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Review by: David Laprad
Published: November 12, 1999
I was about eight missions into Driver when it hit me what this game is about. It is not just about the metal crunching damage model or ripping through miles and miles of traffic while avoiding the most confrontational and tenacious police force in gaming–though that is what it boils down to. It is about extremes. It is about a driving model so diamond-cut precise, it becomes the highest pleasure the game has to offer; on the other hand, it is also about an artificial intelligence so gas pedal delirious, the slightest infraction sends police screaming into offenders head-on at 80 mph and setting up road barriers to stop people with lead feet. Not that this is a serious problem; games can be about overstatement, and who among us can argue that the movie house car chases on which this title is based were grounded in absolute realism?
The team at Reflections has barely had enough time to scrub the grease out from under its fingernails from doing the PlayStation version, which was a tremendous hit for GT Interactive and the developer this summer. The PC version of this mission-based auto chase title, which was inspired at the hand of several great films, comes complete with all the same features as well as some fine-tuning in the graphics department. The game is an accessible balance of realism and arcade action that both exists within a violent criminal world and resists the subtle charms of bumping off pedestrians and gunning down criminals. Reflections has shunned the inclination to include every possible game mode, and instead concentrated on developing some the most nerve-searing and accurately rendered driving action ever. The absence of guns emphasizes cars as weapons, an unsullied focus that is the game’s greatest strength.
The action is set in the Seventies, a time when gas-guzzling muscle cars were standard issue, and gamers strap in as an undercover cop named Tanner. Tanner has a Donnie Brasco thing going, and must penetrate a crime ring that brings the smash-em up action to four large cities, including Miami, San Francisco, Los Angeles and the Big Apple. The double-crossing plot is set up in rendered cut scenes that have all the right cinematic elements, including sliding suitcases and high-strung deals made in underground garages. The plot letting is wrapped around missions in which Tanner poses as a driver for the mob. Once he accepts an assignment, he has to acquire the goods and deliver them on time. Arrive too soon and he attracts the cops’ attention; arrive late and the mob turns on him. Tanner receives jobs between missions via an answering machine in his 3D hotel room, a nice device that enables gamers to choose their path through the game.
The designers outfitted this title with detailed and super-active cities. Each area is large and modeled in true 3D, with accurate maps and authentic locations that include traffic lights, patrolling police, and motorists and pedestrians that stop at intersections. The environments are so detailed, gamers can blaze up a side street, plowing through boxes and cans, or smash through a fence and spin out in someone’s yard. Although Miami is bordered with the ocean and has a nice, spacious feel, I preferred the chaotic dips and turns in the tight avenues and boulevards of San Francisco. Just watch Steve McQueen in the great car chase film Bullitt to get an idea of the possibilities for air-borne action.
To enhance the realism, the game contains authentic auto handling, damage modeling and physics. Tires burn and hubcaps soar as gamers circle corners, crashing vehicles contort and crumble, and different surfaces affect the response of the cars Tanner drives. The action can be viewed from a first- or third-person perspective, though third-person is preferable because it offers the best view of the incredible damage model. For all its attention to animation and driving mechanics, though, the PC version’s visuals are tied to its PlayStation cousin, meaning the graphics do not feature the same native polish as Midtown Madness and the forthcoming Interstate 82.
The AI is aggressive to a fault, but does give the missions a dramatic edge. In one mission, Tanner must stop a mobster attempting to reach the San Francisco airport to deliver the boss’ cash. The gangster does all he can to lose Tanner, weaving between cars, cutting turns and selecting alternate routes. The computer-controlled opponent is responsive and goes a different route each time. Using the different perspectives, which include two side and one rear view among others, Tanner can see cops pulling out from alleys to join the chase with him as the target, meaning he is both pursuing the criminal and attempting to evade the cops. All this intense action is complemented with smooth-as-chrome and well-done period music.
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