Most longtime gamers have fond memories of the Driver game from the first PlayStation, circa 1998. The game featured the typical late-’90s graphics and features, but the storyline had an old school, ’70s feel to it, with the main character in the game hauling an old Mustang around town to complete missions that would seem tame by today’s Grand Theft Auto standards.
It was only a matter of time before the classic game was adapted to the iPhone, but many were skeptical that the iPhone version would resemble anything close to the original. Surprisingly enough, the developers at Game Loft proved everyone wrong by making the Driver iPhone app as close to the original as possible. The developers only run into trouble when it comes to their attempts to use the iPhone’s capabilities to their advantage, i.e. incorporating the iPhone’s tilt feature into the game as a steering option that, quite simply, is a burnout, for old school gamers and newcomers alike.
As mentioned earlier, the iPhone version follows the original PlayStation game very closely, especially with the story. You become Tanner, an undercover detective who infiltrates a gang by impressing the mobster heads with his driving skills, and are sent on a variety of missions (40 total) driving all over the city (Miami and San Francisco when you first start, then on to New York City and Los Angeles the further you get). You’re instructed to drive to the bank–that’s it, no frills, no getting out of the car–the lock-up, the garage, and other places, and getting from one place to another has never been such a challenge.
Along the way, you maneuver in and out of traffic, avoid pedestrians, turn some sharp corners, and try to outrun the police, who show up at the slightest indiscretion. I don’t remember the police being summoned quite so easily in the PlayStation game, but here, running a red light will get four cop cars tailing you instantly. Not only do the cops tail you, but they repeatedly ram your car from every angle to get your damage meter to skyrocket, which can result in a failed mission if your car is wrecked enough.
A nice touch is that your game is saved when you exit the app, to best suit on-the-go drivers who need to stash the game away when the boss comes ’round the cubicle.
The graphics in the game may have been spiffied up a little to better suit the iPhone, but nothing has been radically changed. The RPG-style game still has that old ’70s-style feel to it, even going so far as to include some grooving music and talk radio to the game as you drive. (A really nice touch would be to allow you to play your own music as you drive, but I realize this would interrupt the entire feel of the retro game…in the same way that allowing Tanner to exit the car wouldn’t be true to the original game, though many fans of the app have been complaining and hollering about it.)
As far as the driving physics go, the quality of the stunts, flips, and crashes are pretty incredible. I had to remind myself a few times while I was hitting every car on the road and doing some pretty gnarly burnouts that I was playing this driving game on a cell phone. Although I haven’t created quite this much damage yet, it’s possible for your car to even explode if you inflict enough damage upon it. I experienced hardly any hiccups, no app crashes, and the sound is always right on key when you collide with something, which was all quite shocking for an app of this size.
The driving is, of course, the most important aspect of the game. So it’s pretty disappointing that this is the one area of the game that needs some serious work.
There are three different options for how you control the car you’re driving. Use the D-Pad, which functions just like the old PlayStation game with four buttons on the left of the screen for steering and then a button on the right to hit the gas; the virtual joystick, which you can push and pull; or the Accelerometer, which utilizes the tilt function on the iPhone to allow you to steer the car as you would steer a car in real-life, by tilting to the left or right. The joystick is the most worthless of the three, as it’s just too fidgety and doesn’t give any payoff. The D-Pad ends up being the best choice to gain more control over your car, as the Accelerometer is nearly impossible to use. It does matter how fast your car is moving when you’re trying to make turns using this feature, but it’s either too sensitive or not nearly accurate enough to successfully make a turn onto a street going at a decent speed. My only complaint with the D-Pad would be that the keys are a little too close together for the iPod, which resulted in a few accidental handbreaks when I just want to make a left turn.
In addition to the regular gameplay with the missions, the iPhone game also comes with all of the original Driving Games, like Carnage, where you simply try to cause as much property damage as possible, and Survival, my personal favorite, where you try to keep your car alive as long as possible while the crazed cops attempt to smash your car to smithereens. It’s a tough one, but it’s just as difficult to give up on, too.
You also have the Training feature that lets you test out the game before diving in headfirst. It’s a great feature for newbies to the game, or even just for those who need to brush up on their Driver skills from 1998.
The Extras section also has two cheat options that you can turn on as you get further into the game: immunity to police and no damage. Though they’re nice options, I’m of the opinion that running from the police and avoiding damage are two of the best aspects of the game. Why cheat?
Recap & Conclusion
Released: Dec. 2009
Our Grade: B-
All in all, the iPhone’s Driver game mirrors everything great about the original PlayStation classic. The storyline is fun, the graphics are updated retro, and the gameplay is good, old-fashioned smash-em-up work. But the key feature here that could make this game one of the absolute best on the iPhone, the feature that lets you literally steer your car by tilting the phone, fails to deliver precision and ease. Though you could argue this is part of the fun of the game, I would argue there’s no fun in never being able to get around the first street corner in a mission without ramming everything in sight. Go with the D-Pad for steering, drive fast, and you’ll enjoy this game as much as I did (and most likely get as addicted as you did or would have with the original PlayStation game).