Racing Column

Racing Game of the Week #25: “DRIVER Syndicate” (indev)

“You’re just too good to be true
Can’t take my eyes off of you
You’d be like Heaven to touch
I wanna hold you so much
At long last love has arrived
And I thank God I’m alive
You’re just too good to be true
Can’t take my eyes off of you”

– Bob Crewe and Bob Gaudio,
“Can’t Take Me Eyes Off You”

 

 

FF3-NES-WhiteMage1 “The following is a contributor post by the Purple Prose Mage.”

I’m sorry. I really am. Truly. I know that, after last week’s slightly different post for the DRIVER series’ 20th anniversary, I said Racing Game of the Week would be returning to its usual format this week. That’s because it was, indeed, the plan at the time. Over the past week, I’ve been preparing notes for what was originally going to be Racing Game of the Week #25 and – while I’ve already somewhat undermined this next statement – that will in fact be coming next week. I don’t usually reschedule like this, but this week I can justify it. Honest.

As DRIVER’s anniversary went by without even so much as a tweet from its developer, I decided it was finally time for me to investigate a game called DRIVER Syndicate. I was already familiar with it, of course, from the DRIVER Madness forums before that site died after its members migrated to Discord.

DRIVER Syndicate is an entirely fan-created game inspired by DRIVER and DRIVER 2 that has become the unofficial sixth instalment to many of the series’ fans, which – as of this week – now includes myself. That’s not a statement made likely – it hasn’t just had the DRIVER logo slapped onto it as a lazy form of market pandering. In every sense, this is worthy of that title – more so than some of the more recent licensed releases. It combines the iconic aesthetics, sound design, atmosphere and physics of those original games while being completely overhauled graphically to create what’s almost definitely as close as we’ll get to having a remastered edition.

It was a surreal experience to be playing this for the first time, because it was such a familiar feeling yet was completely unknown. It is by no means a complete game and I’m not aware of any declared intended completion date, though it’s come a long way since the builds shown in old videos. The map is much smaller than those in DRIVER and you can drive off the edge if you’re not careful, but that doesn’t really matter for a free game still being developed. Limited space requires economic environment design, and this is reflected by the main appeal being that what does exist of the map is clearly designed in a way that enables the classic DRIVER experience. When I remember playing DRIVER, I remember outrunning cops on the freeway, powersliding around corners, weaving through traffic and luring the cops over sweet jumps. There are districts designed specifically for those experiences and each of them bring something different. Whereas DRIVER’s maps are based on real cities, DRIVER Syndicate‘s map is based on playing DRIVER, a greatest hits album, if you will.

The rest of the game is like that, as well. The traditional driving games are restored and play just how I remember them and there’s even a remake of the infamous car park training level. The car designs and music are the same, as are the sound effects that are used to their original purpose. Small elements like those are what most informs our lasting impression of a game in the years since we played them. All it takes is one sound effect or music cue to put us back in it after so long. DRIVER Syndicate makes no qualms over being a fan’s reaction to DRIVER shifting away from its original core style but, while it’s true to say that the three most recent instalments were more interested in pushing the series forward technically rather than retaining stylistic consistency, it’s because the only other option was remaking the same game repeatedly.

That’s where DRIVER Syndicate‘s limits are, I think. It’s impressive how well it manages to capture the spirit of the originals, from the big things like music and aesthetics down to small details, but it’s not doing anything new with that. It’s true that it’s just like playing DRIVER, but it’s not like playing a new DRIVER game outside of the original environment. Once the gimmicks wore-off, I found myself wondering what the appeal of DRIVER Syndicate actually is. What does it offer that DRIVER doesn’t already? It’s certainly more convenient to play – I just boot the client from my desktop rather than setting up the necessary hardware in my gaming room – but considered more generally, given that this is made by a fan for other fans, what could make it more appealing than the original games if they’re the reason I’m interested in the first place? Attention to pre-existing details shouldn’t go unacknowledged, but what do they add up to?

This is something only time can answer. Development is clearly beginning with the basics first, like any other game made with sense, and I do find myself excited to see where it goes. Supposedly, there are plans for online multiplayer (unfortunately?), a mobile version and an assortment of other features. If this ever happens, it can only be a good thing for shifting the game away from pure mimicry toward being its own thing. So long as it maintains its core appeal of looking, sounding and playing like DRIVER, this could be what a lot of us have been fantasying about for a long time.

Have you ever returned to an old game and found yourself thinking, “Imagine if this had been online or in HD but still looked, sounded and played the same”? It seems that I wasn’t the only one to think that about DRIVER. There’s always a market out there for whatever niche thing you want to make if you’ve got the passion for it. As a writer myself – as are many of us here – I can’t think of a better thought to be prompted by a game.


Download the latest version here (WinRAR required for files extraction).

 

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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