Driver 3

a Play By Mail item by J Nash (Wednesday November 4th, 2009)

Every now and then I buy a game several consoles late on Ebay and play it all the way through while e-mailing my top showbiz chums S Campbell, K Gillen and Z Nicholson every impression of the title as it occurs to me, live, for days or weeks at a time. Not so much reviews as unfocused fingery monologues of sequential mind-changing in microscopic detail at punishing length courageously tolerated by a mystified audience of disappointed professionals, this is Play By Mail.

TODAY’S EPISODE. Inspired by the farcical corruption of Drivergate, I purchase Driver 3 four years afterwards in a spirit of fairness and SCIENCE. Divorced from the heated imbecility of the comically inept scandal that burned up the entire game review industry until absolutely nothing changed in any way whatever, can the notorious semi-game provide £3.95’s worth of thrilling fun on its own merits? Let’s find out over roughly a month and 11,500 words. All e-mailed thoughts are unedited except where noted. You should see how I write Christmas cards. I draw all the letters individually. That is how I write Christmas cards.

2008-04-24 0231
This is remarkable. I’ve finished the training mission (“Hello, Undercover Policeman. This is the police on your answering machine. Please drive to the police station for firing range practice”; by gallumphing around epileptically and sidling up to the targets to shoot them after they’ve retracted into their cubbies, and shooting a civ, I’ve scored enough) and finished the first mish (“Quickly, follow these police in your police car. Remember that police who crash into you will cause you to lose the police even though you can see other police on the screen following those police. Look out for — Oh, you’ve arrived”) and am now stuck on The Siege (“A man has taken a hostage who immediately vanishes from the game. Slip unnoticed into the building by gallumphing to a heavily guarded side door and shooting a squad of courageously static crims. The man will now slowly run past you in full view of your insta-kill accurate-o-tron 9mm and jump into his car and escape, no matter how many bullets you’ve put into it to smash out the windows, etc. Leap into this nearby car in an unskippable cutscene and instantly fail because you didn’t instinctively take exactly the right line on the first corner”).

Also: lampposts.

I think I’ll try the mini-games and free ride option to give the programmers a chance to catch up, because Undercover transparently isn’t yet finished. (I especially like the, “You have irretrievably failed. Here is a menu where you must manually select Restart and then we will ask you if you want to restart (the level, you assume, rather than the game) while warning you this will lose all current progress,” bit.)

Hello! I recently bought Driver 3 for the X-Box and have just begun playing it.

2008-04-24 0259
“Sub Game 1.” This is a placeholder build, isn’t it? That would explain the bewildering story (which appears to be a string of random events narrated in anecdotal style by someone I’ve no idea who he is). The only mini-game I can bear is Quick Getaway. Aren’t there any stats? I’ve knocked over and obviously killed five people to my certain knowledge, at least one while in a police car. I know three were black and I was in Miami at the time, but still. And look, a French city. This is like Midtown Madness 3 if you’ve died and gone to hell.

2008-04-24 0327
Just starting to see the horrible slowdown (chased by police) and bizarre pop-up (trying to escape police, find path incrementally blocked by unending fade-in fence). Draw gun, frighten populace, they don’t have calm-down trigs, so ended up shepherding a sprinting woman all the way up the map until she reached a wide dead end; had to work hard to nudge her out thanks to buggy routefinding.

I see the view choices are (a) car too big in way and (b) first person. Cheers then.

Hurrah! Falling in the water, then climbing up quay steps then falling in again immediately because my bloke overshot then climbing up once more and beginning to fall at the angle against the wall, my bloke jammed immovably in the floor (or poss mid-air; I can’t see his legs because the camera’s dead too). I’ve crashed it.

2008-04-24 0344
Ooo, I like the way when you go back to Undercover it says, “Previously on Driver…” and runs a little summary of what’s happened so far (which in my case is obv, “Unimpressive computer man gets in car”). And if you ignore the instructions on the Siege level and jump in the nearest car and drive around the back instead, they’ve anticipated that and the crim escapes by another route and you can chase him that way, which is how I finished that bit. Perhaps it is improving.

There are separate controls for music and effects. If you switch off the music, all the voices vanish.

2008-04-24 0500
I quite liked crashing up the building site in my car that’s indistinguishable from all the other cars, but shooting the bar to bits with the horrible controls can DIE UP A STICK.*

I can also confirm the X-Box World pound-off coupon (“Valid until Thursday 30th September 2004”) isn’t, as I’d assumed, a hastily inserted sheet of paper or a coupon or something, but the final page — not the inside back cover — of the manual. This is slightly odd as it means you have to cut up the booklet, while at the same time there’s an Atari survey in the box as a separate bit of card. It’s also slightly odd because the XBW verdict (“Superb immersive driving… truly glorious… 9/10”) is a sticker on the box, while the Official X-Box Mag verdict (“Fast cars, loose triggers and some of the best chase scenes ever seen!”) is printed on the back of the inlay. Unless, a-ha, the OXM quote is from a preview.

The coupon is in the same section as the ads for the soundtrack CD and the official game guide. (Eh? “Drive to spot indicated on screen map by beacon and narrowing cone. Shoot courageously static crims** with gun when target turns red.” £12.)

Every (uninterruptable even when repeating, obv) animation interlude judders grotesquely, but to be fair this could be the disc, which appears to have previously been owned by a deranged person who rubbed it on cats for hours and hours.

*With GTA-like feature of making you drive all the way there to start with, EVERY TIME. This despite the previous mish making you drive to the checkpoint once, then restarting from there if you lost. So exactly GTA-like then.

**To be fair, some have unexpectedly dashed aside, usually in berserk fear as I gallumphed up firing epileptically over their shoulders thanks to the horrible controls.

(Slight edit: after various bafflements as to why I’m playing the game at this particular time, I’m briefly enlightened on the earlier games by K Gillen and Z Nicholson. The consensus is that the first was fun except for every single last possible element being ruined in some way, then Driver 2 pretty much sunk the series by unwisely copying GTA without knowing how to pull that off. K Gillen astutely pins Driver 3 as the consoles’ Rise of the Robots, then defends Driver 3 as not as bad as Rise of the Robots. He is probably drunk at the time.)

2008-04-24 1909
Astoundingly, I’ve purchased the game for research. I’ve been disinterring some more Drivergate bits and suddenly needed to play Driver 3. (Up to now I’ve only tried the original Driver demo, which you might remember goes like this: minutes and minutes and minutes of loading, “Chase that car. You failed,” minutes and minutes and minutes of loading. Interestingly, this is exactly what the chase levels so far have been, but with much faster loads.)

The inflexibility of Driver 3 is surprising. The first level, the chase in the police car, is over the picosecond you make a mistake.* As these mistakes can extend to not being able to get in the car (the get-in-the-car button also does something to the camera I haven’t yet studied in detail, so if you’re not in precisely the right place to trigger your char opening the door, you’re left standing there weeping down your face as you hammer the button and the game swings the view around your head forever) you realise the first game’s demo’s hideous stop-start spit-in-the-eye wasn’t the accidental result of inexperienced designers, but a deliberate flavour.

