Have You Played… Driv3r?

Have You Played? is an endless stream of game retrospectives. One a day, every day of the year, perhaps for all time.

I gave Driv3r, as they so cleverly called it, 23% in PC Gamer. Because it made a joke work.

“They replace their Es with 3s, we give 23s with ease,” read the review’s strapline, and remains one of my favourite things I’ve written. Because I’m a big doofus. 24 wouldn’t have worked. Scores are stupid.

Driver 3, as grown ups call it, was a spectacularly terrible game. And putting aside the (entirely false, as it happens – I looked into it) accusations of bribery surrounding one review, was widely and deservedly panned. This was an attempt to take the driving franchise into the realm of GTA, and as such, er, not really be about driving.

One of my favourite things was the very first level: you were supposed to drive to some cop thing, but if you chose to go elsewhere in its ‘open city’, you basically turned up before the director had said “action”. The city is entirely free of other cars, the sun fixed low on the horizon, creating the spooky feeling of a ghost town at dawn. And yet there are occasional pedestrians in some areas, who, amazingly, haven’t had their AI switched on yet. Meaning you could drive into them and they’d not only not mind, but also not be able to die.

The game only gradually got worse from this point onward, which was all the more amazing when you remember it was released on console in the same broken, unfinished state the previous year. Extraordinarily, a desperately flailing Atari had simply ported across the project all bugs and incomplete features intact. But if you played it, you’ll sure have memories of it.

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37 Comments

  1. GenialityOfEvil says:

    I bought it used back when Gamestation was a thing. I seem to remember Nice being quite a nice city to drive around in but Istanbul was like driving through an irradiated wasteland. No cars and it looked like the government had dropped bleach from the skies.

    • FurryLippedSquid says:

      A They Might be Giants reference yesterday and Istanbul today.

      The stars have ordained it.

  2. Banks says:

    It’s weird, Driver games were always terrible (except the first) and yet they kept releasing them. Then Driver: San Francisco came out, It was fantastic, sold well, and the series is dead now.

    Nonsense.

    • GameCat says:

      Come on, Driver 2 was a very good game. It had a city train chase straight from French Connection.

    • CelticPixel says:

      Shocked you’ve no love for Driver 2. One of my favourite games of the Playstation 1 era.

    • Neuromancing the Boil says:

      Driver: San Fran — the game where you ghost into someone’s car, pound the gas pedal, and briefly hear their wife lament, “Honey, I thought we were going to the grocery store…?” Then you hurtle the car into an oncoming SUV at 120 MPH, slaughtering everyone involved, because that’s literally how you’re supposed to win the mission. But you can’t run over the pedestrians, because that would be cruel.

      The tone of D:SF is quite strange, I’m saying.

      • April March says:

        But none of those people are real. I mean… they’re at least one stage less real than people in a videogame usually are.

        • Marr says:

          Yeah, but Tanner doesn’t know that at first, he just has murder superpowers and he’s fine with it. When he eventually figures nothing is real he just carries on with the plot because he has less imagination than a corpse.

          • TechnicalBen says:

            Warning, this is going into dream territory here, but…

            Hopefully in a dream (literal, your or my dream we are talking about here) we can keep our morals and deepest values. I also hope those are ones that value and protect life.

            However, a lot of the time a dream will be so random, that being able to react, even if you are a lucid dreamer, is very difficult.

            Lets just say I’ve had to “reverse time” to undo some mistakes I’ve made in dreams (yes I do that while lucid dreaming, really cool… but also frustrating when I fail at it), when I finally do get lucid and realise what just happened!

            So saying he seems inconsistent in a *dream* is silly.

    • Michael Fogg says:

      Wasn’t D: Parallel Lines sort of well received? Has anyone played it recently? Also, is the ‘two-faced Tanner’ joke from GTA based od Driv3r?

      • Henke says:

        Yeah, Parallel Lines was good. Then again I also liked Driv3r, so I’m not to be trusted on these things.

  3. Baines says:

    The bribery controversy was over two magazines’ reviews, not one. It ultimately shifted into the belief that the magazine publisher had traded guaranteed high scores for exclusive early access.

    The idea of corruption was furthered when after it was discovered that a guerilla marketing firm was shilling online for the game, the magazines’ publisher started deleting forum posts talking about the marketing firm.

    It could have been a story of naivety and incompetence. It could have been a story of gullible magazine staff reviewing buggy early code and believe game publisher claims that issues will be fixed before release. The deputy editor of Xbox World said as much (except the “gullible” part) in a letter posted in defense against claims of bribery.

    Except that same letter honestly made things worse, because he didn’t stop at that gullible defense. He went on to stand by the magazine’s review. He talked about how the two staff members that played the game had loved it. He doubled down on the score by saying that even including the game’s issues would probably have resulted in an 8 or still even a 9. He condemned other reviewers for giving the game lower scores. Mind that this was in defense of a game that at release was considered broken to the potential point of unplayability.

