“Spirits fly on dangerous missions
Imaginations on fire
Focused high on soaring ambitions
Consumed in a single desire”
– Geddy Lee, Alex Lifeson, Neil Peart
“The following is a contributor post by the Purple Prose Mage“.
It’s time for me to reveal a secret. The reason that I chose Tuesday as the day of the week to publish this weekly column is not in fact because New Year’s Day was a Tuesday this year; it’s because that would allow it to coincide with the 25th of June – 20 years to the day that DRIVER was released and the series began. My love of the series is no secret – my debut article was, after all, a Magecrit of the first DRIVER game. Its 20th anniversary is something I couldn’t let go by without some form of acknowledgement. That’s why today’s Racing Game of the Week article will actually be focusing on the entire DRIVER series as I dissect the story missions from each of the five main console games that best represent their instalment.
In 1984, Martin Edmondson founded the development studio that would come to be known as Reflections Interactive. Ever since childhood, Edmondson had loved destruction derbies and had wanted to develop a video game based on them. This personal passion project would finally come to fruition in 1995 when Reflections made the jump to developing 3D games, which made possible their first racing title, Destruction Derby. Upon release, Destruction Derby was praised for its physics engine, which simulated a realistic physics model, and for the way in which it accurately created the feeling of being in a destruction derby. Destruction Derby 2 followed, but Edmondson wanted to take the genre even further.
This led to him conceiving a spiritual successor to the Destruction Derby games which would take the physics of the Destruction Derby series and put it on the streets. Inspired by the film The Driver, Edmondson simply titled this game DRIVER. And so it began.
Along with a few handheld games and tie-in products, DRIVER is a series worthy of continuation – though whether it ever will be is another matter. Who knows, perhaps today will be the day Reflections finally announce a sixth DRIVER game. But for now, here are the five main games’ best missions…
DRIVER introduced protagonist Tanner, an undercover detective. In terms of gameplay mechanics, this first instalment is the most limited, with no out-of-the-car action. Missions are offered to the player in the form of messages left on Tanner’s apartment answering machine, but have a non-linear structure, forming a plot tree that has multiple routes to the end. Missions can’t be replayed without starting a new game from the beginning again.
In this initial game, Tanner is working for the City of New York Police Department infiltrating the mob in order to prevent the assassination of an unidentified target. This target is ultimately identified in the final mission…
At the beginning of The President’s Run, Tanner discovers that the target of Castaldi’s assassination is the President of the United States. In 1999, this was William Jefferson Clinton, though the president in DRIVER appears to be a fictional one (which was probably for the best). The plan is for Tanner to pass as FBI (somehow, they don’t really explain that) in order to drive the President’s personal Cadillac. In reality, the President is driven by an agent from the Secret Service, not the FBI, and would also be surrounded by a motorcade and bodyguards. But one thing it did get right is the manufacturer: the Presidential state car during the 1997 – 2001 term was a Cadillac Fleetwood, which is now on display at the William J. Clinton Presidential Center and Park.
With the target acquired, Tanner turns against Castaldi and begins driving the President a different route to safety. Only the boys on the ground don’t know Tanner is with the good guys, and so he finds himself pursued across New York by what must be every police unit. To make matters worse, it’s nighttime, so visibility is reduced. In the PC version, there’s the added disadvantage of falling snow. It’s the worst possible conditions to become the country’s most wanted fugitive. What’s more, the cops have suddenly been given a miraculous speed boost.
But there’s more – DRIVER is the only instalment to have multiple endings. After The President’s Run is completed, Tanner will rebuke his own NYPD superiors in protest of how much corruption he discovered during his investigation. What follows will be one of two possible endings.
At the beginning of the New York level, the two missions available will either by The Grand Central Station Switch or Luther’s Heap o’ Junk. If the player selects The Grand Central Station Switch, Tanner will leave New York for what seems to be Miami via Sunshine Skyway Bridge. But selecting Luther’s Heap o’ Junk will lead Tanner to be reunited with Ali, an old flame, who’ll part ways with him before he leaves New York via the mountains. Whichever ending actually happens doesn’t really matter because both of them lead to the events of DRIVER 2 anyway.
Speaking of which…
In DRIVER 2, missions are structured in a linear order and can be replayed from the menu. On-foot gameplay was introduced here, allowing the player to get in and out of vehicles to hijack other cars on the street.