Shooting up the bar is the same sort of thing. There’s a time limit (your, er, driver panics and takes off when the police approach) and a damage gauge and (as far as I can see) you have to wrestle the horrible controls to wreck every last tiny destructible item in the place; I didn’t manage last night in repeated goes to get beyond a three-quarter rating even when spraying methodically with an Uzi. Naturally, at the same time you’re being shot at by guards. Remembering the clever Siege bit, I tried the last couple of times to wreck as much as possible then ran outside to the waiting car as the police arrived, but it was silently locked. There’s that GTA style of disconnection between levels; no sense of coherent oversight, so something friendly and expected in one mish (“Hang on, what if I tried…”) just does not apply for the next, similar level.

Incidentally, the first half of the bar sequence, where you drive to it, isn’t against a timer or anything. It’s just driving across the map. That you’re forced to do every time. (To be fair, it’s this second occurred to me that you might then have to get back to your hideout, so the idea is to familiarise yourself with the route, but for that to work they’d have to switch off the standard map beacon and then I’d have to kill someone.)

It does appear to have escaped the producers at Reflections that the game is called Driver and not Jogging Thug. (Then again, I hate the cars anyway. Hours and hours of Mid Mad 3 taught me that European cars are nippy and fun and the F Colonial ones require you to plan steering by using a map. Driver 3 is the advanced lesson.)

Pleasingly, I’ve managed to game one of the levels. This is what happens:

DRIVER 3: You have escaped the car park ambush. Take this incredibly fragile car and drive across this winding, river-split map using a deceptive straight-line beacon while being chased by an armoured car that’s faster than you are and can wreck you in a couple of blows.

J NASH: Yes. Or, for the second attempt after losing in roughly 10 seconds, I could lean slightly out of the exit then reverse into the car park, use the old drive-around-an-obstacle-and-away-and-the-chasing-AI-jams-before-it-can-spot-you-again ploy and drive leisurely to the checkpoint, marvelling along the way at the incredible length of the level plus the lying beacon and the maze of roads.

DRIVER 3: Curses, etc.

Rise of the Robots — ha, scamp. I certainly haven’t yet seen any of the guards squat and cower in a corner. Ooo, hang on, that’s a point; you can jump. I wonder if you can kick guards in passing? I investigate.

*Hang on though, I’m almost entirely convinced thinking back that I span out once on my successful go. I must determine if the fail flag is based on line of sight or distance (ie, I recovered because I’d crashed by chance on a long straight road). The map mechanism suggests the latter — the car you’re chasing stretches an elasticky cone between you as it gets further away — but I’m equally nearly sure that I lost much, much faster on the early bits when the chase car takes a lot of corners.

(Slight edit: Z Nicholson brings up the ridiculously unfair final level of the original game, where the pure-fluke win conditions are like having to find Dr Doak 80 times in a row, and suspects the original game counted the number of corners between the two cars when determining a lost pursuit.)

2008-04-27 0444
I’ve just run through the police chase level a few times with various wrinkles and it’s deffo distance. The trick is that you start the level in a twisty part of town, so the effect is disguised. At one point, for example, I was convinced you lost when the car was two turns or intersections ahead, regardless of how those turns or intersections were spaced.

Wafting around the city I couldn’t find any way of boarding the El-train, but was briefly entertained when jogging behind it on the tracks to see that it has concealed wheels (these leapt out of the floor obviously wrongly when I shuffled around the platform) and when it reaches any kind of bend in the track the entire bus pops with awkward rigidity to the next preset angle. No idea if this is horrible scripting or (as the wheels suggest) the game insisting on driving every vehicle properly but having no room to do so.*

Amusingly, the game advances in (but doesn’t tell you about) some kind of chapter thing. Remember I was stuck shooting up the bar? Returning to Undercover mode, I was unexpectedly thrown back two missions to start again from Meeting Some Bloke and Crashing Through Building Site. Hngh. I managed to beat the bar (largely by standing in the doorway) and been told to pick up some bombs and blow up a yacht and this is where the rubbish tech shines. It’s a lot of clambering around rooms and the camera is awful — as I mentioned before, your view is restricted to (a) big car or char on screen or (b) hopeless first-person bit. Whenever you lumber towards a corner, the camera can’t decide whether to spin to the wall behind you (sometimes, obv, ending up behind the wall too so you’re being shot while looking at the outside of some wall) or lunge forwards so you and your target disc vanish.

(Incidentally, there’s no range with the guns; if your target turns red, firing anything you carry will hit that bloke no matter if he’s a dot. I’ve hit guards with an Uzi who are in different buildings.)

There’s a bit on the yacht as you shuffle down to the engine room where you’re ambushed by a guard below who can pepper you with his pop-gun, but even though you can see him perfectly well, the camera won’t let you point far enough down to shoot back. You have to dash down along his line of fire until you’re level. It’s this sort of thing that makes the visible efforts by some of the designers — the back way into Siege, the occasional midway checkpoint in a long mish, the discreet leeward ladder up to the yacht so you can clear the first storey backwards with the guards looking the wrong way — even more painfully a waste of time.**

Ahhh, interesting: Gamefaqs says there’s a button seq to unlock all the missions. That’ll save some bother.

*You start in Miami, so the whole thing even looks like Vice City. (That came out, what, two years earlier and the setting must have been known for yonks before that. You’d think Reflections’ hat lamp would have started flashing an alert. At least they could have swapped maps and started in Nice or Istanbul. T.) Not only that but, driving a boat around for a bit, I spotted a van pop into existence on a bridge and do a textbook GTA drop and bounce on its suspension because the prog had slightly miscalculated the create spot. Maybe it’s a homage.

**When you plant the bombs (and I knew this would happen) you’re given 30 secs to get off the yacht. Dashing through the (of course) all-new hordes of guards I leapt off the back and swam away. Hurrah! The yacht blew up as a fitting prize for my endeavours and then it cut to me in the water and the caption, “You died in the explosion.” That’ll teach me to ignore every instinct and blindly plant the first bomb as soon as the icon appeared near where you board. Do I want to try again? No, not really.

2008-04-28 0552
Messing around in Free Ride mode now. There are some inexplicable invisible barriers: jogging up the steps of a random low building, I kept bouncing off nothing even though it was just a flat open balcony sort of thing with plenty of room. I waived that as a slip-up (in the same way I once managed to leap out of a lake in San Underpants and trip into a hill) but shortly after tried docking a boat and found berth A bounced me out but identical neighbouring berth B let me in. It’s almost as if they didn’t have time for a thorough check of the map.

