Year Released: 1999
A few years before Grand Theft Auto III arrived on the PS2 and changed video games forever, Reflections Interactive released a game called Driver on the first PlayStation. A game that was revolutionary at the time, Driver featured a semi-open world, an intriguing storyline, and lots of crazy driving action. While none of this may sound too astounding now, Driver was a very unique experience when it first came out. Unfortunately, the series has since fallen flat after serving as inspiration for bigger and better games.
As the player, you take the role of Tanner, an undercover FBI agent posing as a wheelman-for-hire for various gangs throughout the United States. Though the game starts out in Miami, you will eventually move on to three other cities to complete increasingly difficult missions. Many of these are similar to ones you’d find in any GTA game, such as transporting people and vehicles from one location to another while trying to avoid the cops. Two meters, one for damage and one for felony, appear on your screen, showing you just how much trouble you are in. Unlike GTA, where you can drive a car until it catches fire and then just grab another one, you must prevent your vehicle from becoming too damaged—if the damage meter fills completely, the mission is failed.
The game starts in a parking garage with a needlessly difficult training level. You are required to complete a list of tricks—including a slalom, a lap around the garage, and a reverse 180—in under 60 seconds, while being penalized for hitting the walls or vehicles. I don’t remember this part being so aggravating, but it wasn’t long before several of us were sitting around the TV, taking turns trying to get the job done. At one point another member of the GV staff suggested that I find another game to review, but we did finally manage to get past that horrible excuse for a tutorial.
Driver is much more pleasant after that initial torture. As Tanner, you can either go straight into your next mission or simply go for a fun drive. In this world, all traffic laws must be obeyed—run a red light with a cop nearby, and you’ll soon be on the run from the police. While this seemed like an awesomely realistic feature back in 1999, today it seems almost unforgiving. Sure, it’s amusing at first when you hear the sirens wail simply because you rolled through the intersection as the light turned red, but it can get really frustrating when you’re in the middle of a harder mission and soon have a squad of cop cars coming at you from all directions.
The controls for this game aren’t the greatest. Taking turns too fast will spin the car out of control, and trying to weave in and out of traffic can be a chore. This wouldn’t matter if you weren’t penalized so harshly for damaging your vehicle, but every wall you scrape and car you sideswipe adds to the damage meter. As many missions are timed, trying to take it slow isn’t always an option, so you need to learn how to use your handbrake, burnout, and full stop wisely as you make your way through each mission. While the cars are destructible, environments are not; other than a few signs here and there, most of the city will not budge if you crash into it, which can be jarring if you’re used to mowing down street lamps and plowing through fences in GTA.
For a game released on the PS1, Driver is definitely not bad looking. Sure, by today’s standards, the blocky, slightly blurry textures would be unforgivable, but it’s not so unpleasant that the game is unplayable. There is a significant amount of pop-up, which is annoying; cars look like giant blocks until you get close to them, and buildings in the distance won’t show up until they’re practically right in front of your face. This can be exasperating when you’ve got a felony level and you don’t realize you’re driving right at a cop car until you hear the sirens.
It’s impossible not to draw parallels between this game and the Grand Theft Auto series, particularly Grand Theft Auto III--even though it predated GTA III by two years. While this trait makes Driver admirable, it is also the game’s downfall: held up against those games, this one simply does not stand the test of time. It certainly deserves its place in history as being one of the most impressive games on the PlayStation, as well as serving as a precursor to one of the most successful and beloved series in recent video game history. However, in this day and age, there’s no real reason to go back and play this when there are games that have taken it so much farther. If you’re looking for a new old-school challenge, there is some fun to be had here, but playing Driver just isn’t what it used to be.