Driver 3 for Xbox Review

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Driver 3 is the game that introduced me to the franchise, it made me aware of its existence. I didn’t play any of the games until much later and at the time it came out, I was big into the Grand Theft Auto titles. Driver 3 released several months prior to San Andreas, the only game I had my eyes on that year. During this time, I was active on GTAForums and what made me aware of Driver 3 was the game’s box art being used in artwork for one or more clans or gangs or whatever they were called on the forums at the time. And I think some members used it in their signatures. Anyway, Driver is a series that established itself on PlayStation and the first two titles were ambitious and impressive for their time. They center on car chases in multiple open world cities and are clearly influenced by films and television shows. The series would continue with the release of Driver 3.

Developed by Reflections Interactive and published by Atari, Driver 3 was released for PlayStation 2 and Xbox in June, 2004 and PC and Game Boy Advance in October, 2005. For this review, I played the Xbox version. I was initially going to play the PC version and installed it and everything. The default controls were awful and when it comes to games like this, open world with vehicles, I prefer a controller mainly for the driving. Driver 3 for PC does support controllers and I remapped the buttons to my liking but it didn’t save which was probably my fault but I got annoyed with it and, ultimately, I said “fuck this, I’ll just play the Xbox version”. Basically, I’m lazy. If you want to play the PC version on a modern system, I would recommend consulting the game’s PCGamingWiki page. It does recommend installing the second official update which apparently cannot be installed if the first update is present. The second update is also required for ThirteenAG’s Widescreen Fix.

In typical Driver fashion, Driver 3 attempts to tell a cinematic style story. It feels more like a modern action tale than something from the 1970s. Players are once again put into the shoes of John Tanner, except now he’s an FBI agent. He and his partner, Tobias Jones, are sent to Miami to investigate a cartel. After they infiltrate the cartel, they find a bunch stolen cars in their possession and the story basically revolves around the duo finding out where the cars are being shipped to, who the cartel is working with and taking them all down. Overall, I think story is ridiculous. Not over-the-top ridiculous in a cool or good way, just ridiculous. There’s a lot of cliches and attempts at dramatic moments that fail to land because most of the characters are not very interesting and that’s because they’re not fleshed out enough. Furthermore, I don’t like the ending. At all. I won’t spoil it but it’s dumb and the story didn’t need to end the way it did. I guess the developers were aiming for an ambiguous ending but the way shit goes down is just stupid.

I do think the story takes itself a little too seriously which doesn’t help matters, especially since most of the characters are underdeveloped. I’m guessing the writers were trying to tell a more serious and mature story than the previous efforts and it does lack some of the comedic elements found in the previous games, whether intentional or unintentional, so there’s nothing to really alleviate the fact that the story is just bad. One positive thing I will say is that the cut scene presentation is phenomenal. I felt they successfully conveyed the cinematic style the developers were aiming for and they look great for the time this released. Accompanying the cinematic style is a voice cast comprised of Hollywood and other notable talent including Michael Madsen, Michelle Rodriguez, Mickey Rourke, Ving Rhames, and Iggy Pop.

The story is the least of Driver 3’s problems. Overall, the gameplay feels generic and bland. Much like its predecessors, Driver 3 is an open world game and it takes players to multiple cities; Miami, Nice, and Istanbul. When compared to the previous games, there are many obvious additions and improvements here. But compared to other games in the genre at the time, everything here feels like its been done already and done better. The problem is Driver 3 came out at a time when the series formula had already been expanded upon significantly. Grand Theft Auto III came out and revolutionized the genre. From a gameplay standpoint, it does what Driver and Driver 2 did and also gives players so much more. It was followed up by Vice City which improved and refined things. Driver 3 tries to somewhat emulate the style and concepts of those games and it fails at most of it.

I have heard the Driver franchise described as “budget GTA”. That definitely doesn’t apply to the first two games but I would say that’s an accurate description of Driver 3. I would argue the first two games are ahead of their time and Driver 3 feels like it’s stuck in the past. Up to this point, the series has always centered heavily on car chases. Driver 3 retains the chases but also gives you some more freedom and options. It’s just that, at the time, none of what Driver 3 does is innovative, impressive, or even good. I have no doubt the first two Driver games were an influence on what the 3D urban open world sandbox genre has become. Grand Theft Auto III basically set a new standard and it was such a revolutionary game that many of the open world games that released afterwards were considered “GTA clones”. It left that kind of impact. Driver 3 is simply not competent enough to meet the new standard.

I would say the big new thing here is the run and gun stuff. Tanner can roam around the cities and fire guns. Unfortunately, everything about it kind of sucks. Tanner can walk, run, crouch, roll and jump, swim, and there is no lock on mechanic. He moves kind of slow, switching weapons can feel sluggish, and much of the gameplay is buggy. Getting into cars doesn’t always work, like you press the button to get in and he just doesn’t do it or he’ll get stuck in the environment. I’ve seen NPCs randomly disappear and teleport and get stuck in the environments among other little issues and oddities. Generally speaking, any missions or gameplay that centers on driving feel and function much better than anything done on foot.

The cities are distinct but don’t feel very immersive. They feel lackluster and lifeless. They basically feature everything that made the cities in the first two games immersive but it just doesn’t cut it anymore. With better technology and better hardware, I expected better than what’s on display here. There’s often a lack of pedestrians and vehicles on the roads and pop-in is very rampant and it’s not even distant pop-in. I frequently witnessed objects pop-in directly in front me as I drove around the cities. I also noticed a lot of texture flickering which doesn’t help. Progression through the story is linear, you go from mission to mission, and there are no side missions or anything to really interact with in the world. You can enter some buildings but there’s nothing to do. The cities are more or less just generic urban playgrounds.