Currently I’m getting annoyed because the GTA controls don’t work. (For example, GTA’s brake, such as you might jab when zooming at top speed in a car towards a wall, here means, “Please dive out of the car as recklessly as possible.”) A fretless jaunt around the city is somewhat hampered when you keep coming up against impassable fences (slightly unfair, as San Und only fixed this later) and low walls your ridiculous prancing jump insists on failing to clear; I quite liked sauntering around, following the map into the dockyards from the landward side, but didn’t then appreciate having to saunter all the way back out again because everything in the area was an unconquerable obstacle. (Oddly, as far as I can see there’s nothing at all to encourage you to do this anyway, not even a horrible hidden-parcel quest.) And, as before, once you’re in an even vaguely enclosed area (ie, there are some walls) the camera goes bananas.

Other queer not-GTA bits: if your bonnet flips up after a crash, it doesn’t automatically spring off near-instantly so, coupled with the inflexible view, you can be driving blind for ages; and the NPC cars travel at a constant speed regardless. Somehow I managed to drive the wrong way up a motorway without even realising that’s what it was. You remember GTA’s hurtle-filled terror of cloverleafs, etc: here a couple of cars floated past as usual.

I like the way the map keeps track of police cars for a good long way. (They have little cones showing which way they’re pointing and whether they’re looking for you.) I see how they work it too; while attempting to taunt a police car waiting at a traffic light to see how far I could go before they started shooting — say, whether standing in the way or leaping up and down on their bonnet would count — I realised it was in fact a traffic jam. Something NPC-y had occurred and a running policebloke was inextricably trapped in a passing staircase and his alert partner had slammed the car into a handbrake turn across the road as a shield and stood there with gun drawn, a clenched coil of action, scratching his face in a looping idle anim while pedestrians ran directly into the back end of a nearby van and awkwardly juddered themselves free to carry on fleeing, so all other cars had patiently stopped. (The car limit seems to be about half a dozen before things go visibly creaky.) Craftily I jogged away to see how far I could get before the normal cars were forgotten — a point I correctly deduced would be revealed when the police cars suddenly took off again on the map because the game obviously ran the police cars on empty roads until you broached that area. I then sneezed and missed it, but it was certainly a couple of blocks.

Oh. I’ve just found what’s clearly part of the Undercover game — an unannounced storm drain in a fancy neighbourhood which becomes a tunnel to a building with a “Gate control” sign which has a suspicious car park and high gantries where transparently you chase someone through a labyrinth of rooms and guards then race high-powered cars and I’ve come in backwards — except As Yet Unencountered Apparently Invincible Machine-Gun Boss (Who Stomps Around After You, Egad) is there anyway. He stomped around and killed me.

2008-04-24 0630
Ahhhh — no, I see; Misplaced Boss is in fact one of the Timmy Vermicelli secret things. Except: I’ve killed him (so presumably scored something somewhere) but was chased by police for driving on the wrong side of the road and, no matter how many times I switched cars and stayed out of the way, they kept spotting me again as if by magic and in the end shot my elbows off. For driving on the wrong side of the road. Do I keep that score? Nothing tells me. Hang on, I suppose I’ll have to Free Ride back to the storm drain again. Turn off the police and the rain (the frame rate really doesn’t like either) and, er, oh, it turns out a head-on collision if you’re on a bike kills you instantly. Cheers. Try again and… Phew, yes, it’s remembered I shot him.

Next six or seven e-mails: I try the menus in real time. Or something.

2008-04-28 0702
You can strafe, etc, but if you duck then you can’t move at all except to forward roll (and get back up, obv) and your sight dips proportionally with you so you’re shooting too low without clumsily reaiming. I don’t know at the moment if ducking in a firefight does you any good. The guns have clips; so do the NPCs’. Vehicles take a lot of shots before exploding, which they then do into hard component scrap rather than debris which fades away. I like the purely visual effect where if you swap guns you keep your present one until you press Shoot rather than holstering madly with every choice (did GTA do it like that?) and the practical one where if you cycle your guns the one you started with hasn’t been cheatily reloaded when you reach it again. Oddly you start with a packed inventory: feeble pistol with infy ammo, better pistol, silenced pistol and Uzi. Time from quit to menu is extremely quick (as is booting; there’s a copyright notice, a skippable Atari logo* and the front end pops right up). Haven’t bothered with the pointlessly extensive replay menu, but amusedly remember you can upload the resulting clips which is how all the crashes and bugs were helpfully presented to an audience of Driver 3 purchasers.

Undercover again then. Oh right, back to the level before the yacht. So: no.

*Which is then blown up with a grenade by the Reflections logo. If it’s an affectionate rib, it’s a peculiar one.

2008-04-28 2229
Yacht again. (I’ve not cheated yet.) I can see this time what they’re trying to do; if you ignore the terrible design errors so far and treat it like a proper bit of new game, you sneak around shooting all the guards before you even look at placing a bomb. (What I thought were infy respawns as I tried to escape look now like a group of guards I’d previously missed; when you plant the second bomb an alarm sounds so presumably everyone becomes active and can see you. There do seem to be semi-cheaty new guards when you go back to the decks though, as if exiting through door X spawns one new bloke at point Y.) And it all works, but is hopelessly ruined by the disastrous camera: it’s like you’re a drunk toddler trying to breakdance.

Next lev is an exciting chase hampered by the boggle-goggling framerate crash when two police cars are after you. (This happens a lot in this level.) It’s like the drunk toddler is now a bit sleepy and forgets to react every other second. But the fact your car’s made of tinsel (if you wreck it, for example by hitting a bin in a gulley after you’ve brilliantly shaken the pursuit and nobody knows where you are, the mish fails; getting out and stealing another is apparently beyond you for this one level) and the tortuous route home come under, “Nyyyyyeh — all right,” it is exciting and I’d be awarding it a big medal and wilfully excusing the frame bangs if it weren’t for the city layout. As mentioned previously, I kept hitting impassable obstacles when wandering aimlessly around the docks. This effect is hideously amplified when you’re throwing a big stupid car around uniform junctions with the game insisting you lose your tail before you can go home: you’re zooming along, you glimpse an alley, you squeal into a pedestrian-scattering turn,* down the tiny narrow strip, bins and bags and oildrums bouncing off your windscreen, jink to escape a skip and… it’s a dead end and you’re killed. I’m revising my earlier opinion of “Didn’t have time to test the map thoroughly” to “Nobody drove around in this much at all, did they?” The unfriendliness is endemic: sometimes the gaps between buildings are just alcoves, you can end up splattering around on the grass for ages before realising the entire area is fenced in by (unbounceable-over) motorway sidings except for the way you came in and the inviting plaza behind a large building I careened into as part of an improvised hook-the-block scheme suddenly became an architecturally mystifying fence. It’s not even as if you can spot these dead ends until you’re seven-eighths of the way into trouble. The whole thing gives the impression of someone watching a tester shimmy through gaps and back roads and saying, “Right, put a wall there.”

Remember the clunky foot-tripping tyre-snagging Haitian slum in Vice City? That’s it, except as a big sunny city. I can’t grasp the motive. Still: this is the first level out of (hang on) nine so far where I’m definitely a driv3r.

*Pleasingly, despite being handed every opportunity to do so, I’ve so far not hit anybody on this level, with the possible exception during a frame collapse when the driver of a stupid car I rammed leapt testily out of his seat in the middle of the road as everybody piled into us from all directions.

