Driver™ is a game from , originally released 31st December, 1969

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Driver Hands-On Preview and Video

Thought Gangstar was big? Well, Driver has four cities, and each of those is bigger than Gangstar’s entire map. All this from a game that came out ten years ago, ported to the iPhone from the Playstation and PC by Gameloft.

We were big fans of the first Driver. Out years before GTA3, Driver was a vehicular crime-spree where you drove the getaway car for bank robberies and other nefarious heists. Your character, Tanner, never left the car for on-foot missions in the actual game, but some cheesy CG cutscenes showed him busting heads to a funky 70s soundtrack.

It all starts when Officer Tanner turns in his badge to go undercover, trying to bust a crime ring that is plotting to assassinate the President. You have to complete a quick training course in a parking garage to advance to the first real mission, which as some of you may remember, was overly complicated in the original. It’s been stripped down now, so you just have to lay on the gas, brake, and a few other easy moves to get into the main game. An original mode is still available for the extra challenge.

Once you’re playing the game, it’s surprising how quickly those Playstation memories come flooding back. Driver is an open-world game, so you can take any detour you want to get to your destination. Cops on the road will try to stop you for speeding, driving on the wrong side of the road, or crashing into other cars, so you actually have to drive correctly or risk losing the mission. Of the multiple control schemes, a virtual d-pad was by far our favorite, as tapping left or right was more responsive than the virtual joystick or accelerometer.

Driver’s been given a visual makeover, with far nicer textures, details, and lighting effects. The soundtrack has also been replaced, giving you a new radio with oldies, disco, rock, and funk music created by Gameloft. Even your in-game GPS now offers an actual route, instead of a broad arrow. Those cheesy CG cutscenes, though, are exactly the same.

This is a long game, with the entire Undercover mode (6-7 hours of gameplay, easily) and all the optional driving challenges still intact. The four cities of Miami, San Francisco, New York, and Los Angeles will provide plenty of space for you to drive like a madman and avoid the cops (no sissy “bribe icons” to ditch the heat in this game), and you’ll notice a few landmarks in each city that suggest a resemblance to the real-world location.

One disappointment for us, and it’s a big one, is the removal of the original game’s chase scene editor. In the original Playstation and PC versions, you could edit and adjust camera angles to make your own mini-movies from the game’s replays. Back in the day, we attempted a shot-for-shot remake of the San Francisco chase scene from The Rock.

However, this feature has been dropped, with Gameloft producers explaining it just wasn’t working on the iPhone, and it was a big time commitment that was better spent improving the game’s visuals. Citing the upcoming multiplayer update for Modern Combat, though, we were told the replay editor may make a comeback if there’s enough of a fan uproar, so get clamoring, fans!

This is pretty much the exact same Driver from a decade ago, but tuned up visually and optimized for the iPhone, and that’s probably enough if you remember it fondly. But if you haven’t played this classic cops-and-robbers driving game before, rest assured that it’s one of the top games to look forward to when it comes out in December.

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Driver Review

It sounds like something of a cliché, but it’s not hard to imagine that those working on Driver’s resurgence ten years since its original PlayStation debut came to a crossroads fairly early in the game’s development. Should they update the gameplay to reflect all that has come since, staying largely faithful to the original but serving it up with a touch of added sheen, or should they not risk upsetting the apple cart, essentially bringing out the same game a decade later?

By doing the latter, it’s hard to argue that those at Gameloft made the wrong decision. Good games are always good games, however old, but it’s also important to view Driver in the right context. There’s no escaping the fact that this is a relic. A well loved, well designed relic, but a relic nonetheless.

As a result, anyone who sampled the original will instantly recognize what’s offered here. This iPhone version is an almost perfect replica of Reflections’ Driver, both in terms of the city at your disposal and the missions you’re expected to carry out on its streets. But this is where anyone who is encountering Driver for the first time may be a little surprised.

That’s a ticket.

We had no problem with the controls, which work almost perfectly whether you opt for the touchscreen or the accelerometer. Driver’s streets are amazingly as navigable on iPhone as they ever were on PlayStation. Rather, what may leave some feeling a little short-changed is the way missions are actually completed.

While the story of NYPD detective Tanner going undercover to work the streets may draw on similar themes as Grand Theft Auto and its legions of clones, Driver is not that kind of game, and never was. The challenge focuses solely on driving, like helping run bank jobs or delivering hot cars. The main aim is to get from point A to point B in as little time as possible, avoiding the cops when you can.

Most of the time, either with the clock ticking or a felony level drawing attention, that’s not possible, because respawning cop cars appear on nearly every other street, their reckless attitude to chasing you down being heroic and hilarious in equal measure. Despite being one of the first titles to follow the sandbox structure, Driver doesn’t really have much time for realism: the police are idiots, aiming straight for you whether there’s anything in the way or not.

None of these factors detracted from play ten years ago, but now Driver’s structure does feel a touch alien, with each mission essentially playing out like Destruction Derby in an urban setting. Though a sense of plot is laced both between and in the middle of the missions, they tend to follow a pattern of surviving attacks from dive-bombing police cars and losing any tails you have by screeching around the block the few times. It’s not exactly the kind of sophisticated cloak and dagger police work some will be expecting.

New York drift.

That’s what Driver has to contend with: your expectations. By sticking so closely to the original, it can’t help but highlight its limitations. What was once ultimately a forerunner in design, marking the path for GTA’s 3D exploits to follow, now plays like a bit of an antique. Where you should be able to hop out and wander the streets, you can’t. When stealing a police car seems like the perfect way to cause some havoc, it’s not possible.

Of course, none of this is Driver’s fault and, in truth, attempting to apply a 2009 attitude to a 1999 classic would have taken more work than starting from scratch. This is by no means a bad game, either: racing through town with a pack of police cars on your tail still holds much appeal, and the game’s luscious soundtrack is like a trip to Studio 54.

Upgraded visuals and additional modes (seven in all, calling on the same skill-set as the main game) will also give former fans a reason to smile, but those stepping into Tanner’s shoes for the first time may feel a little disappointed. While Driver is still just as playable as it ever was, Gameloft would do well to avoid simply rolling out the original Driver 2 as a follow-up in a month or two’s time. This is a game that deserves a full-on, all new, sequel, and one that breaks just as many boundaries as the original did.