    The whole thing could be a story of naivety and incompetence. I believe that some might have felt that it was less of an insult to the guilty to believe it was corruption. I think that it wasn’t so much that people wanted to jump on the corruption bandwagon, but rather that they didn’t want to admit that such a degree of naivety existed in the professional game journalism world. That degree of naivety at that level would cast a shadow of doubt across the whole industry, that maybe all reviews (and I mean text, not just number scores) were suspect and potentially worthless. You’ve have to re-evaluate everything across the industry if such a believable bribery story (and apparent cover-up) turned out to be just naivety and coincidence.

    • Bradamantium says:

      Oh, please, how does one godawful review somehow imperil the legitimacy of all games reviewing? That’s like saying sports can never be taken seriously again after a doping scandal, or that automobiles cannot be trusted after a recall.

      The whole ordeal is, as it always is with these kinds of controversies, a matter of which direction one might run with the half truths we can see. A handful of stooges at console-specific magazines drooling over Driv3r for whatever reason does not call into question the abilities of other reviewers, esp. considering they all rightfully derided the game for its many issues.

      • Press X to Gary Busey says:

        Yeah, guilt by association and putting the burden of proof on the accused (the collective industry and press at that) isn’t the best way to go. I don’t think.

      • Baines says:

        People criticized various reviewers and publications all the time. Everyone had their favorites that they trusted, and of course different people had different favorites.

        At the same time, few if any sites escaped ever being above question. You had questionable scores, biases, claims of payola, blacklisting, reviewers caught out on having barely played the games that they reviewed, the occasional finger pointing (with a bit of hypocrisy in the mix), refusals to admit known faults, coverups, and various other incidents.

        The industry as a whole was already hardly above question. That itself is partly what made corruption such a “safe” answer in so many cases, because the alternative was admitting the possibility that the whole “professional” industry was really just composed of amateurs who knew no more than the average gamer and were in over their heads. The latter is probably a lot closer to the truth. Heck, even some of the real “corruption” stuff was probably as much games journalists who didn’t know any better as it was games publishers trying to buy or otherwise influence favorable coverage.

        • liquidsoap89 says:

          Just imagine what could happen if all these people who’ve focused on the corruption in journalism fiasco turned their minds towards corruption in something important.

          It’s journalism, for videogames. If you don’t trust a reviewer, or a website, or a magazine, or whatever, just don’t follow them. Stick with the people you trust and we can all be a little bit happier!

          • Sin Vega says:

            Please, let’s not drag this down to the rhetorical level of “cheating people is okay, because something something starving children something war etc”. It’s not an argument worth having.

          • Klydefrog says:

            Sin Vega, if RPS allowed me to give your comment an arbitrary vote or thumbs up rather than having to take the time to type a response to you then I’d do that.

          • April March says:

            1) Use Windows 10, or post from a cell phone.
            2) πŸ‘πŸ‘πŸ‘πŸ‘πŸ‘πŸ‘πŸ‘πŸ‘πŸ‘πŸ‘πŸ‘

          • ButteringSundays says:

            Totally agree.

            Ethics in journalism (full stop) is certainly something people have a right to care about – choose your sources wisely people, as you choose your friends!

            But ye, it’s entertainment news. Some people just take their hobby too seriously.

            Sin Vega, not even – there are an infinite number of things more important than the accuracy of a video game review – we don’t need to jump to extremes like famine and war. The time your bins are collected ranks higher on the list of accurate news reporting requirements.

  4. Cyrus says:

    I don’t comment here a lot but I have to give an input on this matter. This is one of the few PC games I regret buying.
    I was young back then, but not that young really, in my teens.

    As I recall I needed my GTA fix after Vice City and San Andreas was not being released (or even announced?) for PC back then.
    The game itself had plenty of PR on the TV with commercials, I guess fell for it. Needless to say hadn’t quite started to discover reviews and PC Gamer just yet. I just stumbled across the game and decided to give it a go.

    It was pretty lackluster without being specific and haven’t touched it since, and have spent its time in some box in the storage for some years.

    • Cyrus says:

      Some other kind of hype back then I might add, though on a lesser level than today’s games.

  5. Dragonzeanse says:

    Larry Bundy, Jr. has an excellent video on the controversy surrounding this game.

    • RobF says:

      Watched that a few weeks back and it somehow manages to mangle just about everything about Driv3rgate and finishes on some odd conspiratorial grumbling about Future Publishing.

      Which is to say, it’s very odd indeed.

  6. Svennibus says:

    Shoot me buy I kind of liked this game back in the day. Me and a friend of mine spent the whole summers holiday causing as much mayhem as we could in the Nice level. I still have nightmares about the last mission.

    I haven’t replayed is since so it is probably more of nostalgia than the game actually being good.

    • laiwm says:

      Eventually killed the final boss by inching just far enough around a corner that I could shoot him forever without him being able to “see” me. Still took an unreasonable number of bullets.