2008-04-29 0305
Oh mang, I really thought this was improving. I was dropped off in the middle of a crim stronghold and told to get on with it. As the place is a small, fortified island you can pretty much make it up as you go: it’s clear from the scripted bits like lorries darting out to block my path that the game expected me to zoom around in a car, but it didn’t mind when I jumped out and shot everybody instead then fell off and swam (and drowned — that was rubbish, there’s no air meter or anything, D3 just suddenly decides you’ve paddled for too long so have died somehow) then clambered around everything. It even recovered via eventually letting me hop on a bonnet from the near-fatal idiocy of trapping me against a locked gate between my car (with no room to open the door) and the post with the gate-opening button on it and it all concluded with a ludicrous stunt. Hurrah!

Then it was Chase the Invincible Boss Through His Million Guards to the Only Wharf Where He’s Vulnerable.

Then it was Escort Your Employer Through Ambush-Packed Streets to the Only Vehicle She Deigns to Escape In.

Bizarrely, we’re now in open-throttle GTA homage mode, as I’m Stealing Cars to Park in Moving Transporter Against Time Limit, after Shooting Chasing Vehicles From Back of On-Rails Van. (We also switched to France after Invincible Boss.) Although, hang on, didn’t D3 come out between VC and San Underpants? Yep, Vice City was end of Oct 2002; San Und was end of Oct 2004; and Driver 3 was end of June 2004. Coincidence then, based on common enough ideas nicked from Virtua Cop or something, though the timeline reinforces my stupefaction at D3 occurring in Miami. (Nice is lovely, all hills and local colour. They could at least have started in Nice.)

The difference in execution though is striking. In San Und’s rails bit, you were hanging out of the back of the car with your gang bickering loudly as bikes and cars and mad leaping policeblokes tore after you and articulated lorries blew up and things collapsed overhead; in D3’s, the van swings wildly on corners but the (uniform model, brown) chase cars seem eager enough to crash on their own while you try to work out if you’re supposed to shoot the driver through the windscreen or pop the tyres, neither of which I could get to work despite emptying RPC-90 clips into each.* In San Und’s carjacking bit you take the mislaid cars to the endlessly motorway-circling transporter and lose because the stupid time limit doesn’t anticipate you getting stuck on the fast lane after a delivery trying to flag down uncooperative Vegasers; in D3 you have to work like a loony to get ahead of the transporter in the first place (you haven’t a chance without your complimentary super-fast motorbike) then lift the cars from posh garages, etc, catch up with the transporter again (which has flown past in the meantime, following a strict cross-map route), deliver the not too damaged spoils up the ramp on French roads in French traffic and repeat. The time limit is so satisfyingly tight that even when you have your route shaved for efficiency you end up racing a sportster up the twistiest mountain path in the world, lining up and correcting and bouncing The Italian Job-style off the wheel guides as the transporter takes another perilous curve and (after, in my case, a heart-stopping miscalc which rolled the car end over end over end down half an alp but landed it on its wheels ready for a peeling getaway) make it just as the lorry crests the final dip and drifts into the secret hideout, three seconds to go.

What the? Oh no!

I’m stuck again trying to sneak into a hideout (you have to drive down for years from your perching hideout then go awkwardly round a spit and breastroke to a birn as the main gate is patrolled, but whatever I do next I’m immediately spotted by the hundred guards and, as they’re carrying insta-kill machine-guns and you’re thrown back to the top of the hill when you die, I haven’t yet worked out if I’m supposed to G Eye Bunker around the place — which seems unlikely as there’s no cover — or just dash in and blast everything — also unlikely as I’m supposed to be burgling) so can’t yet tell if this is a San Und sit, where the idiots up the ladder have put all the impossibly terrible bits first because pop stars swear in the voiceovers and nobody gets to see Middle Designers’ hard work. Or if it’s going to collapse again.

Also, I’ve changed my mind about D3’s gun reload now. The Chase Invincible Boss bit makes you swap weapons (for the first time; everywhere else you stick rigidly to the Uzi) because some rooms have three or four distance blokes (Uzi or machine-gun) and other chambers are tiny (all-new shotgun) and you have to zip through as fast as possible because you’re accompanied by a bumbling cretin who tries to bounce bullets off his face and, once you reach a certain point, Invince Boss starts to escape by boat and if you don’t clear his last guards instantly and spring for the spare Cigarette he foolishly left behind then you’ve wasted the level so far because (yes!) You Lost Him.

Given all that, I didn’t once play the mish without jumping into view of a guard and spraying the trigger only to watch my char calmly pocket his gun and swap to the alt, because I’d cycled appropriately but forgotten the non-auto switch. Similarly, in practice the make-you-reload bit just comes across as damagingly petty, like the idiot who said, “Hey, when you hit a car head-on with your motorbike, say two-thirds of the way through Park Stolen Cars in Moving Van, let’s make it so you’re killed instantly.”

*That’s a point: there’s no humour at all in Driver 3. Wait a sec — there is a really neat, funny joke near the beginning about car keys, but that’s it. All the interlude anim people are rendered in that utterly generic plasticky skin style and you just can’t tell them apart. There’s a crowd scene in a police station lift in one bit — the idea is that one of the story chars is discreetly at the back and uses the cover of the officers streaming across the lobby to slip an incriminating envelope on the duty sergeant’s desk. It’s only because Voiceover Bloke explained who’d done what had just happened that I twigged; the entire cast of the scene is just a bunch of shapes. When you arrive in Nice, you’re met by identical twins — identical, with unalike haircuts. Expecting some identical-twin-related dialogue, I was enormously surprised to learn they were in fact two maverick (obv) detectives who happened to work together. It was just the rubbish graphics. The lev I’m on now starts with someone dragging a body into a shipping container (the implication is that the vic is one of the non-twin tecs and you’re being set up). The anim finishes with Dragbloke, who’s kept to the shadows, looming into view as he pauses moonlit in the doorway — a lingering, tight close-up that’s clearly supposed to be the Dun Dun DAH — You! moment. I have no idea if I’ve seen the bloke before in the game ever. It’s possible by context he’s the other tec for the old unexpected-traitor ploy. Or he’s the first one. Or he’s from Bernard’s Corpse Brand Shipping Container Valet Service, Inc.

2008-04-30 0020
Right, I see it now. You have to ambush the guards with your silenced pistol as they patrol. If anyone sees you there’s a slight window to get them before they run to hit the alarm (which doesn’t in fact exist; you can’t turn it off from anywhere in the compound and I’m possibly mistaking a guard’s sideways shimmy as a bolt for a button) at which point the siren blares continuously for the entire rest of the time you’re there and the unkilled guards spring into action by standing at their posts.

