It sounds like something of a clichÃ©, 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.