Driver…

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Okay, basically this article is something of a rant about my general apathy towards the ‘me-too!’ mentality of many developers and the damage it’s doing not only to their own IP, but the industry as a whole. My example in this case is going to be… Driver.

Yes, I know, Driver is almost as infamous as ‘Army Men’ these days, almost a euphemism for bad gaming. However, original Driver was sublime. It was fun, fresh and original. Yes, it was riddled with bugs and glitches – you could get stuck ‘inside’ buildings and so on and the last level was stupidly difficult. But there really was no other alternative.

In fact, to be honest I still play it now and it’s still great fun! So… What happened?

Namely, GTA. There’s more to it than that and it’s not really Rockstar’s fault that ‘Driver’ became a name to avoid in gaming.

Some time ago I remember reading an article in Edge referring to Driver Vs. GTA, and ironically, the spokesperson for Reflections (developer of Driver) used the fact that in Driver ‘you don’t get out of the car’ as one of the differentiating points between the two games. And a well-made point it was.

Driver was pure, it was distilled. The thrill of city chases on four wheels with none of the fluff. So mysteriously, the announcement was made that Driver 2 would have ‘circular roads’. Strange, I loved the simple geometry of the original. You knew how to handle each corner, you knew how to slide the car, the degrees of braking etc. So why the sudden change to rounded roads? I was confused, but it would get worse. MUCH worse…

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‘Tanner’would now be controllable on foot. This was worrying. GTA had long had the ability to get out of the car, but that was part of the game – it was DESIGNED for that to happen. Driver was almost the opposite, pure driving in a fantasy, gritty setting. You leave the on-foot gubbins to the CGI, your job is to DRIVE THE DAMN CAR. This was a good thing; simplicity is what makes most great games great. So why complicate matters? Sure, you could argue that one must try new things every once in a while, but surely not if the result is graphically embarrassing and painful to play.

Yet, they did it. Tanner could now leave the car in real-time and how people wished he’d stayed the damn hell inside.

It’s not so much the awful control – the disappearing head, the inability to move faster than a geriatric OAP, or the sheer glitchiness (not technically a word but hey) of the whole ‘spectacle’. No, for me what hurt (yes hurt, for to witness such a thing was pain, extreme pain if you were as big a fan of the original as I was) was the sheer inappropriateness of it. It just didn’t make sense, I loved driving the car, adored the handling, it was a driving game with an adventure element that didn’t distract from the driving. You could almost smell the smoke drifting up from the city streets. The steel scraping as you desperately tried to hold your own against the cops and you REALLY wanted to beat your opponent when you were chasing/racing someone.

But no, that was now gone, replaced by phantom men and bad animation.

To make it worse the most popular excuse was ‘oh, it’s because they’re pushing the PSOne too hard, the PS2 will do it’. Would it hell…

If anything, Driver 3 is the worst of them all because there are no excuses left. Just look at what other games have achieved and then look at Driver 3. Or rather don’t. Walk away and pretend it never happened.

Well, I did, but I try my best not to be cynical.

There is talk of a Driver 4 on PS3 etc, and if this does happen, and the rumours are true then apparently they’ve learnt from their mistakes. The entire press blurb so far refers to the original Driver and going back to its roots. As if Driver 2 & 3 never happened. This is a good thing as at least they are aware it’s something to be ashamed of.

I just hope that not only do the ‘Driver’ people learn their lesson, but that similar situations don’t keep happening (Namco, you are not Polyphony and no hardcore fan wants you to be. Please, no more ‘R: Racing Evolution’ Nonsense! Ridge Racers was a ‘relief’, understand why this is so!).

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I don’t mean to sound rude, and I apologise if I offend anyone, but I’m fed up of developers acting like jealous neighbors. If you have a strength, capitalize on it, don’t destroy yourselves trying to be something you’re not.