Driv3r is no doubt one of the biggest undertakings in video game history in terms of Hollywood talent, the story of the game, the marketing push and overall scope of the game but perhaps they should have focused on just one area, because while driv3r is a decent game to play, it's not without its problems.
As with the other games, you once again take control of Tanner. Tanner is an undercover FBI agent who happens to have the driving skills seemingly unmatched by any criminal he has come across thus far. In this third game, Tanner is investigating a stolen car racket in Miami and to do so he goes undercover in the organization which is basically for most of the game where the mission objectives come from. By the time you have completed the game you will have visited three cities and been on both the right side and the wrong side of the law.
This is where some problems with the story surface. At times it can be hard to follow exactly what is happening. In one particular point you are introduced to two men who could be crooks or fighting against crooks for all you know. You do find out a few missions later but this confusion is only enhanced by other characters seemingly popping out of the woodwork and disappearing just as quickly. Other than tanner and a few of his co-workers, there isn't much character development to speak of and this doesn't help progressing the story at all.
The gameplay featured in Driv3r is very reminiscent of Mafia. You may have three moderately large cities to explore in the game, but the progression is quite linear, and not as open ended as you may have expected. You are given a mission to complete and then progress to the next one. Between missions you are not given the opportunity to sight see or do other things like you can in Liberty City in Grand Theft Auto 3. The missions are quite varied, but at the very basic level are either a driving mission, an on foot mission or a combination of both. Missions range from escaping a shopping centre to driving cars into the back of a truck.
Driv3r missions have both good and bad sides. The missions which only involve driving are the standouts of the game and really challenge you. Perhaps the way they replicate exactly what made the first two games so successful is why they are the memorable, non-frustrating missions. The odds are you won't finish them the first time you try them, but will keep plugging away because you know the game is not working against you as with some of the other missions. The on foot sections of the game are the most frustrating and annoying. The reticle moves slowly, and while this can be adjusted, it never seems to become as useful as it should be. It is possible to become accustomed to the way you have to control tanner in these situations, but for the first few missions it will bring frustration. There are cheats available if you get really stuck.
Most missions will have you against the enemies or the clock, but there is another factor thrown in to make the game harder and that is the police. They will chase you for anything; causing an accident, running a red light, speeding etc but the game does help in some way with this by providing a radar detector on the mini map. The missions can also degenerate into guess and check type sequences. Many times you will play the first few sequences of a chase to see where the car turns and then finally piece it all together to complete the mission.
You have to play this section of the game very much like a first person shooter continuously moving and strafing with tanner to avoid being shot, and even when doing this it is possible to get hit. The fact the AI seems to have nearly one hundred percent accuracy with their machine guns does not help this situation at all, especially when Tanner may only have a pistol. This becomes less of a problem once you get hold of more powerful weapons but with only a pistol your main objective won't be to complete the level, but more for Tanner to survive the onslaught. When playing Driv3r you may find yourself playing for a while because of the checkpoint system. Each mission has checkpoints, but once the console is turned off these are lost and the mission must be restarted.
The game also gives the impression that at times it is luck more then skill that helps players progress further. This is shown by the paths cars take in certain missions. Each time you reset the mission after failing or wanting to restart, the car may take a different path. Some paths are tougher then others so it is luck of the draw as to whether you get the good or the bad path. The traffic is also a major contributing factor. While Reflections had to include it to give the impression of a living breathing city, the fact that one car in the wrong place at the wrong time can ruin an entire mission is incredibly frustrating. Add to this in some missions that you can lose a car you're chasing even when they are still moderately visible on the screen and it can add up to being a very frustrating game experience. To be fair this also happened in the original two games, so it isn't a major surprise but the frustration is no less with this fact.
However there are some genuinely impressive aspects of Driv3r. The car chases are brilliantly executed and give their subject matter (that being car chase movies) a real tribute and the chance for players to experience something like it. The cars have very much been designed around the chase sections of the game and while they all have unique traits such as speed, weight, handling etc, most are adequate to use in a chase. The physics of the cars are great with cars throwing themselves left and right around corners and slamming on the brakes with effects such as the front of the car dipping down. However the physics is another area where some faults of the game show themselves. Hit a pole in a car and the car will smash, hit a pole on a motorbike and the bike will knock the pole over. Reflections have obviously done this because the motorbikes are harder to control, but it moves the game away from reality.
On the subject of cars you will find many in the game, none licensed but some are not hard to pick which real world models inspired them. Each of the three cities has unique cars, in Miami you will find muscle style, American cars while Nice has more sophisticated, exotic European cars and even more in Istanbul. You won't only find cars in the game either with a variety of motorbikes and trucks on offer and even boats to take control of. The cars have damage modeling and can really take some abuse. Lights shatter, windows smash, and bits fall off. Even bullet holes appear when they are shot at, at the exact point they hit. The physics of the cars as mentioned before are very much built around the chase sequences and therefore offer arcade style handling.
The three different cities offer vastly different driving experiences. Miami, where the game starts out, offers wide open streets and long roads making chases quite easy but by the time you get through Nice you need some top driving skills due to the tight winding roads, and powerful cars. The cities also offer the ability in some modes to play at night, dusk, dawn or in inclement weather. Visually they all offer very different styles but overall they are all quite rich in graphics, colour and architecture. It is here however that some bugs begin to show. You will see civilians walking into walls and the animation transitions can have issues. For instance a character may display a death animation giving you the impression they are defeated, only to get up and shoot at you again. Also transitions between standing and falling over for the characters can also have issues sometimes. The framerate can also have issues during large explosions or lots of action on screen.
It's a great shame that all of the aspects of Driv3r don't have the same level of polish because the CG sequences featured and the overall atmosphere of the game is stunning. Each of the story sequences have a carefully selected soundtrack which suits the current scene so well and reflections have to be congratulated on creating such a cinematic experience. Tanner is voiced by Michael Madsen, who does a great job, and some of the other characters have Hollywood names behind them.
The game gives an episodic feel and this is enhanced by the previously on Driv3r sequences. As the game wears on this gets longer and shows snips from all the cut scenes played thus far. One problem is towards the end of the game they become quite long as they show everything from the beginning to the very end.
Once the game is complete there isn't much to go back to. There are a few missions that stand out such as those with puzzle sequences and the game does let you play any mission you have already completed again. Other than that there is take a ride which basically lets you drive around the three cities with no goals, however it seems in this mode the bugs show the most. The other mode called driving games basically just offers races and other modes. You can also edit saved movies of chases or other replays with camera angles and the replays are one of the highlights of the game.
Driv3r is a very hit and miss game. The driving sections of the game are superbly executed and feature some great gameplay but the on foot sections can cause a great deal of frustration at the beginning of the game. There are also a few mechanics that lets the game down such as the way is loses a car being chased far to quickly at times and the occasional bugs don't help either. Driv3r is a game that is a decent rental and this is by far the best recommendation before a purchase. If you like Mafia the chances are you will like most of Driv3r but don't expect the same amount of polish.