Grand Theft Auto might have sparked our gaming rebellion, but a 1999 driving game, appropriately titled Driver, was the first open-world adventure to really spark our imaginations.
You still have cities to explore, cars to drive and crimes to pull off, but Driver put you in the guise of an undercover cop, rather than no-good thief.
No game since – save perhaps Driver’s own sequels – has made you feel more the star of a 1970s cop show, or more like Steve McQueen’s famous Frank Bullitt character. Few games have better replicated the feeling of powersliding around grid-laden streets, doing burnouts, handbrake turns and flying over hills, despite many more years of technical advancement.
Four cities were available in the first game – Miami, San Francisco, Los Angeles and New York. Once unlocked, all were driveable in the game’s free-roaming mode.
Unlike subsequent Driver games, or the first 3D Grand Theft Auto, GTA3, you were unable to swap cars once a mission or drive started. This could be frustrating, a totaled car automatically meaning “game over” – but at the same time, it encouraged you to be a better driver. You’d dodge the police, squeeze through gaps at high speed and feel like a driving god for doing so.
Not that crashing wasn’t a whole heap of fun. Driver’s cars have real weight to them, spinning out of control and crunching with grimace-inducing finality into other vehicles. It may not come as a surprise to find the Reflections development team was also behind the Destruction Derby series.
Hopefully, all this would train you for the game’s punishing final mission.
Here, Driver threw everything it had at you. Police, traffic, a rain-soaked New York and even the increasing darkness of a night drawing in. It took some dozens of attempts to complete – and no doubt caused more than a few smashed controller moments.
After more relaxed driving, you might feel inclined to treat yourself to a replay – and turn filmmaker, with Driver’s built-in replay editor.
Other Driver games have followed. The second game was lots of fun, adding curves, overpasses and cities like Havana, Rio di Janeiro, Chicago and Vegas. You could also steal other vehicles, giving you more options once you’d destroyed your car.
Subsequent games improved the graphics and added a greater depth of features, but none has really matched the swagger of the original.
These days, Driver is an easy game to get hold of – even if it’s no easier to finish.
You can still pick up copies of the PC, N64 or PlayStation versions on sites like eBay and Amazon, but you can also find the original Driver on the PSN PlayStation store for PS3. Or you can take all that 70s cool with you – Driver can be downloaded for iPhone in the Apple Store.
We reckon it’s well worth picking up. Just don’t come crying to us when you can’t finish the final mission…