As in the previous games, you play the role of Tanner an undercover FBI agent who must break up a ring of car thieves trying to move exotic cars out of Miami. The game actually begins in Istanbul where a dramatic shootout takes place that leaves Tanner dead in a hospital. The game then flashes back in time to Miami, and that's where you pick up the game. In addition to Miami and Istanbul the game also takes place in Nice, France where the tight corners of the city make for some intense car chases. The story is strictly linear as there aren't really any choices in missions that you can make that will affect the story in a positive or negative way. Overall the story isn't bad, but there's really nothing in it to keep interested - you just find yourself wanting the cut-scenes to end so you can get to the next mission.
The original Driver took place entirely inside a vehicle, while Driver 3 splits up the time between vehicle missions and ones that must be accomplished while on foot. First, the good news: if you enjoyed the driving missions in any of the previous games, then you'll likely enjoy the driving aspect of this game. As usual the driving takes a decidedly movie-like feel to it as you'll constantly squeal your tires and swing wildly around most every turn in the game. The vehicle AI is as ferocious as ever as bad guys and cops will do everything in their power to ram you off the road. The physics are over the top as sometimes a simple bump from another car will fling your vehicle into the air, sending end over end several times before it lands. That being said, while the AI is persistent, it's also extremely dumb. Police cars will get stuck ramming walls, poles, rails and any other non-destructible object should you give them the slip. It's not uncommon to weave in and out of traffic making quick turns down alleys and find yourself not increasing the space between you and the person chasing you at all. However, you can drive around areas with a lot of obstacles and wait until the car chasing you gets stuck, which allows you to simply drive off and finish the level. Collision detection and what can be collided with also seem quite random. A light pole will bring your car to a screeching halt, but a fence won't, and driving through a row of bushes for ten seconds does nothing to slow down your car, nor does it do anything to the bushes.
None of the issues with driving are new to the series and you can generally look past them because the levels are fun, and after three different games, you learn the ins and outs of the driving engine. Unfortunately, the same thing can't be said for the pitiful on foot levels. Any level where Tanner must hit the pavement is so filled with problems one is forced to wonder why Reflections left them in the game at all. From a technical standpoint, Tanner's controls are just flat out broken. His movements are stiff, going from walking forward to backwards looks ridiculous, the camera is miserable, and to make matters worse, this all looks good compared to when you've got to fire a gun. For some reason the game defaults to inverted controls for aiming and also has the auto-aim function turned off, these two oversights don't help things get off to a good start, but at least they can be fixed. Sort of. Even when the auto-aim feature is on, it rarely locks onto enemies, even if they are dead in your sights. This wouldn't be a big deal if you could just shoot the bad guys on your own, but since it doesn't recognize that it's locked on, you can empty a full clip into someone's chest and not one hit will register. In a twisted way this makes the game's pathetic AI a good thing because you can simply run up and shoot someone in the face and they won't move at all. The actual missions aren't bad, but they aren't terribly original and they're just no fun with the miserable controls.
Driver 3 is a nice looking game - if you're looking at it in a magazine or checking out some screenshots online, but once it gets moving it looks pretty lousy. The camera both in the car and on foot is atrocious - it's too close to the car when it's behind it, it's too close to the ground when in the car, and it's just plain broken when you're on foot. For example, if you want to see outside the hotel in Miami simply go into the room that serves no purpose with a heart shaped tub and jump up and down in it. You'll be able to see all of the proceedings going on, and you're really not even sticking through a wall, the camera just goes nuts. The game's draw distance is the worst I've seen since Driver 2 as you can watch huge buildings appear out of nowhere and you'll notice trees being redrawn in more detail as you get close to them, though they look so bad up close it's a wonder they bothered to tax the engine with redrawing ugly trees at all. If you toss in a chugging framerate that can make 80mph look more like 30mph, you'll have to wonder exactly what the developers did with all their time since the last Driver game (no, the broken Stuntman isn't a valid excuse). The only part of the game that looks remotely good are the car models, which can be destroyed in a ton of different ways, and the game's cut-scenes. That's it, that's the list.
You'd think that with Ving Rhames, Michael Madsen, Iggy Pop, Mickey Rourke and Michelle Rodriguez the game would have good voice acting, at least if you put aside the fact that they're all B and C-list actors, but you'd be wrong. The acting is uninspired and for the most part emotionless - part of which is the script's fault and part being the actor's. All of the sound effects are good, and when you find yourself in the midst of a hectic chase scene, sirens wailing, tires screeching, and engines screaming, it'll feel like you're sitting in a movie theater watching a top-notch chase scene. The game's music fits in well and does a good job of getting your adrenaline pumping during intense scenes.
In the end, all Driver 3 does is prove that a huge budget, tons of development time, Hollywood voice acting, and all the PR in the world don't necessarily mean a game's going to be good. Many of the problems could be fixed by another six months development time, but then that would put the title up against Grand Theft Auto, where it would get killed. As a result of the all-mighty dollar, Atari and Reflections have shoveled out a buggy, unfinished and uninspired game (2.5 million of them to be exact). Don't waste your money purchasing this game, don't waste cash renting it, and don't waste your time borrowing it from someone.
6/26/2004 Aaron Thomas