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Last Updated: Thursday, 1 July, 2004, 07:26 GMT 08:26 UK
Road rage games still a recipe for success
Scene from Driv3r
Driv3r is the latest game to feature spectacular road-based action
The man behind new crime epic Driv3r says there is plenty of life left in the driving-and-shooting genre.

Development Director Martin Edmondson from Driv3r's creator Reflections says the format won't tire as long as games keep injecting original elements.

"These games share similarities in that you're driving around open cities and you can get out of cars and so on," he says, "But the games currently out there are actually quite different."

The basic format is cropping up in an ever-increasing number of titles.

Typically a player travels around a realistically portrayed city using any transport available, hauling the rightful owners out of the doors if necessary, and stealing anything from fire engines to light aircraft.

These games' heroes find themselves on both sides of the law, and although crashing vehicles is officially counter-productive to progress, everyone knows it is the most fun way to go about things.

Driving games of old involved getting from A to B at speed with the odd exception hinted at more complex potential for video game driving. In the late 80s Chase HQ introduced a pursuit element where police cars had to bump crooks off the highway.

Revolution on the roads

GTA: Vice City
Grand Theft Auto's snappy-dressing hero Tommy Vercetti

But it was a decade later that the genre was revolutionised by what have become two powerful franchises - Driver and Grand Theft Auto (GTA).

The first GTA game took everyone by surprise with its gloriously over-the-top gameplay.

Watching proceedings from an over-head view, the player got to steal vehicles and exact mayhem while completing missions and dodging cops.

The original Driver game offered less gratuitous carnage but added a 3D viewpoint, giving a driving experience unprecedented in scope and realism.

The rash of similar games since then range from Midtown Madness, whose title says it all, to products like True Crime and The Getaway which recreate specific cities in mind-boggling detail.

Even The Simpsons have got in on the act with a derivative but fun driving game of their own.

Driv3r aims to have rather more complexity than the citizens of Springfield.

"We concentrate on realistic environments, real cities, real handling dynamics so the cars look and handle like they should do," Edmondson says.

"We don't go in for the fantasy graphics or cartoony type of look."

One game less averse to that cartoony look is the massively successful GTA: Vice City, set in an outrageously colourful and tacky 1980's Florida.

With a sprawling environment and huge cast, it incorporated as many gags, storylines and characters as physically possible, from crooks to film producers, and even a corrupt politician cheekily named Governor Shrub.

Virtual mayhem

True Crime: Streets of LA
True Crime recreates the mean streets of Los Angeles

A simpler appeal of these games is the immoral thrill involved in tearing around virtual towns causing the kind of damage that is outlawed in the real world.

That's why for all the plotting the game developers can muster, there'll always be people who prefer to cut to the chase

"People play in different ways," says Edmondson. "Driver 1 and 2 were kind of 'get back from the pub and play it with your mates' kinds of games."

Driv3r, Edmondson insists, is engaging and structured enough to make players stick with the missions and story.

He also stresses another key factor in making these games compelling - the notion of making the player feel like they're in a movie.

"The quality of the presentation and the cut-scenes is crucial to immerse you in the story," he says.

"The main draw of Driv3r is that you are able to recreate the feeling of a real car chase from a film."

Creating a "playable movie" has long been an aim for games makers, and the driving/shooting epics lend themselves well to such an experience.

"It's definitely a sign of the times that the approach to games is as a more accepted type of entertainment next to music and films," says Edmondson. Subtleties of mood and tone can make a game look like a movie, but a quicker way to get that feel is to use well-known actors to voice the characters. Increasingly stars are willing to lend their vocal talents.

"It's certainly not done for the money, because (actors) don't get paid a lot of money compared to what they'd get for a film," says Edmondson.

In the case of Driv3r cast member and screen hardman Michael Madsen, there was another motivation.

"He was keen to do it because he's got 5 kids and they've got an Xbox. His kids told him to do it because it would be cool."

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