[intro]Can Ubisoft pass its Driver test at the first attempt?[/intro] The Driver franchise has had its ups and downs, from the Driver 1 and 2 heydays on PSone, to the shambles that was Driver 3, to Driver 4: Parallel Lines, which restored some much needed credibility. Driver 76, a PSP exclusive, is the first new game in the series since Atari sold the franchise to Ubisoft last year for €19m, and they’ve done a respectable job of it.
It’s set in New York City in the mid 70s. A brilliantly funky soundtrack of original tunes from the era accompanies the action, most of which is fairly simple mission-based driving against the clock. Tail this car, highjack that lorry, deliver this here… that sort of thing. The city itself is on the quiet side but expansive and detailed enough, taking in New Jersey, The Bronx, Harlem, Brooklyn, Manhattan and Queens with minimal pauses for loading between areas. The handling has some precision issues, but that’s as much to do with the PSP’s stupid little joystick than anything else. For me the game works best on the simple driving missions, where it’s as much about sightseeing and getting things done in a tidy fashion as anything else, but then I am old enough to remember 1976, and the “Save Water” stickers they gave us at school – that’s when droughts really were droughts. Anyway, no doubt with the assumption that today’s kidz demand a bit more than a nice little drive around town, it’s not long before guns come into play. Now, I don’t have anything against guns in games – far from it – but when they’re mixed with cars the results are rarely pretty. Shooting and driving at the same time is as big a challenge as your neural network will get this year, demanding simultaneous steering, acceleration control, aiming (albeit aided by a lock-on feature) and shooting. You get the hang of it after a while, but it never really feels right. It feels even less right when you have to get out of the car and run around in the dreaded on-foot sections, fumbling about with the camera and lock-on controls as you shoot up little gangs of bad boys. Driver is not, and never will be, a third-person shooter. The clue is in the name. But generally, it’s good. The story-telling is great, with top-notch voice acting, plenty of swearing (including the F-word), cutscenes and comic book interludes. It’s a game that wants you to like it, and does all it can to put a smile on your face as often as possible, mostly in the form of regular rewards and snippets of banter. Fortunately it gives you enough mission options for you to be able to play it the way you like, up to a point, but still has a good sense of direction and progression. Ubisoft, I’m pleased to say you’ve passed your Driver test. Horganator out.