Not long after Dale and I founded GameCritics.com and hot on the heels of our controversial reviews of Star Ocean: The Second Story, we published our equally notorious reviews on Driver: You Are The Wheelman. At the time, Driver was a best-selling game and universally praised by gamers and the media alike. Not surprisingly, our negative takes on the game were not well received, and a steady stream of hate mail and fan site condemnation ensued for several months there after. We took plenty of grief over those reviews, but somehow managed to survive.
Flash forward to present day, and I find theres bit of irony and vindication. For the sequel, Driver 2: The Wheelman Is Back, is now being universally panned by gamers and press alike for the same reasons that Dale and I pointed out two years ago over the original. (Just goes to show you how hype can cloud ones judgment.)
Once again, gamers assume the role of Evan Tanner, an undercover cop with a knack for delivering the goods and catching the bad guys all behind the wheel of a car. Unlike most games that revolve around driving cars, Driver 2 isnt about racing or deathmatch-style arena combat. Driver is actually a linear mission-based game that draws much of its inspiration for from vintage car chase movies and TV shows like The French Connection and Starsky And Hutch. However, just like the original, Driver 2 manages to capture only the worst parts of the blue-collar genre, and somehow manages to waste a great concept on a below-average videogame.
Right from the opening introduction CG movie that sets up the premise of the game, I already knew that I was in for more or less the same dose of crap that I was treated to years ago. The Reagan Era anti-drug Dirty Harry-style clichés that the game so seriously tries to project is so immature and unsophisticated in this day and age. What makes the story so much harder to stomach is how all the lead characters speak in such low tough-guy drawls to the point where their voices are nearly indistinguishable and incomprehensible. The confusing and convoluted story lost me the minute I hit the "start" button, and the stiffly animated character models during cut-scenes are an embarrassment when put up against market leaders like Squaresoft and Capcom.
As far as the gameplay is concerned, the same problems that I bemoaned about in original game are more or less present in the sequel. Mission-to-mission difficulty levels are still wildly unbalanced—breezy-easy from one stage to pounding-your-head-hard to the next. The game still lacks any sense of flow. Constant save-game options, poor sense continuance from mission to mission, and an overdose of cut-scenes all seem disruptive and counterproductive to the general flow of the gameplay. I never felt engaged long enough during actual missions to gain any sense of satisfaction or reward.
Driver 2 does make some attempt at improving on the original. There are a few new mini- and multiplayer games outside of the main one-player mode to prolong play-life. During gameplay, a much needed on-screen radar map has been added to alleviate navigation, but severe draw-in problems still make this anything but a smooth ride. Perhaps the most interesting additional feature to the gameplay is the ability to exit a car at any time to carjack other cars for use or to continue missions on foot. This leads to some interesting diversity in the mission and sounds like a great evolutionary feature, but its unfortunately marred by horrid controls, and the overall ugly and unnatural graphics through out the game seem even more apparent when not moving at high-speeds.
Even with all these problems that I just mentioned, thats not the worst of it. The most severe charge that I lobbied against the original and with the sequel is how it doesnt make good on its premise of allowing players to role-play as the "pick-up courier" wheelman. Once again, players are forced to live out the dreary stereotyped personality-less life of Evan Tanner, and theres no choice of missions, no real rewards, and no customizations. This series shouldnt be called Driver. It should be renamed 21 Junk Street.
All thats good about Driver 2 can be summed up in three words: good car handling. Thats it. The rest of the game is pretty much the same unredeemable mess that I reviewed years ago. The only thing that probably will change is the amount of hate mail and grief that well get this time around. Unlike like the overrated, overhyped, and oversold original, Driver 2 will most likely to go out with a whimper.