After seeing success with their Destruction Derby series, developers Reflections Interactive (later renamed to Ubisoft Reflections) wanted to take their talents into a different direction. Released in 1999, Driver: You Are The Wheelman (or simply Driver), landed onto the Playstation One to critical success. Later it would be ported to the Mac / Windows, with a Game Boy Color adaptation even making an appearance (albeit a very different experience). Despite the clear 1970s american made car flicks influence, Reflections heritage actually spawned in the geordie homeland of Newcastle, here in the UK.
With its title seemingly giving homage to Walter Hill’s The Driver, Reflections sought to create an authentic experience that brought the rumbles and scrapes of iconic car chase movies into a tangible environment for the player. With mostly faithful replications of New York / Los Angeles / San Francisco / Miami for the player to explore, Driver was somewhat of a precursor to the 3D open world antics of literal game changer, Grand Theft Auto III. If you had the means to cheat or completed the game on the PC version, the player was also granted access to a small portion of Newcastle Upon Tyne, as a sign of respect for Reflections origins. Be careful on the barriers, because they’re still as buggy as they were back then.
Assuming the role of undercover cop Tanner, Driver put players behind the wheel of exhilarating chases and set pieces that explored a typical story of corrupt cops and injustice. Unsurprisingly, the story isn’t what made this game so replayable. Playing it on my Playstation 3 through the PSN store port, it definitely feels clunky to play today but the overall experience is still as fun as it ever was. The blare of police sirens and tight chested maneuvers through traffic still exude the stylistic bliss of the best car chase movies to exist (Bullit, Vanishing Point come to mind).
Free play on the New York level has always been my personal favourite due to the hazy night environment that Reflections clearly had a blast creating. It feels as if Taxi Driver D.P Michael Chapman himself is following the player around. Maybe that’s because Driver gives you the ability to direct short chase clips yourself with a basic editor interface to capture your best moments.
The series would go on to spawn numerous sequels, which have come to divide fans along the way. I’ll still defend Driver 3 (Driv3r) to this day, thanks to the awesome revamp of the Film Director mode and satisfying cities to drive through. In an age where the car chase genre seems to be running on fumes, maybe it’s time to go back and appreciate the well oiled engines that birthed it.