Game reviews: Driv3r (PC)

There are excellent and acceptable games, and there are just plain bad games. However, there's a small amount of games which go beyond being bad: They are outright unplayable. Because they are unplayable, they are a complete rip-off. You are paying money for something which you can't even play. This should be illegal (although, admittedly, it would be rather difficult to make this explicitly and unambiguously into a law).

Driv3r is a good example of a game which is basically unplayable, and even the little you can play doesn't impress much.

I own the first Driver game and I enjoyed it (although it had its small flaws as well). I expected this third version to have at least the same quality and playability. How wrong I was.

Firstly, the controls are just plain horrible. Most importantly, the game is unplayable with a wheel controller because the game uses a huge dead zone for the center of the controller (something like 30-40 degrees around the center), which makes it basically impossible and completely unnatural to try to control the car with the wheel controller. This is the only car game where I have seen this. And the dead zone cannot be fine-tuned anywhere: It's hard-coded and there's no way to change it. You are stuck with it.

Now let me repeat that so that it will really sink in: A game which main point is driving a car is basically unplayable with a wheel controller. Think about it.

I bet the development team didn't even have a wheel controller when they made and tested the game. If they had, they would have surely noticed how impossible it is to play with one, and would have fixed the problem.

The first Driver game is perfectly playable with a wheel controller, so it feels completely baffling why this one has no proper support.

Clearly the game has been designed to be played with a DualShock-style gamepad with two analog thumbsticks (for them the dead zone is ok). However, even with such a controller the controls are unpolished and often awkward. For example in walking mode the right stick turns the camera, but it turns it really slowly. Making a simple 90-degree turn with the stick takes several seconds. And, you guessed it, there's no way to tune it. (There is a setting which claims to tune it, but changing it has zero effect.)

Also the default controller button settings for the PC version of the game are just mad. (For example some important actions have been put into the buttons 11 and 12, which in a DualShock-style gamepad are the two thumbsticks, which are awkward to push and only intended for very uncommon functions.) Changing the button configuration cannot be done from the pause screen during the game: You have to quit the game to the main menu before you can configure the buttons. This is quite irritating because it's laborious to go back and forth between the game and the main menu in order to test if you like the button configuration or not.

Ok, walking is only a secondary feature in the game. The main point in the game is to drive the car in high-speed pursuits. How does this work, with a gamepad?

After configuring the buttons properly, it mostly works ok. However, driving the car has other major problems, which make the game extremely difficult and basically unplayable.

These problems become very prominent from the very first level, where you have to pursue a criminal by car. You'd think that a game starts easy at first, and then gradually increases in difficulty. But no, in this game the very first introductory level is prohibitively difficult! It's as difficult as a boss fight in the hardest mode in most games. It's basically an unwinnable level due to the difficulty. It's so difficult that I have not passed this very first level at all, even though I have tried it about one hundred times. I have played it for hours, to no avail. (Note that I have played the first Driver game through, on the hardest difficulty.)

The difficulty comes from the almost complete uncontrollability of the car:

Unlike in most other games which support drifting/powersliding (including the first Driver game), in this one you lose almost all control of the car during the slide. It's very difficult to start the slide properly (you easily end up turning too little or too much), it's very difficult if not impossible to control the car during the slide, and it's very difficult to end the slide when you want. Also the car tends to slide way too much, like the tires had almost no grip. While this might be realistic, it makes the game just too difficult to play, and there's no fun in it.

The car is also way too bouncy. It's really easy to turn the car on its roof, after which you just immediately lose and have to start the level over.

Even those things wouldn't be so bad, however, if the game was just slightly more forgiving about collisions. As it is now, the game is completely unforgiving of them, which makes even the very first level practically unwinnable and the game unplayable.

If you collide with something (like a lamp-post, a tree, another car, a wall or almost everthing) head-on, you lose, period. Well, you don't actually lose right away, but you have no way of continuing the level anymore. Colliding eg. with a lamp post halts your speed to zero right there (after the car taking massive damage). You are stuck. The only way to continue is to drive a good distance in reverse and then drive past the lamp post, but all this takes so much time that the other car will be long gone and you just get the message that you lost him, and you have to restart. It's basically impossible to continue the pursuit after you crash onto something.

And it's really, really easy to crash onto things. The car is almost uncontrollable, and maneuvering with any precision at high speed is practically impossible. You are almost guaranteed to hit something sooner or later. Trying to dodge obstacles is only going to make you hit something else because you lose control of the car.

It's also really easy to over-drift so that you turn your car around 180 degrees. Lateral collisions onto obstacles also tend to turn you around very easily. By the time you get to the right direction, the other car is long gone, and you lose.

Maybe you should drive a bit slower so that the car doesn't become so uncontrollable and it's easier to dodge obstacles? Nope, not possible. The other car drives so fast that you can just barely keep up with it at maximum speed. Any slower, and you lose him, and you have to restart the level.

And what is worse: You can't even practice and memorize the route in order to remember all the obstacles and the proper way of avoiding them. No, the other car takes a random route around the city. The next time you play the level will usually have the car taking a different route than earlier. Also other cars appear randomly, so there's no saying where they will appear. So memorizing the route is not possible.

The game is also really unforgiving about the distance between you and the car you are pursuing: In some cases I can still see the car on a long road, yet the game tells me I lost it and forces me to start over.

And let me repeat: This is the very first introductory level. It's not a boss level well into the game, it's right in the beginning, the very first car pursuit you have to play.

The game is basically unplayable and unwinnable. I have tried this first level at least a hundred times, and I can't pass it. I always crash onto something or over-drift, or lose the other car after it makes some random turn because of paying too much attention to the road ahead rather than the mini-map where the other car is shown.

This game is a rip-off because of the bad controls and unplayability. I'm sure the developers never user-tested this game before releasing it. If they had, they would have noticed that most users could not pass even the very first level.