“Truth is, Tanner, three years on the department and you are still the best driver I got. We don’t get too many ex-racing boys in here. Lowlife rumble in Miami says there’s a hunt on for a guy who can pump the gas. Big getaway, big job. Maybe even some kind of hit. Some hood by the name of Rufus is in the picture. We need a line on it. Coffee? Black, right? Guys upstairs were asking for you in person. Look, we need you to go under. But no one is going to know except me. If I bring anyone else in, I’ll let you know. I need your badge. Any questions?”
If you have played this game, you know this little cutscene by heart. Driver: You Are The Wheelman, the best driving video game ever made. It’s just called Driver in all the other markets except for North America, so I’ll just call it Driver from now on.
Before you read this lovely article, I’d like to redirect you to some gameplay first. These screenshots do not do this game justice.
You are John Tanner, an undercover cop working with the FBI to take down criminal gangs and crime rings in Miami, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and New York.
The story becomes more gripping as you play it. If you get good enough, you can beat it in less than two hours. But when I was young, I would often get stuck on one mission or another. After playing it for years, I think I have gotten good at this game and that is one of the reasons why I can appreciate it as what is, in my opinion, the best driving game made. You may not agree though. Please tell me some other games you think are great in the comments!
One of the biggest selling points of this game is the maps. The cities portrayed are of course not a perfect replica of their real world counterparts, but they are “close enough”. The cities in the game give off a decently realistic feel when compared to the cities in real life, even if they aren’t modeled after the entire city.
Miami is resemblant of a tourist resort. The skies are bright, you can see beaches in the distance, and the cars are brightly colored. Palm trees are everywhere, and everything just seems to pop. Keep in mind this game is set in the 1980s, and Miami is heralded as “the vacation destination” by all of the time’s travel agencies. A poster of sandy beaches on a wall of the bleak gray decor. The doorway into what life could be like.
San Francisco gives a vibe of a city that is hard at work. A lot of the buildings in the Chinatown and Russian Hills areas have a more well-worn look, people are making money and working for it in these areas. Presidio is just a little side street, and the area between Fisherman’s Wharf and The Embarcadero is just a straight line. But besides that, San Francisco is represented fairly well in this game. Besides, you know, the Golden Gate attaching to a gas station in Marin County.
Los Angeles, however, isn’t as faithfully reproduced, even by 1999 game standards. The entire city has a very grungy feel. It’s like the popularity and culture behind Nirvana shaped this city. There is no day, only night. The street lights are dim, and everything has an “I hate everything” feel. There are even shops named Grim and Dreaded Realtors. Near Beverly Hills and Rodeo Drive, things get glitzy. As glitzy as Green Day can be, however.
New York feels like, well….. New York. The city that never sleeps. There’s always a feeling that things are moving faster than they should. The game’s version of NY covers about half of Manhattan and a four square block representation of Brooklyn. The map reaches from the tip of Manhattan to Grand Central, and. . . The World Trade Center exists! Of course, it is nothing special considering that the game can’t render that high.
Now, let’s get to the point. Yes, the maps aren’t great but they can be commended for the time.
What is the game actually like to play?
It’s not Forza. It’s not Assetto Corsa. It’s not BeamNG.Drive. It is, however, a different kind of game. The cars in this game handle like big land barges from the ‘80s would, with tons of body roll and a feeling of sheer weight falling around the corners. That’s not saying that they handle like a real 1982 Town Car in this game however. Cars in this game have a lot of grip surprisingly. I can do a full e-brake entry into a corner, countersteer, and hit the curb on the opposite side of the street, at full throttle.
The cars in this game have different handling characteristics. Only the two other supercars can wheelie in their standard forms. If you have the pickup truck and the “super fast car” cheat on, you can make it wheelie as well. Cars will lift their front wheels up when you are drifting. The cars are honestly fun to drive. The cops however, aren’t as fun. If you go even 1 mile over the game’s speed limit of 60 miles per hour, the cops want to take you down and try to ram you off the road over the most minor infraction. That’s not very realistic, however, this game was one of the first with cones of vision for police.
The civilian AIs are hilarious. They wreck into each other if you so much as touch a civilian car, and if you are going 175 miles per hour or more with the “super fast car” and the “freight train” cheats on, they go flying. They shoot straight into the skies or to the sides of the road, spinning everywhere. They also go about 43 miles per hour on the highways and act like a herd of cattle on the roads, which is honestly how some people drive in the real world.
The graphics objectively aren’t bad for the time. It’s like if Midtown Madness mixed with 1975. The environments and stories feel properly paired what city you are playing in, and it all feels just right. The graphics options go through everything from how far you want the rear view mirror to see, to triple buffering in the separate configuration utility. I’d call the graphics good for the time.
So, why is this the best driving game ever? It shaped my childhood and the childhood of many other young car lovers. It was the first video game I ever played, and the first car game I have ever played. It’s what changed my perception of cars from them being appliances to “Whoa, cars are cool!”. A four-year-old mind is impressionable, and this game stuck. That’s something worthy of appreciation.
To play Driver, get a copy and an old computer (Windows 95-XP). You will thank me later.