2004 | PS2, Xbox, PC, GameCube
Copies sold in US: Close to 800,000
Average score: 51%
Yes, DRIV3R - the awkwardly titled, laughably clunky Grand Theft Auto clone that's still held up for ridicule every so often by pretty much everyone - actually did fairly well at retail despite being almost universally despised. It's hard to believe now that the game was once hyped as the salvation of the Driver series and a serious contender against Grand Theft Auto, but it certainly had that potential. Its three cities were big and beautiful (if empty and lifeless), the visuals were much sharper than anything that GTA was doing and a lot of care had obviously been put into making the driving as realistic as possible. Of course, all that stuff is worth absolutely nothing when the game as a whole is broken, buggy and more focused on looking slick than on actual fun.
The company line: "DRIV3R - The fun and thrills of the original Driver, combined with all-new gameplay mechanics, bring you the next great racing-action game! … Realistic driving physics and crash models - if you can think of a way to wreck the car, you can do it."
What the critics said: In spite of London's Times Online and the embarrassing perfect score it awarded DRIV3R, most reviewers declared it mediocre, bland and depressing. Shoddy controls, stupid enemies, dull on-foot missions and game-wrecking bugs were all common complaints, leading Armchair Empire's Lee Cieniawa to write that ""If DRIV3R were a car, it would be recalled for crippling performance issues."
Regardless of their complaints, several critics - particularly British ones - seemed shaken to see their high hopes for the game dashed. Our UK-based sister magazine Edge wrote that "the determination to prioritize style over substance… damages gaming as a whole," while Eurogamer called it "one of the biggest disappointments in the history of videogames." OXM, meanwhile, had no such illusions, comparing the experience to "watching some crappy old cop movie at 3:00 a.m. All we want to do is close our eyes and make it all go away."
Why you bought it anyway: Aside from the Driver series having its own sizable (if by that point dwindling) fanbase, Driv3r looked like a much prettier, more realistic take on Grand Theft Auto. Because the market wasn't quite as saturated with GTA clones as it is today, that was a huge selling point.
What went wrong? For whatever reason, certain people at developer Reflections (also responsible for the Stuntman games) seem to think that punishing difficulty and perfectionism are preferable to actual enjoyment of a game by human beings. That may explain why the missions were as needlessly frustrating as they were, or why free exploration of each sparsely populated city was curbed in favor of a linear, mission-to-mission progression.
It doesn't explain, however, why the on-foot missions were completely half-assed and unnecessary, why the enemies were stupid, why the controls were too touchy when driving and too unresponsive when not, or why entire game was riddled to the core with bugs that would routinely disrupt gameplay. If the developers had demanded the same perfectionism from themselves that they did from players, DRIV3R might have been a contender for GTA's crown.
Most infuriatingly positive quote: Now-defunct GameBiz.com.au called DRIV3R "a technical marvel that sets a new benchmark." Notice the reviewer doesn't say what that benchmark is for. We're going to guess "sucking ass."