I think — I’m just about to check this, because I didn’t want to ruin my chance at the time (UPDATE: too late, passed a checkpoint, see below) — that if you stick to the silenced 9mm they will stay at attention, quite happily ignoring the alarm and Bob in the next alcove suddenly keeling over dead. Certainly I’ve tensely nudged around a corner (can’t crouch and manoeuvre except for the suicidal forward roll, remember) and blasted a guard’s elbow, at which point he’s dived backwards* and I’ve followed him round to find him back at attention beside an equally rigid chum, neither of whom notice as I phut away with eight or nine shots to kill them grievously.

Once everybody’s safely dead and you’ve spotted the couple of extra ways of entering the area (eg a disguised canal leading up to a manhole; I came via boat, beach and back door; it’s obvious this mish was rushed, because there’s no G Eye-style infy guard penalty for tripping the klaxon) there’s an insulting non-puzzle where you pick the shipping container out from a pile (again I’m guessing the intention here was to have a clever Towers of Hanoi-type bit, but the placeholder of your container being visibly the second one in the stack was waved through as Atari’s financial year-end hove into view) then you fall off the crane because of ladders (which, marvellously, neeeeearly kills you outright, so good job you hadn’t previously needed the three health packs scattered around the yard), back a cab into the rig and — hurrah! — it’s the final level of the bonus lorry-driving missions from San Und as you weave through hill country pursued by police who have also set roadblocks, but! with the additional thrill of poinging your 90mph multi-ton 18-wheel artic off invincible traffic lights and, if you spill, an ingenious approach to auto-bouncing your vehicle back to its wheels: the game doesn’t, so you lie there helplessly on your side until it says, “You wrecked it.” (Naturally the artic has a health bar, so you can also wreck it by crashing roadblocks, hitting lampposts, etc.) Here is an example of how you spill your 90mph multi-ton etc etc: you glance a Fiat, deflect into a traffic light and flip like Eight Ace doing a heurgh.

UPDATE. Bus shelters are also made of infinitely dense indestructibilium-44.

UPDATE. Whenever you crash a roadblock, police accurately pour small arms fire through your windscreen. They start when you’re a few hundred yards away and continue until you’re past. You can do nothing about this. You cannot survive four roadblocks. (To be strictly fair, I didn’t start the escape with exactly full energy thanks to the crane ladder incident, so it’s possible I’m supposed to have done that. No, it can’t be; stealing the artic is the checkpoint so you couldn’t nab a recharge even if there was still one in the compound. The game must therefore want me to return to the hideout by the improbably narrow and twisty mountain route, a slip upon any point of which sends the artic tumbling irrecoverably over the edge, rather than the slightly wider and twisty main road with its sharpshooter junctions.)

Still, as far as I can tell, no matter how ragged the angle you can’t spin your cab off the trailer so don’t have to worry about patiently reversing in tiny inches to reconnect while police shoot your knees off, San Und-style.

*You’ll recall one of the criticisms of almost every review was that guards run to pre-scripted points and stop dead and never move again except to shoot at you. This indeed occurs in the opening levels. Then there’s a mish where the guards shockingly dart aside and duck back into cover. Then later they’re statues again. Totally random. I can only conclude you have to specify “guards can react” when you design a level, but can’t imagine why. In the bits where they do react there’s no slowdown or anything. (Which the designers palpably don’t care about anyway — see the two cops/half a dozen cars bit earlier.) Maybe someone forgot to mention it.

2008-04-30 0223
Bizarrely, the twisty mountain route has just as many roadblocks, if not one more. I made it through though. Perhaps there’s a random elem in the roadblock shooters hitting you. (Some of them indeed just stood there as I roared up, rather than blazing away the moment my headlights crackled.) The hardest part, of course, was manoeuvring the escaped artic down the stupid undangerous final ramp in Policelesstown to the docks, because (a) there’s another ramp next to it which leads to a dead end which you only realise after you’ve got it wrong and (b) it’s near-impossible to reverse. I managed it once by defying the laws of physics and jamming the cab so far back around the trailer that I could brake, twist and rev to spin the entire object on a made-up penny. In the end, I made the turn on to the ramp by crashing the accompanying ultra-fence as hard as possible at an angle and trusting my ship would hold together long enough to bounce into line.

FOR YOU I then went back to the compound to see about the alarm. It’s positively not worth your while sneaking around, because no more guards appear if you’re spotted and you can easily shoot them all as they line up conveniently in the middle of the yard. (Perhaps their dodge subs are activated only if you get close. But that makes no sense.) Never mind hunting around the lip of the hill overlooking the yard with the idea of sniping the guards before you even turn up (which they’ve anticipated anyway and a wire mesh fence through which you can clearly see the patrols acts as an impenetrable barrier; slightly oddly, your useless gunfire sets off the compound alarm anyway) or something equally devious, just barrel in and thud away.

I discovered while doing so that I was wrong about gun range: you can be firing uselessly at a bloke with your RPC-90 (sight is white) then switch to your Rubbish 5000 Inc 9mm and hit him every time (sight is red). The confusion arises because the sight refers to your current gun. Thanks to the previously mentioned way you pause to swap guns, you’re unlikely to cycle to a new weapon and switch immediately. This would be a disaster in a firefight, so naturally you cycle and step into cover (or vice versa), swap and pop back out.

What therefore happens is that you’re miles away pecking at a guard dot with your feeble pistol (sight red); you cycle to the RPC-90 (inventory graphic changes to machine-gun, sight remains red because you’re still holding the pistol); you swap the guns by pressing fire (inventory graphic still machine-gun, sight now white because you’re holding new, short-range gun) and waste clips as the bullets fall to the tarmac a few lengths ahead of the guard’s shoes. The visual cues are precisely wrong. I’ve similarly lost count of the times I’ve cycled the guns, noticed my new one is running short thanks to the big info pic and hammered baffled at the Reload button with no effect. It’s because, obv, I’m still holding my current, fully clipped thing. Lord knows why this wasn’t changed when testers said, “Tragically, this looked like a good idea but, with a couple of hours’ actual play, it turns out to be imperillingly ambiguous.”

Hmmm. I think I may have reached the end of patience with a ludicrously spiteful Drive the Booby-Trapped Car mish. (The one in between, Hijack, doesn’t appear to have a finished design at all and you just sort of win it without noticing.) After an inexplicable opening (“Drive to the shopping centre! You have only 40 seconds!”) you’re forced every time to shoot your way to the car in the first place (ie the checkpoint is when you arrive at the shops, not after you’ve killed the eight machine-gun guards in heavily defended positions) then, as soon as you get in, you have 2m to deliver it to the other end of France and a fleet of guard cars spot and crash into you deliberately. I have no idea, at all, what you’re supposed to do about these: they’re faster than you, suicidal, you’re in an unresponsive crate and can’t shoot back because they’re behind you, the guard cars act as chasing police so are magically slick and foully untrickable and the game blatantly cheats by spawning them on whichever road you take. This is particularly despicable, because in previous police levels you’ve been able to outwit them in a giant game of Pac-Man by cleverly noting their area of interest and slipping past — in one game I pleasingly trickled along behind a scowling police cruiser unnoticed before rolling away quietly when my turn came up. Here, you needn’t bother assembling a cunning back route with one eye on the clock; wherever you go, there they are. The entire process is so much anti-fun that I even experimented with nudging the bomb car up the road using another vehicle as the clock doesn’t start until you climb in, but it’s miles to the goal and, contrary to my clock-related guess, the teeny-tiny damage meter is always counting. Rubbish.

