To cut a long story short, Driver on the PSone was brilliant, and Driver 2 on the PSone was disappointing. Since then we've had The Getaway, which looked great but sadly came with a sizeable stack of bugs, and GTA III and Vice City, which looked okay but played wondrously well. Is there still a place for original wheelman Tanner and his particular brand of undercover cop-based driving craziness?
'Course there is, we've got an exclusive chat with Martin Edmondson, the founder and creative director of Reflections, the developer of Driv3r, for you to digest.
How does the gameplay split between car and on-foot missions break down?
Martin Edmondson: We've really aimed to focus on the car action, so it's something like a 70 or 75 percent split in favour of the driving sections. The game is entirely about car chases, so that's the main focus. But it really depends how you play the game of course; you could run everywhere if you wanted to, it wouldn't be a particularly interesting experience, but you could do that.
There's a lot of freedom in there to basically do what you want, but we've aimed for predominantly car-based action. It's 156 miles of road, and on top of that there are so many backstreets and alleyways that aren't marked on the map but that you can drive around, open parkland, secret areas.
We've added our own things in there, realistically modeled but with ramps so you go flying off the top into the city below in the Nice level.
You have to focus somewhere, otherwise you'd just go on developing the title forever. We could have had a whole fighting system in there, but if you do that, it just pulls away from somewhere else. These things are a balance and a trade off. There's going to be less freedom and flexibility in some areas than in others, that's just the nature of development.
In GTA and The Getaway the targeting and combat system has been criticised as being less satisfying than the driving sections; what have you done to ensure Driv3r doesn't fall into a similar trap?
Martin Edmondson: Remember first of all that the main focus of Driv3r is driving; the on-foot sections are always going to play second fiddle to the driving sections. But we've approached it from a different angle anyway; the reason why those other games are a little difficult to manage is because of the way that, if you press left on the pad, then you're character runs off over to the left.
The way we've done it is that you can keep your gun on the target while you're running around, it's the standard first-person shooter style of control. It's a deliberate decision that can sometimes make Tanner look a bit weird if you're running around like that, doesn't look particularly natural, but the gameplay advantage is huge, so that's why we've done it.
So you've got one hundred percent control in any direction while you're running, and I think that gives the player a huge advantage.
In the main Undercover mode, does the game take a similar, open approach a la GTA, or do you have to follow a more linear gameplay route as in The Getaway?
Martin Edmondson: It is fairly controlled; the structure of the missions is that the missions follow on one from another, so that's quite linear, but the missions themselves are very open in the way that they can be tackled.
So, for example, there's a mission in there where you have to go and steal a car from a rival gang. There's a truck leaving to pick it up, so you have to follow this truck to find out where the car is.
So anyway, follow it and eventually this guy's mates will pull out and start shooting at you, blocking your way, stopping you getting past. So you've got a few options; you can try to ram your way past the truck, you can jump out and kill the guys, jump in the truck and move it yourself - do you then stay in the truck or jump in your own car?
There's various different routes to go on your journey to dodge the blockage; eventually when you get to the compound you learn the identity of the car by following the truck in there, but you can also get ahead of the truck.
Do that and report to the compound and they'll actually give you the car because they think you're the driver they've been waiting for.
That's just one example but there are plenty of other missions like that.
I've mentioned both those games because Driv3r seems to be pitching itself squarely at that market - what is it that Driv3r's offering that's different from those titles?
Martin Edmondson: I think what it offers that's different is what Driver 1 offered when it arrived. It was completely original at the time. It's the only accurate simulation of car chases out there. Although there is this new genre of games that combines on-foot action and driving, it was an area that was created by Driver 1 back in '99.
Although the game was relatively simple compared to Driv3r or Vice City, the spirit of the game hasn't changed even if the technology has. Great game though Vice City is, it's not a car chase game, it's not about car chases. What Driv3r is all about is creating those realistic simulations of car chases, the kind of thing you see in Hollywood movies.
Bullitt, The French Connection, those were all the films I used to sit and watch when I was a kid. One of the first films I ever went to see at the cinema was the Ryan O'Neal film The Driver. Three or four fantastic car chases in that film, and it's those kinds of dramatic car chases that inspired us. You could go over the top in the game, but instead we've gone for a general feel.
There's even elements of Smoky and the Bandit in there, elements of The Dukes of Hazard which inspired our wheel camera view. And smashing through cardboard boxes at the end of an alleyway, from Starsky and Hutch - it's all there, every good car chase reference.
We avoided the bad ones. Ronin is one of the few modern films with a good car chase, but some of these modern films like Gone In Sixty Seconds, those chases were just appalling.
Tell us about some of the more offbeat vehicles you can drive.
Martin Edmondson: The vehicles are all fairly diverse, although you can conceivably have a chase in all of them. We don't go for submarines or planes or anything like that. So it's cars, trucks, vans, boats, bikes, scooters and so on, a forklift truck in there, a crane, a go-kart, classic cars.
There are vehicles there just to play with, they're not essential to the gameplay experience but it's fun.
It's cool that you got big Hollywood names involved to provide characters voices - can you tell us about how they got involved, what they offer, and so forth?
Martin Edmondson: They were surprisingly easy to get involved actually; if we'd gone to the likes of Michael Madsen a few years ago, or a similar Hollywood actor, we'd have been told to get lost, or they'd have demanded a ridiculous fee. It's a complete reverse now.
Michelle Rodriguez was so enthusiastic; she actually bought Driver 1 on the PSone, she knew everything about the first game, Michael Madsen's got five kids, a PS2 and an Xbox at home, and he told me the reason he did this was so his kids would think he was cool.
I think that just shows the complete shift in this industry from a few years ago.
Also, who put the script together, are we going to be impressed? Can you give us a taster of some of the grittier or more notable moments?
Martin Edmondson: We did it in-house, and the theme is quite dark. It was designed to be a dark game, it's supposed to be serious, although you're sidekick Tobias Jones has some good lines.
Iggy Pop also turns up in the game, and he was apparently fantastic; they did the recording in Miami and he just had so many stories; he doesn't play one of the main characters, but he's got a memorable appearance in the game.
How do the Xbox and PS2 versions compare? Any word on a release for the PC version?
Martin Edmondson: Obviously the Xbox version is slightly graphically improved, but the PS2 version we're really proud of, it really pushes the hardware. Both versions are in parallel development, it's been designed from day one to be on both systems. The differences tend to be things like bump-mapping that we can't afford to do on the PS2.
As for the GameCube, the machine is just not geared toward games like Driv3r, it couldn't handle that level of detail. We have some ex-Rare people who know the 'Cube very well, and what it came down to at the end of the day was: "we can do it if we cut down on this detail" - and we weren't prepared to do that.
The PC version should appear three or four months after the console version, so September or October.
What were the reasons behind Driv3r's slip to a Summer release?
Martin Edmondson: We desperately want to release the PS2 and Xbox version simultaneously. Driv3r has been one of the most complicated games we've ever worked on, so we need time to make sure we're not going to rush it out before it's finished.
Are you confident the game will definitely be ready in time for the new release date?
Martin Edmondson: We didn't need all of the extra time we've taken, we just took it to be absolutely certain, so I would hope not. We could theoretically add an extra month and it could theoretically be a little better, but you've got to draw the line somewhere.
So last word on Driv3r - why are we going to be blown away by it?
Martin Edmondson: The level of realistic car destruction has never been seen before. The rush of the car chases, to actually take part in that and be really involved, I think you can see you get a real rush from this. Play it in first-person, cops right up your arse, and the whole thing is really feels like a film car chase.