Believe it or not, I do enjoy some elements of the gunplay, but it’s far from amazing. The game gives you a decent variety of weapons including handguns, submachine guns, assault rifle, shotgun, and grenade launcher. The guns just feel great to fire. Weapons fire sounds loud and powerful and the muzzle flashes look cool. Unfortunately, those are the only things that are good about it and there’s nothing particularly exciting about the firefights. There are no gore effects, NPC death animations look scripted and basic, and NPCs don’t seem to move much. They might roll or move somewhere every so often but I felt like I was shooting at stationary targets most of the time. On a positive note, compared to the previous games, anyway, Driver 3 does include some welcome little features. Bullets can cause flat tires, cars can be blown up, you can drive into people, and you can shoot people through windows and windshields.

Driver 3 comes with the same game modes as the previous titles. Undercover is the story mode, Take A Ride is the free roam mode, and all of the same Driving Games return. As expected, you can watch and save replays of your gameplay and the Film Director mode also returns which is nice. Take A Ride allows you to roam around any unlocked city without objectives or time limits and you can even turn off the cops before jumping in. You can find secret cars which will be unlocked for use in the mode and hidden in throughout each city are multiple Timmy Vermicelli’s which is an NPC that is a parody of Tommy Vercetti from Vice City. Compared to other games in the genre, Take A Ride is pretty lackluster as far as free roaming goes mainly because of the lifeless cities and lack of things to do. But when compared to the previous Driver games, being able to run around and shoot people is a welcome addition.

I will say the actual driving feels good and controls well. Vehicles still have a good sense of weight and now you can drive motorcycles and pilot boats. If there’s a passenger in the car with you, you can basically shoot while driving. Despite the two separate characters, you control both the driving and shooting. This feature actually makes the Quick Chase driving game a little more exciting this time around. Driver 3 does contain a decent variety of vehicles including cars, trucks, vans, and motorcycles among others. You can find them in the cities parked or driving around and steal any vehicle you come across. The damage and felony systems return and Tanner can lose health now like if he gets shot for example. Even crashing can result in a loss of health.

The felony system basically functions like it did previously and I’m a little disappointed that there are no significant improvements or changes. Other than on foot cops being able to shoot at you now, there’s nothing here we haven’t seen before. You attract police attention by committing crimes in view of police and then they chase you, shoot at you, and set up roadblocks. There’s no helicopters or spike strips or S.W.A.T. or anything like that. Being a series so focused on car chases, they are pretty average in Driver 3. I do find it odd that the developers didn’t think to allow NPCs to shoot at you from their vehicles, outside of any kind of scripted situation. Typically, you chase a single person but it would have been cool if some had passengers that would shoot back at you to make the chases more action-packed and exciting. It’s funny because the box art for this game shows a guy, I guess Tanner, driving or at least sitting in a vehicle and firing a gun out the driver-side window and, ironically, that’s not something you can do in the game, at least not in cars.

The missions in Driver 3 are what you would expect from a game like this. You’ll chase people, shoot people, hijack vehicles, and have to evade police and gangsters. There are a couple of on-rail sequences where you ride in a vehicle and must hold off pursuing vehicles. Despite the overall bland gameplay, the game does put you in some exciting situations. You’ll shoot up a bar, find cars and drive them onto a moving truck, and one mission requires you to keep your speed above fifty miles per hour, otherwise the vehicle explodes, an obvious nod to the film Speed. Not every objective is timed and, thankfully, missions do have checkpoints. Luckily, there’s no missions as frustrating and blatantly unfair as “Chase the Gun Man” in Driver 2. But I did witness one of the vehicles I was chasing crash into other vehicles on the road, sending them flying into the air, so I guess the developers thought that was still a good idea to ensure the challenge is maintained, or they just didn’t get around to fixing it. I have heard this game was rushed and that would not surprise me in the slightest.

When it comes to the visual presentation, as mentioned before, the cut scenes look great and are kind of stylish. They actually set a certain tone and atmosphere that the gameplay fails to back up just because of how bland it is. The cities are partial recreations of their real world counterparts and are decent reflections even though they do feel lifeless. Vehicle models look good and show visible deformities and the character models look decent. As for the audio, the soundtrack actually consists of some pretty great tunes which sound like they could have been ripped from a film. The tunes fit the cinematic style the developers were aiming for and it’s just a shame the gameplay never matches the intensity or drama conveyed in the soundtrack. It should also be noted that the Xbox version does support custom soundtracks. On the technical side, the frame rate did tank several times, sometimes when there was a lot of action on-screen and other times when I was just driving around.

Driver 3 is not a very good game. It’s just so bland and average. At the time of its release, almost everything that was new for the series had already been done in other games and was done better. There’s absolutely nothing about Driver 3 that makes it stand out. It’s like the series was having an identity crisis. It really does feel like a watered down GTA. The car chases are alright but I think other games did it better at this point, including the GTA titles which I would also argue feel more cinematic. Driver 3 may have been a better game if the developers focused solely on the driving and car chases like the previous games. The on foot stuff is that bad and noticeably so. Not that the GTA titles or other open world games that were out at the time are flawless but nothing about Driver 3 is even close to the standard you would expect from a game in the genre in 2004. It is sad and a bit baffling considering the first two games laid some of the groundwork for what the genre has become.

I would not recommend Driver 3. It’s a big swing and a miss. Maybe if you can find a copy for under five dollars would I say check it out. It wasn’t good at the time it released and it certainly hasn’t aged well. It’s bland, average, buggy and fails to deliver any kind of excitement. Definitely skip this one.

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