2008-05-03 0208
Okay, the cars don’t after all spawn ahead of you, but at random; after half a dozen failed attempts (including trying to rig the start by parking a dead guard’s car across the junction the first chaser arrives from) I suddenly had a clear run with my bomb-filled dustcart to the end. Phew.

Displaying some really quite marvellously witless editing, the next level after driving around with your sneeze-damagingly feeble van that’s loaded with unstable explosives is: Maintain a Speed of 50mph Otherwise Your Sportily Weak Booby-Trapped Car Explodes. (Incidentally, it’s a different car.) I quite liked this one. You drive all the way to one end of France where you have to push your passenger into a parallel van as you careen along a beach, then drive all the way back again to crash the car into the bomber. For the first time there’s a speedo, but clearly some design’s been employed because there’s also an alarm bar which fills in with an increasingly dramatic beep the closer you are to 49mph.

Forgettable one follows where you have to reach your employer (who’s managed to stick herself in another ambush) before a lorryload of assassins arrives, or shoot up their lorry as your paths converge on the way to the trap, which sounds clever and open-ended except your in-car gun works like this: the sight moves with your driving stick — a tiny dead area of pixels separates the two and if you slip over that, suddenly you’re steering your car into a wall. (Weirdly I did it first time but somehow jammed my car in the tiny alley you’re supposed to reach to catch the ambushers from behind and was shot to bits trying to clamber back in and reverse — the car just goes dead when you arrive — and then leap over the bonnet, and every subsequent attempt I just shot wildly into the air as the van’s machine-gun guards destroyed my vehicle completely with two bursts. Valiantly I’d then scamper into the road and steal another, but was never quite fast enough to catch up before the lorry cunningly sneaked up on my employer by driving at full speed along a big open road she was defending herself from the ambushing snipers by standing in the middle of. And yes, on one go, minutes in, intending to make a handbrake turn I hit the Leap Out of Car button again so had to puff along the street after it. Tragically there doesn’t appear to be a mechanism whereby you can bend down and accidentally tie your shoelace to the exhaust pipe and be dragged along like a stirrup-bouncing Indian.)

Then it’s the remarkable Stop Fabienne, which is where I’ve jammed once more. (Fabienne is someone who turned up a couple of levels ago, or has possibly been in the game from the beginning, and for no reason tries to kill you a lot.) She’s in a super-powered getaway car assisted by the game scripting: her escape is split into lots of mini-routes, with her randomly choosing the next as she reaches the appropriate corner, and whenever that happens the script also spawns civilian cars in the most disastrous possible spots. (For example, whenever you have to throw a handbrake turn, you can guarantee a taxi will be parked behind that blind corner on the outside.) Pop random traffic on top of that (which itself seems to be rigged: I’ve had a car in the middle of a straight road suddenly turn directly into me), all the usual lampposts, a mystery absence of in-car guns (which suggests you have to ram her to death, except by chance I scraped a hit as we both set off and was plunged through the air to spin repeatedly against a second-storey window in roughly the manner of hitting Bella Emberg carrying a safe full of anchors at 200mph while Fabienne swept on unharmed and unjostled in any way whatever) and a failure cone distance of perhaps 20 feet (leading to fun-emphasisingly replay-encouraging incidents where you can see Fabienne ahead of you on a straight road and you’re going at top speed and there’s no immediate danger and the game locks dead and says, “You failed. Fabienne got away”) and it’s beyond explanation. Also, you start by having to run to your car and, in about 28 goes straight and regardless of how exactly I jog up to the door, I’ve never ever ever ever got in the car first time: I prod the Get in Car button and the camera instead swings around the car helpfully to show me there’s a car there; it’s only on the second prod that your char all but says, “A-ha! A car. That’s convenient,” and flicks the handle.

Further general observations: nobody trying to play the game is interested in stupid replays, so why not have an option to switch off the bit which insists on asking, “Restart? Are you sure? You’ll lose current game info,” whenever you die and have had to use the menu option Restart because the game hasn’t restarted with Fire; and your health bar starts full and empties as you’re hit, but your car bar starts empty and fills as it’s damaged. Obviously, as these two bars are only on the screen for roughly 100% of the time, nobody had a chance to spot how confusing that can become at a rapid glance.

2008-05-03 0301
There’s someone at Reflections whose job was to go through videos of testers playing this level and, wherever someone took a corner too fast but sideswiped safely off a building to bounce back into the chase, put a lamppost there.

Some scripted corners have three sets of lethal civ cars, for players going too slow, just right and too fast. There’s a magnificent one on a plaza with (a) a pointless sticky-out fence as you arrive, (b) skiddy plaza-y tiles, (c) a tree, (d) a large sign you can pass beneath except they’ve added a third, central leg, (e) three sets of lethal civ cars and (f) a random civ car approaching from below your vision as you exit.

There’s a rare Fabienne route which takes you up a hill (almost certainly with your bonnet flapping right in your field of vision), roaring over a path and all the way back down again. As you land, you’re going too fast and flip over.

I’ve twice seen a scripted obstacle car turn into and vanish through a building. (I can’t quite tell if the idea was I’d be on their inside lane at that point and thus be rammed out of nowhere, or whether the designer in a spasm of inexplicable competence wanted to clear the car for an empty road and couldn’t do so any other way.)

I’ve hit an indestructibilium-44 traffic light so hard that my car partially pushed through it and the entire vehicle locked dead with the unmoved traffic light in the passenger seat. I don’t know if I could have reversed off it (or something) or whether I was trapped forever, because “You failed. Fabienne got away” appeared just over a second later.

I hit Fabienne for the second time at the start. Once again I was spun away miles into the air as she rocketed away unblemished. As once we’re underway I’ve never come near her I’m wondering now if I’m supposed to chase her to point X whereupon we’ll have an exciting gun battle with controls. That would be particularly ace because this is just after the save-the-employer bit with another gun battle, so I have a speck of energy left.

This is an awful, awful level designed by people who need to be stabbed in the eye with the pointy frozen corpses of their children and it deserves no more of my pretty stares. I use the Gamefaq level select cheat.

Oh, ha, it’s not even the final Nice level; there are two more. These ought to be special.

2008-05-03 0648
Oh yes. One’s exactly the same level again except this time you have to shoot the escaping car with your windscreen wiper gun, and the other is a forklift crate puzzle. No, really.

