Despite the ongoing rivalry between the two series, Atari’s DRIV3R is to Grand Theft Auto what Avril Lavigne is to the Sex Pistols: a slick knockoff that copies the form, but not the substance, of the original.
DRIV3R isthe story of Tanner, a creaky-voiced FBI agent who has carte blanche to steal cars, shoot anyone and destroy property as he goes undercover to bring down an international car-theft ring. You’ll spend your time running around on foot, getting into firefights and driving stolen cars in meticulously detailed clockwork cities, each based on a real-world locale. But unlike GTA and most of its imitators, there’s almost no potential for free-form mayhem. Oh sure, you’ll get to do some stunt driving and shoot innocents every so often, but the game takes players straight from mission to timed mission, with no room for exploration or violent shenanigans in between.
This wouldn’t be a big deal if those missions were at least fun, but DRIV3R's myriad problems turn them into volcanic exercises in frustration. Tanner doesn’t always pay attention to your commands when he’s on foot, and when he’s behind the wheel, the controls are oversensitive and jerky. Making matters worse, the developers felt that the best way to compensate for the short story mode was to make each mission as difficult and exacting as possible.
Again, this isn’t a bad thing in itself, but the difficulty comes from seemingly arbitrary things. The twig-like streetlamps are unmovable obstacles, even for larger vehicles, and they’re hard to see at high speeds. And it’s hard to stay focused on the guy you’re chasing when small bumps send your car into a spin.
Strangely, none of this is made forgivable by the fact that, when you’re on foot, you can win any firefight by just standing behind a wall and shooting around the corner. But the worst thing about DRIV3R is that it’s not all bad. The cities are huge and beautiful, with country-appropriate cars, and while the gameplay is muddy, it’s easy to see how it could have been better. But as it is, DRIV3R is all flash and little substance.