn or avoid collisions.
The various cars you drive also handle differently, so you're constantly learning new ways of driving. Bigger cars accelerate more slowly and have a lower top speed, but batter obstacles out of the way more easily. Sportier cars are much faster off the mark with a higher top speed, but the steering is twitchier and they suffer damage more easily. This helps each mission feel different and dictates the strategy you need to use on each level.
The game is just as much of an aural treat. Engines give a big throaty roar (again, there are noticeable differences cars) and a funky 70s-style sound track really adds to the atmosphere. As with GTA, a number of different radio stations accompany your driving and the background tunes rarely become annoying, no matter how many times you hear the same one.
Controls - the real Achilles heel of GTA: Chinatown Wars - have been brilliantly implemented. At the bottom right of the screen are two pedals arranged in a reverse L shape. The top pedal is the accelerator; the bottom one is brake (or reverse if you are already stopped). These are very well arranged and it's easy to slide your thumb from one to the other. They are also highly responsive, giving you a fine level of control over your speed.
On the bottom left of the screen small up, down, left and right arrows. The left and right ones used to control your steering. The up arrow gives you a temporary burst of speed, whilst the down arrow is your handbrake and can be used to effect some pretty nifty handbrake turns around tight corners! As with the speed controls, these arrows are all well placed and highly responsive. There's just enough distance between them to make sure you don't accidentally hit the wrong one, but they are close enough together to make it easy to make subtle changes to your road position through a simple slide of your finger.
These well implemented, straightforward and responsive controls make Driver a joy to pick up and play. Even if you've never played a driving game before, you'll find controlling the cars incredibly easy and a really fun experience.
True, Driver can become a little bit frustrating in Undercover mode, as you have to complete each mission in order. If you get stuck on one, you have no option but to keep on playing it until you win. This did mean that there were several times when I was tearing my hair out, replaying the same mission and getting increasingly annoyed every time I failed to complete it. There is a cheat mode you can implement to give you immunity from police or immunity from damage to your car... but this is only available once you have beaten the entire game, which is a further source of frustration.
Still, Driver is such an addictive little game that even the occasional difficulty spikes didn't deter me from playing. It's a game I downloaded a couple of months ago now, and I'm still playing and enjoying it. Even when you get frustrated at failing once more, it has that "just one more go" element that makes you hit Restart immediately. The difficulty level is also pretty fair; and when you fail, it's because you were a bit rubbish, rather than some unfair tactic the game has used.
The main "Undercover" mode is tremendous fun and offers a lot of long term game play, but Driver has several other modes which add to the long-term playability of the game. It also means that if you get stuck on a particular mission, you can take a break and practice your driving skills in one of these other modes. Take a Ride is easily the best allowing you to drive around a number of cities, including Miami, San Francisco, Los Angeles and New York. Driving at speed over the hills of San Francisco is just fantastic and allows you to recreate those great driving moments from the film Bullitt (an obvious influence on the entire game).
Driving Games provide a whole host of sub-games, such as Survival mode, where you have to survive for as long as possible under constant police pursuit or Pursuit Mode where you have to chase down an enemy before he escapes. In total, there are seven of these sub-game which massively increases the long-term appeal of Driver.
As noted in the introduction above, I bought the game at the bargain sale price of £11.9. Yet, even with its normal price £2.99 price tag, I'd still recommend it. It's one of those games which is just fun. Fun to look at and listen to; fun to control and just fun to play - and isn't that what gaming is all about? This is one Driver that passes its test with ease!
© Copyright SWSt 2010