I’m just flicking randomly through Istanbul now. (I haven’t even mustered the energy to drive around the city sightseeing.) It’s occurred to me there isn’t anything in this game, at all, that I’ve not seen before, to the extent that when the Follow the Car Discreetly level started I instinctively used my Mid Mad 3 Follow the Car Discreetly tactics. Into a building that’s under construction for another of Driver 3’s patented pop-up shooting galleries, escape by van across the whole map avoiding patrolling guard cars and now the game itself seems to have lost interest: I’m hanging out of the back of a lorry, again, shooting pursuing cars, again, except this time they’re police. (As the first one skidded off the road, I assumed it was the old non-fatal wounding ploy; at this point the jam jar crashed and exploded.) You might think they’re corrupt police I’ve exposed in an amazing twist in the story, but they’re just some police. I think I resigned in the interlude anim or something and then ran out of the station, possibly windmilling my arms while sobbing.

If I recall aright, Reflections made your char in the original Driver an undercover policebloke at the last minute to escape censure, without changing the game in any way except to say, “You are an undercover policebloke,” on the box and dub some undercover policebloke-related phone calls on the mish setup anim bits, and the morals here are similarly all over the shop. Unlike GTA there’s no penalty of any kind to knocking down (or accidentally shooting with an M16 while storming a restaurant) civilians. Or, as we now see, the police. Now I’m a super softy anyway and wouldn’t shoot Bobs in Marathon either, but there’s something unsavoury about Driver 3 that I didn’t feel with any of the GTAs.* They haven’t even bothered with some justifying plot, like you’re crazed with single-minded vengeance because they killed your second cousin or something; you’re an undercover policebloke and the case you’re investigating is some stolen cars. Not cars used as a cover to smuggle Spank or guns or something, but 40 posh cars stolen to order, some by you, in total worth “nearly $20m.” I’d estimate this case has so far seen well over three hundred deaths and at least $21m in property damage, not to mention your travel expenses.

There’s a great bit in the half-finished building where you have to dash down stairs to the next storey, but the camera’s so terrible that you can’t see if they’re stairs or a fatal drop. (Driver 3 has a cut-off point of about 11ft from above which you die instantly no matter what your health. I found this out by scuttling down a nest of Nice buildings obviously intended to be leapt via the integral ramp but I’d forgotten a car. You hop down from roof to sloping roof until you can see the garden, shuffle hard into the angle so you’re definitely at the lowest point, then step off gingerly and immediately crumple to a heap on the grass.) You have to sort of shimmy over to the side a bit and whirl the sticks around to force a clue to reveal itself. Later there’s another big hole in the floor but unquestionably no stairs. It took me 7.2 ages of pecking around the room for a lift or something to realise the uniform concrete textures were disguising a lower block you were supposed to drop lithely upon.

*Certain exceptions, such as the horrible San Und level which effectively says, “Break into this pop star’s house and kill everybody you see with a knife so you can steal a record.”

2008-05-18 1859

You’ll recall I mentioned Gamefaq codes. The game has a separate Cheats menu in Options; when you go there, it’s a list of half a dozen “Locked On/Off” entries. There’s no mechanism in the game to unlock anything; you need those codes. Emphasising for unambiguous clarity, there are no G Eye-style time trial rewards: each cheat requires a manual button code, which obviously would have been leaked to mags, etc. (Gamefaqs credits what appears to be an official X-Box site.)

The cheats are All Levels (phew), All Cars (who cares? They’re all the same, either steerable or F Colonial, and there’s not even a GTA-style manufacturer logo when you steal one so you don’t form favourites or bother learning the shapes), All Guns (pointless, the mish-finishing super-gun is your standardly equipped Uzi), Infy Ammo, Invulnerability: Take a Ride (ie, you’re invincible in the free ride mode) and Immunity (ie, you’re invincible in the normal game — the one I’m looking for).

Except, quite a lot of bafflement and experimentation later, I worked out that Immunity in fact means Police Don’t Blame You: Take a Ride. If you shoot things/crash/drive on the wrong side of the road in the free ride bit, the cops roar up as usual, leap out and either stand there or (a glimpse into the game mechanics I haven’t whipped up the energy to play around with) fire undeterrably at what seems to be the spot where you committed the crime. Functionally this is equivalent to the menu option Cops On/Off and, astute readers will have noticed, means there’s no actual invulnerability cheat. Maybe at the time the cheats were added, say two or three weeks before final mastering, Reflections didn’t know there were going to be levels where you got out of your car.

Anyway, in the last thrilling episode of this e-mail you were running down a staircase and hammering the Enter button to open a sportster’s door so you could chase a boss’s magic car (“Stop Fabienne”) with an escape distance of about 20ft and thus lose even though you could plainly see the big red arrow above the fleeing hatchback because it was 21ft in front of you on a straight road and you were cresting 90mph. Straight after this, you have to chase the magic car of a second boss in exactly the same circumstances except with the contrived awkwardness of that initial sprint duplicated by an opening rev-up-knobbly-hill-and-sharp-turn combo where every approach but the mathematically precise one bounces you into a lamppost. Next, you chase the magic car of a third boss in exactly the same circumstances except you have to run for your car to start with. After that, you have to chase the magic car of a fourth boss in exactly the same circumstances except that you begin in your car which is parked facing the wrong way and there’s a wall to prevent you whirling out in as tight a circle as you can manage. Yep, it’s a loafer-to-the-floor car chase between stripped-down turbo-chargers which starts with a three-point turn. Then you chase a lorry which throws bombs but this time have to shoot it rather than keep up for X minutes or ram it or something. (This mish crashed; the lorry took the initial corner badly so I caught up and jammed behind it and shot it to pieces in 15 seconds flat. I’m surprised they didn’t program it so if you touched the lorry you were hurtled 200 miles into the air backwards in a rapid spin.)

As a reminder, all of these levels have 20ft-odd failure cones so roughly 94% of attempts will fail within three seconds before you even see the target car, tying in handsomely with the original Driver demo all those years ago. At least Driver 3 has fast loading.

Finally, you chase a train. This is promising, because the failure distance is back to normal, there’s no random/scripted traffic behind blind corners and it’s a train. After a couple of goes, you realise that the entire level hinges on the 37th second, when (if you’ve managed to drive in a straight line) you’re abreast of the locomotive and a sticky-out building looms up on a curve; if you pass the building without hitting it which is slightly tricky because of terrain you can now pass and swerve ahead of the train and follow the railway line until the game says “Reach the bridge before the train” and when you reach the bridge you win.* If you hit or scrape the building, the train will beat you to the first bottleneck and you’ll lose. Technically there are chances beyond that funnel to catch up and pass again, with parallel hilly paths, scrublands, culverts, etc — the railway goes on for minutes and minutes before the one important bridge — but it’s that 37th second which saves you wasting your time. (I suspect quite strongly that the original plan was for henchblokes, etc, to line the route as you thunder over dusty obstacles in hot pursuit like S Seagal in Under Siege 2, but they gave up bothering, or someone said, “That’s all very well, except when you brush a plant or anything your car flips into a gorge because of realism,” and the easiest answer was to strip everything out, or they forgot.)

After the train it’s a climactic big shootout along a road conveniently packed with henchblokes plus two idiot sidekicks you have to keep alive. This is easily the best level for understanding what the designers were trying to do, because it’s an open-ended gunfight with explosions all over the place, the gangs of crims react properly, you’re suspensefully torn between hanging back to use your long range M16 and lumbering ahead of your sidekicks to clear the way (they’re on a timed route, jogging to point A and waiting 10 secs then jogging to point B, etc etc, regardless of danger) and the police join in helpfully from roadblocks.

