@NeowinGaming: Revisiting Driver - the wannabe Grand Theft Auto

This is a bi-weekly feature in which we revisit games that influenced the future of gaming and established their position as a classic, so that we still reminisce them years after their original release. Head over to Neowin's Gamers' Hangout to share your own memories of classic games and you might get featured next time!

Two weeks ago, we revisited Quake, a game which popularized online multiplayer. However, this week we are looking at an entirely different kind of game franchise, named Driver, which was infamously known for mimicking the more popular Grand Theft Auto series, rather than reinventing the wheel.

Image via xDesktopWallpapers

The first game in the Driver series was released in 1999 by Reflections Interactive - now acquired by Ubisoft - on various platforms including the PlayStation 1, PC, and the Gameboy Color. It followed the story of undercover NYPD cop John Tanner who is working to take down a crime syndicate.

Grand Theft Auto had made its debut two years prior to the release of the first installment of the Driver series, and received considerably lower critical review scores than Driver. This can possibly be attributed to the fact that while Grand Theft Auto offered a 2D top-down perspective, Driver offered 3D gameplay angles.

Driver (1999) | Image via aidar95 (YouTube)

The second installments in the both the series received similar reviews, with gamers praising the noticeable improvements in the franchises. Grand Theft Auto 2 now offered a vastly improved 2.5D perspective, while Driver 2 now featured on-foot gameplay, allowing a greater degree of freedom and realism.

It was with Driver 3 (stylized as Driv3r) that things began to go awry for Reflections Interactive. It seemed that gamers had begun to favor the originality that Grand Theft Auto III - unveiled in 2001 - brought with itself, whereas Driver 3, which was released much later in 2004, was deemed to be mimicking GTA.

Sporting numerous glitches, laborious missions, a boring storyline, and difficult controls, the title received rather negative reviews, compared to its predecessors. That said, not everything about the game was negative: the graphics continued to outshine Grand Theft Auto's, and the title even featured the voices of veteran actors Michael Madsen (Reservoir Dogs, Kill Bill, Donnie Brasco) as the series' protagonist John Tanner, and Mickey Rourke (The Wrestler, Sin City) as the villain, Charles Jericho.

Driver: Parallel Lines | Image via Steam Community

Ths situation for the Driver franchise only improved slightly with the release of Driver: Parallel Lines in 2006. It featured a new protagonist, T.K, who is a criminal "looking to make good" in New York City with his driving skills.

The title was praised for offering a more intriguing story, and the fact that the players could take control of their characters in two different timelines. Reviewers praised Parallel Lines for going back to its roots and trying something different than the GTA franchise, but due to some gameplay elements, the title ultimately still managed only mixed reviews. On the other hand, GTA IV received near-perfect scores.

The latest title in the series is Driver: San Francisco, which was published by Ubisoft in 2011. With this game, it appeared that the developers were finally looking to completely shed off all the elements that people had begun to associate with the GTA series.

San Francisco marked the return of Tanner immediately following the events of Driver 3, and focused only on driving; on-foot missions and gameplay were removed. Gamers could "shift" between cars to ram and take down enemy vehicles. Overall, the element was a nice change from the traditional gameplay offered by previous installments in the series.

Driver: San Francisco | Image via EGYGAM3R (YouTube)

Critics gave the title favorable reviews, praising the fresh gameplay features, the vast and detailed environment, and for being "generally fun". On the other hand, Grand Theft Auto V once again received near-perfect scores like its predecessors, but the fact that Driver had tried something different rather than traditional gameplay mechanics is still respectable.

All in all, while the Driver franchise was deemed to be copying the Grand Theft Auto series for some time, the series evolved to offer original and unique gameplay in its later installments. As such, it still holds a special place in the hearts of its niche audience - many of whom consider it to be superior to GTA - who are still awaiting the surprise release of a yet unannounced title in the franchise. To date, the Driver series has sold over 16 million copies, whereas GTA has sold over 250 million - much of which can be attributed to the fact that it offered relatively original gameplay mechanics and an interesting story.

Have you played any game in the Driver series? What's your favorite installment in the franchise? Do you consider it to be shamelessly copying the GTA series or do you think it deserves its own recognition? Let us know in the comments section below!

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