Tanner is now working for the Chicago Police Department to track down a rogue money man who’s come between two crime syndicates and risked starting an intercontinental gang war. His investigation has led him to Goose Island, where he must now escape from…
This mission is essentially about navigating your way out of a maze. With only the initially inaccessible main roads marked on the map, there’s no way of knowing where each turn leads. It’s a process of discovery that will likely take several attempts to perfect, because Caine’s henchmen aren’t just going to let you escape and will block off routes. It’s not an easy mission by any means, but its puzzle structure makes the challenge compelling. Just like Pac-Man, the simplicity is what makes it so replayable.
DRIVER 2 isn’t great when it comes to mission variety, but this is one of the better ones.
Caine’s Compound was homaged in the DRIV3R mission Dodge Island, which takes the same concept and adds the extra mechanics that game had to offer.
Which brings us onto DRIV3R itself…
This instalment shifted away from driving-based missions and had a heavier focus on gunplay. The mission structure is very much the same as DRIVER 2‘s. In DRIV3R, Tanner is now working for the FBI to infiltrate a crew smuggling stolen cars. But Tanner discovers that the operation is being masterminded by Jericho, one of Caine’s henchmen from DRIVER 2.
DRIV3R‘s reception wasn’t great, and one of the main criticisms was the core gameplay elements being underdeveloped due to a lack of focus caused by additional features, such as the on-foot action carried-over from DRIVER 2, as well as gun play and boats. This is generally true for the most part, but there are some missions that manage to more or less bring them together well. The mission that does this the best is…
At this point in his investigation, Tanner is tasked with extracting a container from a secure compound and resituating it in the docks. Inside the container is “The Bagman”, who’ll be brokering the deal for the sale of the smuggled stolen cars. Transporting the Bagman in this way is intended to keep his presence secret.
After arriving at the compound, the mission is divided into two halves: the extraction and the resituation. Both are effectively two different missions that are both interesting for their own reasons, but the extraction of the container from the compound is what truly makes the mission stand out.
The compound is patrolled by armed guards, who must be eliminated. The player can choose to either do so loudly or subtly.
The loud way is to either crash through one of the two gates leading into the compound or to drive off the high road that goes around it and land inside. Either approach will immediately alert the guards and sound the alarm. The disadvantage is that this method requires gun play – which is considerably poorer in DRIV3R than in other games.
The subtle way is to stealth in through three possible entrances and then neutralise the guards from a distance with a silenced weapon. The first way in is an unarmed door at the top of some steps leading up from the ocean and the second way is by finding a hole in the wire fence around the rear. But it’s the third that is my personal favourite, even if it’s less effective. Instead of climbing out of the ocean up to the steps, there’s a tunnel that leads to a ladder which goes straight up into the compound. You’re more likely to be spotted immediately, but it’s still the coolest way to enter.
Once you’ve entered and have cleared the place of guards, you can now take the container. But you must load it onto its trailer. The way to do this is arguably even cooler than entering the compound, because it puts you in control of a vehicle not used at any other time in the series: a crane. By climbing up its ladder, you sit right in the cabin and can pilot the crane along a series of straight railings to free the container from the others around it before placing it on the trailer. Then, you can climb back down and commandeer the cabin. Once in the cabin, you can back into the container to hook-up and leave the compound. It sounds tedious, but it’s the most fun mission in the whole game because of how free you are to go about it in your own way as well as the uniqueness of everything that follows. The crane/container mini-game was outside-the-box thinking and just shows how much creativity was put into everything – even if it doesn’t always show.
Then, the second half. This is considerably easier than the first but just as interesting. It’s the only mission that requires you to drive a fully articulated truck, and the difference in physics can be felt. After spending the game driving cars, suddenly pulling a container with a cabin feels different. It adds a new dynamic and requires the player to adapt their style of play. Part of the fun is smashing through all the police’s futile little roadblocks and pushing them over the edge of Nice’s small mountain roads. And when you do finally get to the docks – don’t be fooled. That last turn is tight.
Controversially, it was decided that Tanner should be written out of the series, and so – in a twist ending – the game ends with Tanner seemingly dead.