  7. Danda says:

    Damn, I *wanted* to like this game. The Install music was awesome, the opening cutscenes were cool, it had Hollywood voice acting, you could leave your car at last (you actually started in a cool “Hollywood apartment”)… I really wanted the reviews to be wrong, as they sometimes are. But it was definitely broken, it was impossible to play. I kept trying to trudge forward until a mission where the bad guy saw you and escaped, and you had to do EXACTLY what the game wanted, or it was game over. And the game was terribly broken at that point, so it was impossible. I tried to follow it, I even got in front of the escaping car at the beginning of the chase (yes, you could do that, but for nothing, because it was not What The Game Wanted), I tried everything and it was useless. That game died for me right there, like Daikatana. I can take “bad” games, boring games, mediocre games, even terrible games, but not broken, unbeatable games.

    Driv3r is not just bad, it’s unplayable.

  8. Orumo says:

    Well, I remember wasting 5 minutes trying to just enter a car… It was that terrible!

  9. a very affectionate parrot says:

    I’ve played way too much Driv3r, the story missions were absolutely terrible but the bugs and glitches in the free roam mode kept bringing me back.
    My personal favorite time was when I was being chased by police in Nice and suddenly a bunch of cop cars come flying through a hedge in front of me. Also driving a motorcycle straight through the starting house in Miami, smashing into the edge of the pool and rocketing the main character across the map.
    It was a total disaster but I still have some fond memories, it’s a shame Reflections are now just the guys in charge of making sure Ubisoft don’t make another game with driving mechanics as awful as the first Watch_Dogs (which incidentally started life as a Driver game).

  10. RobF says:

    Mrs B took it back to Virgin a few hours after we got it home, when asked why she just told the counter assistant ‘because it’s shit’. This was, it seems, a perfectly acceptable reason.

    And oh, it was. I tried playing it again a few months back and it’s somehow worse than I remember it being at the time. It is, as someone pointed out above, unplayable. Nothing actually works right at all.

    GOTY, obviously.

  11. patped says:

    Some big magazines were publishing terrible reviews but the best review I’ve read was from a gamefaqs user:

    “Driv3r is a nice movie, with famous actors and a reasonable story. It’s far from being the best crime thriller i’ve ever seen, but it’s definitely fun. This movie has a problem: from time to time it stops, and then some incredibly lousy video game begins, sort of like a weak and ugly GTA impersonation.”

  12. April March says:

    I played at a friends’ Playstation (2?) and remember the following things:
    1) The graphics were beatiful.
    2) The gameplay was horrible
    3) A police car once appeared inside of a tennis court.
    4) If you tried to jump while moving diagonally Tanner jumped like a gazelle.
    5) The car destruction was awesome. You could crash sides of cars and knock of wheels. My friend told me I crashed more wheels off cars in the hour I had with the game then he had playing one third of the way through it.

    Later on, I played a game that also had amazing graphics, turgid gameplay and unbelievably realistic vehicle physics. It was called GTAIV but I knew, deep inside my heart, that its true name was Driv3r 2.

  13. laiwm says:

    My favourite bug was in the “director mode” – the series staple, where you could cut together car chase movies from your replays, and where I spent literally 90% of my playtime. Sometimes it would forget a button press or misremember a minor detail early on in the replay, causing a hilarious butterfly effect that led to everyone driving into walls constantly.

  14. bill says:

    I didn’t think it was that bad. Despite it being one of the most rage-inducing games I’ve ever played.

    The city looked lovely, and driving around it as the sun set was cool. It had nice action-movie style driving.

    The first person on foot stuff was shit, but that made up about 10% of the game and so could be mostly ignored.

    It mainly had one small SERIOUS flaw. Clipping a curb or a small post or a lap post would bring you crashing to a stop. That, combined with a lack of saving or checkpoints, could lead to massive fury when you suddenly failed a 25 minute mission 30 seconds from the end due to clipping a curb.

    I guess I got used to it, or I had a lot more patience and free time at the time, because I actually completed it.

    Nothing was too horrendous, except for the final mission which was enough to give me knightmares. I must have tried that mission over 150 times before I completed it… one minor slip and you’d have to restart the whole thing, and it had a bit where you had to drive at full speed across an intersection with moving traffic… which was basically pot luck as to whether you’d make it or have to restart.

    I was actually composing mental death threat letters to the developers which I intended to send with the smashed up pieces of the CD… but then I finally finished the last level and got that games-thing where overcoming crazy difficulty feels great..

  15. dangrak says:

    This game WAS awful, but I did a lot of tooling around in it on the PS2, especially because of the cinema mode where you could splice your own videos together. It must have been one of the earliest open world games that had a video editor. That, plus it was really cool that there were drivable 18-wheelers. Not a very memorable game overall, but I didn’t despise it.

  16. gbrading says:

    I remember seeing pre-release stuff for Driver 3 and thinking that it was going to be great. I’d tinkered with Driver 2 at my friend’s house and I thought that a Driver 3 which fixed all the issues of 2 would be cool. Sadly it didn’t do any of those things. Then it released and thankfully I didn’t buy it, and I still haven’t played it to this day.

  17. AceJohnny says:

    Somewhat tangential, but this reminds me of Midtown Madness. Gosh, 1999!?