Driver is an action racing game released for the Playstation , developed by GT Software and published by Infrogrames in 1999. Driver at the time was a game which took a new approach to the action and racing genres of games by having the game set in the 1970’s. Some racing games of the time were mainly set in the future and these games offered a sense of speed that traditional racing games couldn’t offer.
The other element about Driver which was also quite unusual at the time was that the game took a cinematic approach and made the game feel like a 70’s TV show. Racing games at the time really didn’t offer very much or lend themselves well to having story elements associated with then and focused solely on the quality of the racing. Driver decided to strike the balance between story and driving mechanics and comparing it to modern racing titles like Forza Motorsport and Need For Speed, which story offers a backdrop to the racing means that Driver was certainly ahead of it’s time.
The story of Driver is that the player is in control of John Tanner, an NYPD officer asked to go undercover and infiltrate organised crime rings across the US. The way that Tanner achieves this is by doing difficult missions to impress the bosses with his supreme driving skills he obtained from when he was a racing driver before he joined the NYPD. His undercover mission will take across 4 cities across the US so that the FBI can wipe out the crime rings.
Now whilst the story in theory might seem quite simple and potentially somewhat thin in terms of details, the way the game tells the story through the story missions is quite impressive considered when the game was released. Also, the game’s story offers enough information to the player without giving away too many details early on. The undercover cop who has to stop crime rings really matches the era and the feeling that the developers were looking to evoke. The story is also aimed at an older age bracket and aims it at players who grew up watching crime and police dramas from the era by offering both a sense of nostalgia, as well as a take on the type of story in video game form. It could have been easy for the developers to have licensed a Tv show and make a game based upon that show, but the fact that they went for their own take on 70’s style police dramas has to be applauded as the story is original offers a point of entry for the player.
The gameplay of Driver is where the game both shows the strong suits, but a decent amount of flaws. The first thing is that the missions whilst somewhat short individually, offer enough information and adds to the story to not make the game feel monotonous or boring. There are quite a lot of missions to complete and some of them are entirely optional, which means that there will be times where one mission would be easier compared to the others, but because the player won’t know which one is quicker, this adds to potential replay value.
From the same place where the player picks their mission, there is also an option for the player to go on a “free ride”, which allows for the player to explore the city that the player is currently at in this story. Although, from the main menu the player can select this as well, but until the final two cities have been unlocked in the storyline. I really think that this is a nice touch because it allows player to both enjoy the city in its entirely without being on a mission, but it can also teach the player the best routes for the city for later missions in the game.
The first problem I have with the game is how inconsistent the frame rate and how the frame rate messes with the controls. The controls and the driving mechanics feel quite realistic and there is a real feeling of weight behind the muscle car you are driving, which really give the feeling of being in control. However, when the car is severely damaged or there are a lot of cars on screen, the frame rate tend to drop quite sharply. What this means is that no matter how quick the player’s reactions are, it won’t make a difference when it concerns handbrake manoeuvres or tight turns. The reason why the frame rate is such a problem is because the way the car controls and the way the button inputs are recognised in this game is tied exactly to the frame rate, which when running smoothly is 30 frames per second. However, when the issues I mentioned before come into play, the frame rate can drop by as much as 50%, sometimes even more depending on the situation. When this happens, the controls feel very sluggish, unresponsive and most importantly the game then doesn’t recognise button inputs, meaning that an important turn can go horribly wrong because the player can’t get the game to recognise that they are pressing the handbrake.
The next problem I have is to relating to the overall graphics and how the game looks because sadly Driver falls victim to quite a lot of early 3D games in the fact that the game has not aged at all well. The wall textures and the car textures look like a muddled mess and especially at night, the lack of clear and distinguishable features on the other cars means that it is extremely easy to crash. The draw distance in this game is also extremely poor and there are multiple issues with popping in the distance. Instead of bridges, roads and cars fading into the foreground, they can pop out of nowhere and then the player ends up crashing. I think however, the worst problem regarding this is the fact that the player can make cars disappear in front of them, but then those cars can come out of nowhere and reappear.
The final issue leading from the graphics is the camera angles, which for the most part are really good, but there is one camera angle that literally makes no sense at all and that is the cinematic camera. The first camera perspective of this set is for the car to do into the distance, but because the draw distance is really poor, it means that the car will disappear too far and the player won’t be able to see the car whatsoever, meaning that the player won’t even know if they hit another car because the sound also travels away with the car.
One great feature that the game offers and I think is a really unique feature to look at the replay of the mission or free ride adventures and turn them into awesome cinematic films. The game in this mode allows the player to change the camera angle or which perspective that the action is taking place from and recreate the 70’s style chase sequence.
The music of Driver 1 is absolutely fantastic and was composed in a 1970’s funk style, which really matches and adds to the aesthetic and feeling of the era. The soundtrack uses purely live instruments and this adds an authentic feel to the game. However, the soundtrack most importantly doesn’t take elements from other similar soundtracks from the 70’s and instead opts for a complete original soundtrack with the similar sort of style. The music for each city gives each city it’s own vibe and really helps bring home the feeling of the era.
Overall, Driver 1 is still a decent game to play, but the issues with the framerate and the graphics not ageing very well means that if the player hadn’t played it before and doesn’t have any nostalgia for the game, then it might be worth a miss. The music alone is pretty awesome and isn’t hampered by the weaker areas of the game. This is one of the situations where even the PC version of the game has not aged well either and the later games in the franchise are more worth your time.
Copyright ©2016 Liam Piper. All Images Used Under Fair Use