DRIVER: Parallel Lines
DRIVER: Parallel Lines was an attempt at a soft reboot by introducing a new protagonist, T.K., and being narratively unconnected to the other games in the series. It’s the black sheep of the DRIVER family, but its status as a standalone allowed for more experimentation and it has developed its own special following. The story is something of an epic, following one man during his criminal career and the amazing adventure that his life becomes. This was also the first open world instalment, with available missions accessed from specific locations and remaining unplayable without starting a new game from scratch. In-car music was introduced, playing on the radio. Gun play was retained but was now only a supporting feature, with driving now being centred once more. And the mission that best combines these mechanics is…
The first half of the game, taking place in 1978, is told like every great heist film, with a cast of unsavoury individuals the audience nevertheless can’t help but like. Leading up to Kidnap was a series of missions introducing different members of the gang T.K. finds himself a part of and the necessary preparations. Then, finally, on a bright 1978 New York summer’s day, the plan comes together.
The beginning of the mission involves redirecting the target’s convoy by heading them off at certain locations and using explosives to create diversions that will form a route leading them into a trap. Once there, the player rains down heavy fire on the target from above before dropping into the midst of the action and hijacking the target car. What follows is quite a comedic sequence, as the target car is driven to the designated location against a soundscape of inappropriately upbeat classic pop rock while the kidnapping victim makes threats against T.K., who’s only mildly annoyed because it’s distracting his driving. That sequence really brings out T.K.’s character as a fool who’s been taught overconfidence, which makes what happens to him after the kidnap all the more tragic.
This is a controversial statement to make, but I think T.K. might actually be the more compelling protagonist. The story of his life is told in a single game and he develops much more over the course of it. If they ever do another DRIVER game and announce that it’s a sequel to DRIVER: Parallel Lines, I’d probably be more excited than if it weren’t.
But it was decided not to continue with T.K. after all, and so that brings us to the most recent – and perhaps final – instalment…
DRIVER: San Francisco
For DRIVER: San Francisco, Tanner is revealed to have survived the events of DRIV3R and is now hunting down Jericho one last time. However, when Tanner is involved in a crash, he slips into a coma. In his coma dream, he comes to believe that he survived the crash but has suddenly gained a new ability called Shift. Using Shift, he can project himself into the body of any driver around the city, though the player still sees and hears him with his own body and voice to keep things simple, while his own body keeps driving on auto-pilot. Shift is also used to start missions in the game by selecting the relevant vehicle – the latest story mission, when available, is engaged by selecting Tanner’s car. As an open world game, these missions cannot be replayed without starting a new game from scratch.
As the Shift mechanic is unique in the series, the most interesting moments in the game are the ones that experiment with different ways of using it, and no mission is more experimental than…
At this point in his investigation, Tanner is using Shift to infiltrate Jericho’s ranks via bodily possession and is posing as the driver Ordell – but Jericho has also revealed that he can Shift too. As Ordell, Tanner is ordered to follow the target car… his own. With his two lives now crossing, Tanner pushes his Shift ability even further in order to drive two cars at once. This makes for a very interesting, amusing and just plain weird mission in which the player is controlling two vehicles with the same input simultaneously – and, as you can imagine, that leads to both hilarity and chaos. It’s a sensation that can be barely described but is definitely an achievement of the original physics engine. When I first played it, I could feel the sensation of there being a thread between the two cars. It’s the most unique mission in the series, and definitely one of the strangest, most unconventional moments in the racing genre.
And then, when Jericho Shifts into Tanner’s empty body? Well… things get even weirder.
DRIVER: San Francisco also recreates The President’s Run in a bonus level called Legal Troubles.
And so there we are. The DRIVER series may never be continued, but – for the most part – these five games are ones to be proud of. There are those of us who are still hopeful, if accepting that every year makes the DRIVER games that bit more obscure. But for that same reason, it’s been an honour to write about them here, in the hope that more gamers will discover such a great series.
Usually, at the end of these things, I post a clip from the game I’ve discussed that week, but this week I’ve discussed numerous missions from a whole series. So, rather than make for a sluggish page, I decided to make videos of each mission into a playlist and embed it all here. Hopefully, if anyone is still reading this long after it’s been published, those videos will still be there. If not, let me know and I can insert a replacement.
Racing Game of the Week will return to its usual format next week. Thank you for sticking with me all this time.
The Purple Prose Mage is the author of the Racing Game of the Week column and also likes reviewing the latest book he’s read on his own blog at alexsigsworth.wordpress.com. This is a side-project he’s working on while he finishes his novel.
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Categories: Racing Column