Tragically though the entire thing buckles because of pop-up. One of the first crims you see (miles away up a road) is plainly shooting you and, despite your gun sight not turning red, you’re plainly hitting him with every tiny bullet. Nothing happens and it’s only when you jog on that an entire burned-out car pops up in between you which he’s using for cover. In other words, it’s not just pop-up but contextual pop-up: in that case an NPC was visible but an obstacle wasn’t; more commonly, you can see the landscape, the many car hulks** and some crims but, inexplicably, not others. You can be jogging towards a distant firefight and suddenly you’re surrounded by machine-gun guards. They haven’t dashed from cover — which some do; the end of the level has a large gang tumble out of a gully — they were standing there all along, merely non-existently.

(To be fair, I don’t think they can shoot you before they pop up, ie it’s a hard pop not a visual one. This is a hectic mish with ceaseless background busy-ness and I haven’t examined it scientifically, but as far as I can tell I’ve only been killed several times in 1.7 secs or under by someone I can’t see because they’ve appeared behind me on a clear road after I’ve stumbled through their trigger poly.)

Of course, this reduces the level to a memory test. (Remember, the sidekicks mean you can’t just belt through and hope, or duck and shuffle to find the trigs.) You have to know where the guards are plus at what point they begin to be, because otherwise you’re loping through town firing accurate snap shots from the hip at presently unoccupied crim-shaped space. I did some initial testing of whether this was technical ineptitude or design incompetence (the issue is muddied by the crims who don’t pop up, like Carbloke above, suggesting the level is at least partly intended to be like this) but became distracted by the end of level boss, who’s hiding in the gully and — well, I’ve no idea what the designers thought here. It looks as if you’re supposed to run into the grubby walled area behind the building and shoot it out in a nimble point blank scuffle amid glamourless rubbish, but as you turn the corner a guard cheaply jumps out so naturally you blast him and freeze in cover in case of further ambush and it’s at that point you realise you needn’t unfreeze and can finish the game untouchably by watching the boss cavort around the yard with Impossible Mish athleticism while you machine-gun his very long health meter squatting by some bins. One last stupid anim, fade out and credits.

Driver 3 is a petty game. The ridiculously killjoy-y driving probs were solved hundreds of years ago by other games*** and the dead end-filled maps assistingly highlight which out of Fun vs Realism the designers cherished (which itself makes no sense because you’re a consequence-free policebloke with a magic radar).**** The common view is that Reflections fell to bits when some idiot exec said, “This GTA — we must be like (it),” and the jogging bits are indeed ruinously amateurish, but from battling the driving bits throughout I can’t see how they were that good to begin with. You might recall fondly having it away on your pastel toes from the police in Vice City, propelling your neon groin by an unlikely hurdle into the seat of a passing motorbike then weaving through town knowing instinctively that if you can see a gap between buildings it’ll take you somewhere else then plastering up a palm tree and sailing across the map and landing on a motorway to vanish as a streaky tail light; in Driver 3 you jink into an inviting shortcut, hit a couple of immobile obstacles and a wall, reverse awkwardly then bounce down a hill and fall off.

The inconsistencies make it unusually tricky to establish blame. (The chase-wrecking two-police slowdown, for example, doesn’t point to simple technical inability because some levels don’t have shattering pop-up; and rubbish design clearly isn’t hardwired because some chase levels have infinitely long failure cones, a couple of shootouts try hard and a few mishes have more than one way to win.) My impression is that, despite the obvious howling dimnesses — mishes lost in three seconds, having Miami in it, that sort of thing — the game’s a disaster because nobody could work up the energy to care. The whole thing feels like a contractual obligation, vast resources invested in the disinterested pursuit of clinical adequacy in order to satisfy a spreadsheet.***** Somewhere in Driver 3 is a finished game fighting not very hard to get out.

My running score for Driver 3 crackled all over the place as I was playing. It peaked at 51%. For the longest time it held at 41% thanks to the flashes of promise such as the open-win island fortress bit, but I can’t discount the muddled unpleasantness of the avoidable fun-killing errors, especially those in driving mishes. I therefore award Driver 3 39% and arrive by a process of rigorous testing and SCIENCE at everyone else’s bandwagon four years later and pounds out of pocket. Zounds, the ironing.

Fewer interruptions for loading. Perhaps surprisingly, does support a second disk drive.

*I’d tensely expected at this point to be told to find a bridge-raising or points-switching box, but the game just cuts to an anim which shows you swerve off the track and stop and, as the unhindered express rattles past your stationary car, the chief crim leap out at exactly the same spot and run away into town (presumably while thinking, “What are the chances of that, badger parade, etc”).

**There are no working cars in this level for the obvious reason.

***As I’ve mentioned previously, Midtown Madness 3’s clever answer to sturdily undentable killer trees and lampposts is that you pass through them unhindered if you’re going fast enough, they clip you wobblingly if you’re a bit slower, and they only crash you to an instant halt if you’re underpowered to start with. (They then tossed all that goodwill in the bin by adding inviolable stoops to the race-heavy posh area of Washington.) Mid Mad also solved chases by failing you only after the crim definitively escaped, either when a lengthy timer elapsed or they made it to a distant spot on the map. I can’t even faintly conceive why Driver 3’s designers think the insta-kill distance cone is a good idea. They’d probably mumble something about realism — a couple of wriggly turns and you’ll lose the crim JUST LIKE IN THAT THERE MOVIES — except obv you lose when you’re 21ft behind on a straight road. The Mid Mad series, of course, did not cost clumps of millions of pounds and involve dozens of tens of people.

****FLASH! I went back to the first level and shot a cop. “Open fire!” bellowed his partner and a giant caption. Instantly the eight or so visible policeblokes already at the siege did nothing and with impatient recklessness I sauntered off until, a few seconds later, “You were arrested,” appeared as words and the game ended.

*****It’s only just occurred to me as I type this, but the flavour is a lot like Bureaucracy’s. As you may know, this Infocom adventure was planned as the follow-up to Hitch-Hiker’s. When it eventually arrived it was unspeakably horrid and people who say they liked it are unsalvageable idiots. There’s an easter egg about the making of the game. Summary: “Everyone, everyone at the company worked on this at one point. There was no purpose to the work except to invent hastily and lump together the minimum functioning adventure necessary to qualify as a finished game. We all hated it. The result is objectively terrible, terrible rubbish but, without anyone quite understanding how, it passed the event horizon of cancellation and became too expensive and too labour-intensive not to release. Sorry everyone. Sorry.” I’d’ve been substantially more impressed if this admission had appeared in circumstances other than three-quarters of the way through the game when you find a particular item, long after you’d bought the thing and realised it was treacherously awful, but there you go. Good job I found the Lost Treasures box in the Beauford St cellar that time while concealing a corpse.

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